Thai Spicy Pork & Basil

I make Thai Spicy Pork & Basil a couple of times a year, roughly between May and September when the smell of basil permeates the farmers market. I whipped up the first spicy pork of 2019 last week and realized the recipe wasn't on the blog which felt like an oversight. So here we are.

Thai Spicy Pork & Basil is adapted from Cook's Illustrated's The Best International Recipe. The original is made with ground chicken but at some point along the way I switched to pork as the protein. The flavor of this dish is an ideal balance of umami, fresh herbs, and heat, and the leftovers are excellent. In addition to being delicious, the cooking process is neat and tidy. You can prep the ingredients while the rice is cooking and then bring things together in short order while the rice is still hot in the pot.

Cook's Illustrated develops most of their recipes for store-bought ingredients and you will get good results if you go that route. With that said, consider incorporating Homemade Roasted Chicken Stock, heirloom rice, sustainably raised meat, and farmers market garlic and herbs when possible. Over the years, improving the ingredients I use has taken this spicy pork from being a nice weeknight meal to something I crave each season. My ingredient sources are listed below.

Italian vs. Thai vs. Holy Basil

The Cook's Illustrated recipe calls for Thai basil and suggests Italian as a substitute. My version uses Italian since that's usually what I have on hand.

When researching the different varieties for this post, I noticed that holy basil is often mentioned as "traditional" for Thai dishes but is apparently hard to find in the States. Also noteworthy is that holy basil seems to be the herb of choice for a number of recipes that were very similar to the one included below.

Here's a very brief overview.

Italian Basil

  • Delicate leaves
  • Sweet peppery flavor

Thai Basil

  • Sturdier leaves
  • Sweet and savory flavor with notes of anise or licorice

Holy Basil

  • More delicate than Thai basil
  • Distinctly spicy with notes of clove and black pepper

Italian basil can be substituted for Thai in a 1:1 ratio, but holy basil seems to be in a category of its own given the "intense spiciness" and savory notes. I'm hoping to use each variety this season for a side-by-side comparison but will probably reduce the quantity of holy basil (if I can find it).

Recipe Tips

Heat

Thai chiles pack a punch. I enjoy spicy food and use 4 of them in the recipe. If you're sensitive to heat, back the chiles down to 3. Also, use gloves when removing the seeds.

Basil

As mentioned above, the recipe suggests using Thai basil if you can find it but Italian will work fine. I have used the latter in most instances.

Oil

The recipe calls for vegetable oil but I use olive oil. There's not very much so I don't think it imparts any flavor.

How to Store Basil

I wrote a brief post about that here.



Farmers | Artisans

I make an effort to source my food from California artisans with a special focus on the Santa Monica Farmers Market. Below is a list of the folks who contributed to this dish.

Tools

Ingredients (Adapted from The Best International Recipe - Serves 3 to 4)

  • 1 pound ground pork Note: Ground chicken can be swapped in for the pork without any additional changes.
  • 3 1/2 ounces (105 grams) shallots, roughly chopped
  • 4 Thai chiles, most seeds removed Note: Gloves are recommended.
  • 5-6 (1/4 ounce or 20 grams) garlic cloves, peeled and roughly chopped
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 1/2 cups (3/4 ounce or 25 grams) Italian basil leaves, cut into a rough chiffonade Note: The ribbons are about 1/2-inch wide. As mentioned above, the original recipe calls for Thai basil. Feel free to use that if you prefer but try to find leaves that aren't too tough.
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons fresh lime juice
  • 1/4 cup soy sauce
  • 1 tablespoon fish sauce
  • 1/3 cup Homemade Roasted Chicken Stock
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons granulated sugar
  • 1 teaspoon cornstarch

Instructions

Rice

  • Cook rice per the instructions.

Mis en Place

  • Puree the chiles, garlic, and shallots, then set aside.
  • Combine 2-3 tablespoons of stock with the cornstarch then stir to dissolve. To the same bowl, add the remaining chicken stock, soy sauce, and sugar. Do not add the lime juice. Set aside.

When the Rice is Finished

  • In a large non-stick pan, heat 1 tablespoon of olive oil over medium-high until shimmering. Add the pork, breaking it up as it cooks. When the pork is no longer pink, add a few cranks of freshly ground pepper and a pinch of flake-style salt. This takes about 5-7 minutes.
  • Transfer the pork to a plate lined with paper towels and set aside.
  • In the same large pan, heat 1 tablespoon of olive oil over medium-high heat until shimmering. Add the onion mixture and cook for 4-5 minutes, stirring frequently and lowering the heat if needed to ensure the mixture does not brown.
  • Add the pork to the pan with the onion mixture and cook until heated through.
  • Add the basil to the pan and cook until it is slightly wilted. Stir frequently.
  • Stir the sauce to recombine, then add it to the pan. Cover the pan and let it cook for 2-3 minutes until thickened, stirring once or twice.
  • Remove the pot from the heat and add the lime juice and a few cranks of pepper (or more to taste).
  • Stir and taste. If you think the dish needs a little more acid, add more lime juice in very small increments. Note: The lime juice is an important element that pops all the flavors but it can quickly overtake the dish so be careful with adjustments.

Serve

Serve immediately over hot rice.

Storage

The pork can be refrigerated in an airtight container. The leftovers never last beyond day 2 in our house so I don't know how long they keep.

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