Things food writers should: stop doing
Mapping: the eats

Spicy Thai Basil Beef: Pad Gra Prow?

Thai beef basil chili

Is it called pad graprow? Possibly. Either way, what I was going for was that dish that's on every Thai menu in the US. Generally called "beef/chicken/shrimp with basil and pepper and chili," or something like that.

The description of the dish on these menus pretty much sums it up: "onion, basil, pepper, garlic, hot pepper, chili paste." All self-explanatory, other than that chili paste. Well I'm here to tell you it could very well be nam prik pao.

Nam prik pao thai chili paste 001

Nam prik pao is a sweet and spicy Thai chili paste made from goodies like shallot and garlic and fish sauce and dried shrimp and tamarind, all suspended in oil. This is the magic that goes into tom yum goong (the hot and sour soup that you know so well), and I'm pretty sure it's used in this spicy basil dish. This is where the deep, intense flavor comes from.

As I tend to do, I reviewed four or five recipes from reputable sources, and then mashed them all together in a way that made sense to my brain.

Here's what I did (serves 2-3, or 4 wee people with some other dishes):

For the sauce (make ahead):
3 T fish sauce
2 T thai chili paste (nam prik pao)
3 T oyster sauce (make sure your oyster sauce's first ingredient is oyster extract, not sugar!)
1 T sugar
2 T water

For the beef:
4 Thai chilis (more or less depending on how spicy you want it)
4-5 cloves garlic
1 lb beef, sliced thinly (I used a strip steak, on sale at Fairway for $12/lb)
1 onion, cut into 1/2" chunks or smaller
1 red pepper, cut into 1/4" slivers
1-2 fists full of Thai basil

Serve with:
cilantro for garnish

This dish cooks in minutes, in a few quick and easy steps:

  • Mix the sauce ingredients together in a bowl.
  • Chop the Thai chilis and garlic and add to wok or pan with a bit of peanut oil. Saute for just 20 seconds until fragrant.
  • Add the beef and saute until beef is barely cooked (don't overcook). Add some water if things look dry.  Remove beef/garlic/chili.
  • Add a bit more peanut oil to the pan and throw in the onion, along with the sauce. Cook for a few minutes until they soften, but don't get too soft. You want some crunch.
  • Throw the beef back in along with the red pepper and toss and cook for just a minute. Add the basil, toss, and remove from heat. Let the basil wilt.
  • Adjust sweet and salt with sugar and fish sauce.
  • Garnish with cilantro and serve with rice.

This dish is super easy and I'm sure you'll be pleased with the results. The magic is in the ingredients. The Thai basil is unlike our typical American/Italian basil. The chili paste has umami and is intensely flavored. It makes for a deep, rich sauce.

You can find fish sauce, oyster sauce, Thai basil, Thai chilis, and chile paste at Terri Lee Thai Grocer in Maywood, NJ. The chili paste is definitely available on The seller included 2 jars, which I thought was a lot, but now that I'm using it, I can assure you that 2 jars is not too much.

I don't need to tell you that this dish can be made with chicken, pork, shrimp, tofu, whatever the hell you want. I do need to tell you to get off your ass and make this dish!

Terri Lee Thai Grocer : 225 Maywood Ave : Maywood, NJ : 201.843.7919 : Closed Mondays, I believe.

Thai beef basil chili2