"Pad cha pla" ผัดฉ่าปลา is an aromatic Thai fish stir fry loaded with herbs. It's a healthy, bright-tasting, quick and easy fish recipe to have in your repertoire. This recipe I chose to use halibut, but you can substitute it with any kind of firm-flesh fish (delicate ones will fall apart too easily) or other kinds of seafood such as shrimp, squid, and scallops.
What is Pad Cha ผัดฉ่า?
In Thai, "pad" means to stir fry, and "cha" is the sizzling sound of ingredients hitting the hot pan, a hint that high heat is required for this dish. Most commonly pad cha uses fish and seafood, such as squid, shrimp, scallops, or clam. Though technically you can make it with any kind of meat as well.
Its unique feature is the abundance of aromatic Thai herbs including fingerroot, Thai basil, and young peppercorns. These flavours really stand out because the seasoning is so simple - just fish sauce and a bit of sugar!
Here are all the ingredients you'll need to make this recipe. For amounts, check out the full recipe card below.
- Halibut, or another type of firm-fleshed fish, skin-on, cut into large cubes. You can also use salmon, shrimp, scallops or clams.
- Cilantro roots, or sub 5-6 cilantro stems
- White peppercorns
- Thai chilies, to taste, 1 is a good place to start if you can handle "medium spicy" dishes.
- Mild red chilies. In Thailand we use spur chilies, but any type of mild, large chili pepper will work. Even red bell pepper will do, though it's a little more watery than ideal.
- Fish sauce. See this post here for how to choose good fish sauce
- Water or unsalted chicken stock or pork stock. Store bought stock is fine for this as it is not a major component.
- Grachai, fresh or brined. Grachai or sometimes written as krachai, also known as "fingerroot," is an aromatic rhizome that has a unique, pleasantly medicinal aroma. It is hard to find fresh, but at some Asian grocery stores you can find them brined in a jar. The label on the jar might say "pickled galingale" but that's just bad English, lol. They are not actually pickled.
It's a key ingredient in many Thai dishes such as rice noodles with fish curry, Thai sour curry, and the famous pad kee mao (drunken noodles). There really is no good substitute for it as nothing else tastes and smells like it, but if you have galangal, you could try adding that instead.
- Young green peppercorns. This, I would say is not necessary so no need to bend over backwards looking for it. Some people don't bother eating the peppercorns as they are too pungent, so they often just end up as garnish. Young peppercorns are exactly what they say they are: the green fresh peppercorns on the stems before they ripen and get turned into black or white pepper. Like grachai, if you cannot find fresh, it is available brined in a jar at some Asian grocery stores.
- Thai basil. If not available, you can use Italian basil for this.
Watch The Video Tutorial
The full recipe card is below, but given a few unusual ingredients in this dish, I recommend watching the video below to ensure success - and if you enjoy the show, please consider subscribing to my YouTube channel. Thank you!
How to Make Pad Cha Pla
Here are all the steps to make this recipe. If this is your first time, I highly recommend watching the video tutorial to ensure success.
- Marinate the fish in ½ tablespoon of the fish sauce while you prep other ingredients.
- In a mortar & pestle, pound together the garlic, chopped cilantro roots, white peppercorns, Thai chilies, and spur chilies until it resembles a rough paste.
- In a wok, heat a little vegetable oil over medium heat and add the herb paste. Saute the paste until it the garlic starts to turn golden.
- Turn the heat up to high then add the fish and toss to mix with the paste briefly. Add the remaining fish sauce, sugar, and a splash of water; toss to mix briefly, being gentle so as to not break the fish.
- Add fingerroot and young peppercorns, toss to mix gently, then let the fish cook without stirring until done, flipping the pieces half way through, and adding a little more water if it becomes dry.
- When fish is done, turn off the heat and GENTLY toss in Thai basil just until it is mixed.
- Serve with jasmine rice or another grain of your choice!
Tip for Not-Broken Fish: The key to not breaking the fish in a stir fry is to stir and toss it as little as possible once it is almost fully cooked. When the fish is still raw, it is very sturdy, but once it is cooked, it's flaky and fragile. So you want to do all the tossing to mix the seasonings and herbs quickly at the beginning. Once the mixing is finished, treat it like pan-searing a fish filet - let it cook undisturbed and flip if half way through.
A spicy, light and healthy Thai fish stir fry loaded with fresh herbs. A quick and easy meal with loads of Thai flavours!
- 350 g halibut, or another type of firm-fleshed fish, skin-on preferably, cut into large cubes (the skin helps the fish hold together in the wok)
- 4 cloves garlic
- 3 cilantro roots or 6 cilantro stems
- ¼ teaspoon white peppercorns
- 1-3 Thai chilies, to taste
- ¼ cup chopped mild red chili pepper such as a spur chili
- 1 ½ Tablespoons fish sauce
- 1 teaspoon sugar
- ¼ - ½ cup water or unsalted chicken stock or pork stock
- ⅓ cup julienned grachai, loosely packed (see note)
- 1 Tablespoon young green peppercorns, picked and discard the stem
- 1 cup Thai basil leaves
Marinate fish in ½ tablespoon of the fish sauce while you prep other ingredients.
In a mortar & pestle, pound together garlic, cilantro roots, white peppercorns, Thai chilies, and spur chilies until it resembles a rough paste.
In a wok, heat a little vegetable oil over medium heat and add the herb paste. Saute the paste until it starts to turn golden. Turn the heat up to high then add the fish and toss to mix with the paste briefly. Add the remaining fish sauce, sugar, and a splash of water; toss to mix. Add fingerroots and peppercorns, toss to mix, then let the fish cook without stirring until done, flipping the pieces half way through. Add a little more water if it becomes dry.
When fish is done, turn off the heat and quickly toss in Thai basil.
Serve with jasmine rice or another grain of your choice!
Grachai or krachai, also known as "fingerroot," is an aromatic rhizome. It is hard to find fresh, but you can find it at some Asian grocery stores brined in a jar. Be sure to pack the juliennes loosely in the measuring cup. If using fresh grachai and you're chopping by hand, you will only need about 2 medium sized "fingers".