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David Thompson: Stir-fried minced beef with chillies and holy basil (Neua pat bai grapao)

You'll need

4 garlic cloves 4-10 bird’s eye chillies (scuds) Good pinch of salt 3-4 tbsp vegetable oil 2 eggs 200 gm coarsely minced beef About 2 tbsp fish sauce Large pinch of white sugar ¼ cup stock or water 2 large handfuls of holy basil leaves To serve: chillies in fish sauce   Chillies in fish sauce ¼ cup fish sauce 10-15 bird’s eye chillies (scuds), finely sliced 2 garlic cloves, finely sliced (optional but desirable) 1 tbsp lime juice (optional) Good pinch of chopped coriander


  • 01
  • For chillies in fish sauce, combine the fish sauce, chillies and garlic in a bowl and set aside. It keeps for some time – in fact it becomes richer and milder as it settles for a day. Make sure it is covered if you are making it in advance – and if the fish sauce evaporates, add an equivalent amount of water to refresh it. Just before serving, stir through the lime juice and coriander.
  • 02
  • Coarsely chop the garlic with the chillies and salt.
  • 03
  • Heat a well-seasoned wok over a high heat then turn down the heat and add 2 tablespoons of the oil. Crack in one of the eggs and fry gently, shuffling the egg to prevent it from sticking, until it has cooked to your preference – I like mine with a runny yolk but with crispy, frazzled edges. Spoon some of the hot oil over the egg to ensure the yolk cooks evenly. Carefully lift out the egg with a spatula and place it on a warmed plate, then fry the other egg. Keep the eggs warm while you cook the beef.
  • 04
  • Add more oil – you’ll need about 4 tablespoons of oil all up in the wok. When the oil is hot, fry the garlic and chillies for a moment, but don’t let it colour. Add the beef and continue to stir-fry for a minute until just cooked. Season to taste with the fish sauce and sugar but be careful not to make it too salty.
  • 05
  • Add the stock or water and simmer for a moment. Don’t let it boil or stew for too long, otherwise the meat will toughen and too much liquid will evaporate – there should be enough to form a sauce. Stir in the holy basil and as soon as it is wilted, remove from the heat. It should taste rich, hot, salty and spicy from the basil.
  • 06
  • Serve on two plates with plenty of steamed jasmine rice, a fried egg on top and a bowl of chillies in fish sauce on the side.
Note This recipe is from Thai Street Food by David Thompson, published by Penguin Lantern ($100, hbk), and appeared in the November 2009 issue of Australian Gourmet Traveller. The specialty ingredients used in these recipes are available from Asian supermarkets and Asian greengrocers. David Thompson's recipes are reproduced here without Gourmet Traveller style changes.

"This is a relatively recent addition to the Thai repertoire, coming onto the streets about 50 years ago. The secret to the dish, I think, lies in the tempering of the wok, which imbues this simple stir-fry with a smoky tinge. Although beef was probably the first meat to be used, now minced chicken or pork, whole prawns or scored squid, even fish dumplings are cooked in this way. I find a rather coarse mince yields the best result - ideally done by hand, and using a cut of beef with some fat attached, such as flank, rump or shoulder.

Strangely, for this dish I find that mincing or chopping the garlic and chillies gives a better flavour than pounding them. Add as many small chillies as you can bear - head towards 10, as this dish is meant to be hot - the fieriness is offset by the supple richness of the fried eggs. I like the sauce seasoned with fish sauce alone but some cooks will add a little oyster sauce or even some chilli jam. This dish and an egg or two over some steaming rice, with a bowl of chillies in fish sauce alongside, is Thai ambrosia."

At A Glance

  • Serves 2 people
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At A Glance

  • Serves 2 people

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