This is one of the most useful recipes I've ever shared. It's an all-purpose formula you can use to turn any protein you have into delicious pad kra pao - Thai holy basil stir fry. Any meat, seafood, or any leftover cooked meats you might have lingering in the fridge. It's the only recipe you need to make any kind of pad kra pao you want! With this recipe, you'll have one of the most popular Thai dishes on the table in less than 30 minutes!
What is Pad Kra Pao, Pad Gaprao, or Pad Krapow?
Pad means to stir fry, and gaprao means holy basil. It is a spicy stir fry with holy basil that can be made with any kind of meat or seafood, and always served with rice. You'll see various English spellings of this dish, including pad kra pao, pad krapow, and pad gaprao, or perhaps something else, but rest assured they are all referring to the same dish.
If you're curious, I address the reason behind all these different spellings in the FAQ of my traditional beef pad kra pao recipe post. (For the record "pad gaprao" is, I think, the most phonetically correct way to spell it, but because pad kra pao is the most popular and recognizable, I've chosen to use that spelling here.)
I know many Thai people would agree with me that if Thailand were to have a national dish, it should not be pad thai, it should be pad kra pao. It is universally loved, frequently consumed by the rich and poor alike. It's something people buy on the street, in restaurants, and make at home. It is just a big part of the Thai food culture.
Here are the ingredients with all the important notes you'll need before you start. Remember that this is supposed to be a formula that you can adapt to any kind of protein you have that you want to use, even leftover cooked meat! The amounts are in the recipe card below.
- Any kind of protein, raw or cooked. This is a great recipe for using up any meat, including leftover cooked meats like that Thanksgiving turkey, roast beef, or anything else you've got on hand. You can also use tofu, but pleasr see my tips for tofu below.
- Spicy red chilies, such as Thai or bird's eye chilies. Pad kra pao is supposed to be a spicy dish so put as many chilies as you can tolerate here! If you're unsure, and you're tolerance isn't super high, start with 1 Thai chili to be safe.
- Mild red chilies, such as spur chilies. Traditionally we use spur chilies of prik chee fa, but this can be any kind of mild red peppers you have. Red bell pepper is a bit too watery than idea, but it'll work if that's all you have. If you're making this super hot and are already adding tons of spicy chilies (like at least 5 Thai chilies) you do not have to add any mild ones.
- Onion, small dice. This is optional, and you can substitute it with any other crunchy vegetables you've got in the fridge. My other favorite veg to add is long beans.
- Holy basil, Italian basil or Thai basil leaves. Holy basil (pictured) is the namesake of this dish, but it is super hard to find, and when you do find it, it's often not very aromatic. Italian basil is my preferred substitute because it is a closer flavour match than Thai basil, but Thai basil will also work if you love that flavour.
- Oyster sauce. See my post on choosing good oyster sauce here.
- Soy sauce. I use Healthy Boy Thai soy sauce, but any regular soy sauce you have is fine. More on soy sauces here.
- Fish sauce. See my post on how to choose good fish sauce here.
- Thai black soy sauce or dark soy sauce, optional. This is to add colour and a richer flavour, but it is not necessary.
- Vegetable oil, as needed
- Eggs for frying, optional. Pad kra pao is often serve with fried eggs and they go super well together, but it is not necessary if you're looking for a quick simple meal! But if you're serving fried eggs, you're gonna want to make this simple prik nam pla condiment for it too 😉
- Jasmine rice for serving, of course!
A Note on Using Tofu for Pad Kra Pao
If you want to use tofu for pad kra pao, I have a few tips:
- The firmer the tofu the better. It will be less likely to fall apart and has a better texture for stir fries. If you can get a hold of pressed tofu (sometimes labeled as bean curd) that is the one I prefer. It is super firm and it is the kind of tofu we use for pad thai. Crumble it with your hands to make small irregular pieces, and it makes a perfect meat substitute for pad kra pao. Firm or extra firm tofu would also work.
- Pan-frying tofu first will create a chewy exterior that will improve the texture of the dish. Cut the tofu into small pieces, or crumble it into irregular pieces, then pan fry them over high heat in a nonstick skillet or wok until golden brown.
- You can also buy pre-fried tofu. Asian grocery stores will sell fried tofu that are perfect for this recipe. The exterior will already be nice and chewy! (Note: Fried tofu is not the same as tofu puffs which are also fried but are hollow inside.)
How to Make Pad Kra Pao with Anything You Have
- Make the sauce by combining oyster sauce, soy sauce, fish sauce, black or dark soy sauce, sugar, and water. Stir until the sugar is completely dissolved.
- Pound the Thai chilies into a fine paste in a mortar and pestle, then add the garlic and the mild chilies and pound into a rough paste, just until there are no more big chunks.
- If using raw meat, but it into small, bite-sized pieces; make them smaller than your average stir fry as pad kra pao is not good with big chunky pieces. If using lean protein such as chicken breast, don’t slice them thinner than ½ an inch so they don’t overcook too quickly.
- If using raw meat, add fish sauce and mix.
- If using cooked protein, cut into small bite-sized pieces - here I am using a cold steak, but this can by any leftover cooked meat you have, even rotisserie chicken, roast beef, or leftover thanksgiving turkey.
- If using raw protein, sear it off in a very hot wok on high heat to brown the protein. Be sure to let it sit on the hot wok undisturbed until the browning develops before stirring.
- Remove from the pan. No need to clean the wok unless there are burnt bits stuck on it.
- On medium-high heat, add the chili garlic mixture and stir until the garlic starts to turn golden, about 2 minutes.
- Add the onions and cook it for 30 seconds to a minute to soften slightly.
- Turn the heat up to high and add the protein and the sauce. Toss everything together just for 30 seconds or so, until the meat is well coated and heated through.
- Turn off the heat and add the holy basil, or whatever basil you're using.
- Toss just to wilt and that's it! Now you can make some fried eggs if you wish, and serve it with the pad kra pao on top of jasmine rice.
No. If you want to see the difference, in the video tutorial I show the two side by side, and you can see that they are unmistakably different from each other. They are both used in Thai cuisine but they have very different aromas. Thai basil is called horapa โหระพา in Thai. It has an anise-y aroma and it's what you find in many Thai curries, and also served alongside Vietnamese pho. It has dark green, pointy leaves, and often has purple stems.
Holy basil is called gaprao กะเพรา or kra pao in Thai, and it's also known as tulsi in India. The leaves are lighter green, more rounded, and more delicate than Thai basil. It has a slightly peppery aroma that is not as strong as Thai basil.
The classic version of pad kra pao uses ground or finely chopped meat, but you can make pad kra pao with any kind of protein including chicken (dark meat preferred), pork, beef, shrimp, squid or even clams. You can also make vegetarian versions using firm fried tofu. This recipe will give you a formula that works with any kind of protein, raw or cooked.
Thai Holy Basil Stir Fry Recipe for Any Meat (Pad Kra Pao)
- 10.5 oz protein of your choice, raw or cooked
- 1 teaspoon fish sauce, only if using raw protein
- 1 tablespoon oyster sauce
- 1 tablespoon soy sauce
- 2 teaspoon fish sauce
- ½ teaspoon Thai black soy sauce, or dark soy sauce, optional
- 2 tablespoon water
- 1 ½ teaspoon sugar
- 1-3 Thai chilies, or as many as you can tolerate
- 5 cloves garlic
- ¼ cup chopped mild red chilies, see note 1
- ¼ medium onion, small diced
- 1 ½ cup holy basil leaves or sub Italian or Thai basil leaves, loosely packed
- Vegetable oil, as needed
- 2 eggs for frying, optional (1 egg per person)
- Prik nam pla, condiment if serving fried eggs, optional
- Jasmine rice, for serving
- Any kind of mild red peppers will work here. Traditionally we use spur chilies, but you can use whatever you have access to, preferably with thinner flesh, such as red anaheim peppers. Red bell pepper will also work in a pinch. (If you're adding at least 5 Thai chilies, which would make it very hot, you can skip the mild peppers.)
FULL VIDEO TUTORIAL
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- Cut the protein into small bite-sized pieces - make them smaller than your average stir fry as pad gaprao is not good with chunky pieces. If using lean protein such as chicken breast, don’t slice them thinner than ½ an inch so they don’t overcook too quickly.10.5 oz protein of your choice
- If using raw meat, add 1 teaspoon of fish sauce and mix well.1 teaspoon fish sauce
- Make the sauce by combining oyster sauce, soy sauce, fish sauce, black or dark soy sauce, sugar, and water. Stir until the sugar is completely dissolved.1 tablespoon oyster sauce, 1 tablespoon soy sauce, 2 teaspoon fish sauce, ½ teaspoon Thai black soy sauce, 2 tablespoon water, 1 ½ teaspoon sugar
- Pound the Thai chilies into a fine paste in a mortar and pestle, then add the garlic and the mild chilies and pound into a rough paste, just until there are no more big chunks.1-3 Thai chilies, 5 cloves garlic, ¼ cup chopped mild red chilies
- If using raw protein, heat a wok or a skillet until very hot on high heat, add just enough oil to coat the bottom and add the protein, spreading the pieces out into one layer. Let them sear until browned on the underside, then give it a toss and stir until it’s done. This should only take a few minutes in total. Remove from the pan. Note: You can skip searing the protein and just add it to the wok raw, but the browning does add a nice flavour.Vegetable oil
- In a wok on medium-high heat, add the chili garlic mixture and stir until the garlic starts to turn golden, about 2 minutes. Add the onions and cook it for 30 seconds to a minute to soften slightly.¼ medium onion
- Turn the heat up to high and add the protein and the sauce, and toss everything together just for 30 seconds or so, until the meat is well coated and heated through. If you didn’t pre-cook the protein, take your time and keep tossing until it’s cooked through.
- Turn off the heat, add the basil, and toss just to wilt.1 ½ cup holy basil leaves or sub Italian or Thai basil leaves
- Make the fried eggs if you wish, and serve the stir fry with jasmine rice and topped with a fried egg and some prik nam pla!2 eggs for frying, Prik nam pla, Jasmine rice