This spicy basil chicken stir fry recipe is ready in 20 minutes and only 287 calories!
Write me off after I say this, but, it wasn’t until I moved to Seattle in 2010 that I truly started to understand the magic of basil in Asian cooking. I consider Thai basil the gateway drug.
Pho was really the first time I started mixing basil into anything other than Italian foods. God that’s sad, isn’t it? I should have put that in the book. Basil is worth adding to everything, because it’s sweet and mild, but Thai basil, which looks similar to fresh mint, is bolder, a little more refreshing, and has a licorice flavor when eaten raw. Cooked in Asian dishes, it comes across as sweet, herbal, and slightly spicy.
There are, I don’t know…hundreds?, of varieties of both sweet basil and Thai basil. I can’t imagine I don’t love all of them. But it’s not always easy to find Thai basil, so I decided to make this recipe with good ol’ sweet basil. The results are just delicious, but if your market carries Thai basil, I cannot recommend it enough and your taste buds will thank you.
The beauty of basil chicken is that it’s so much more unique than your average stir-fry. The sauce matters, of course, but the basil does most of the heavy lifting. Since that’s the flavor you come away with in every bite, don’t skimp; add more than you even think you’ll need because it wilts in the same way spinach wilts: down to nothing, in no time. I call for a full packed cup, but up to a cup and a half is just fine.
And speaking of that sauce, I like to use a little bit of chicken broth to cut down on the amount of soy and fish sauce I’ll need, but do note that fish sauce is essential here. If you’re like me, you’ve probably had a moment of, “What the heck is fish sauce and why would I ever want to buy it?” Right. Fish sauce is made from anchovies, salt, and water, and it’s one of those pantry staples you absolutely want to buy for your Asian recipes because it’s the difference between home stir-fry flavor and authentic restaurant flavor. But beware, a little bit goes a long way to pack a punch. Just a tablespoon here will impart enough of its rich, intense flavor. If you don’t have it, add an additional tablespoon of soy sauce in its place.
A note about stir-frying: the best thing about these one-pan-type meals is their speediness. But because of that, it’s so crucial that you get all of your ingredients prepped and ready before you start your cooking. Some of us are better at prepping than others. It wouldn’t be a stretch to imagine my mom starting to slice the chicken while her oil is smoking in the pan, with the phone pressed to her ear, asking me, “Andrea, how necessary is soy sauce, though?” Trust me, I get it. I’ve been the person who doesn’t read through the recipe first and then gets to the final stage of basil chicken and doesn’t have…basil.
Stir-fries taste best when the veggies are tender-crisp and the meat is just-browned. Prep is all it takes.
Friends, if you haven’t added basil to your Asian cooking, trust me and try it!
Spicy Basil Chicken Stir Fry
- 2 tablespoons chicken broth2 tablespoons soy sauce1 tablespoon fish sauce* see note if you don’t have fish sauce1 ½ teaspoons cornstarch1 ½ teaspoons sugar2 teaspoons hot chili sauce (I strongly recommend Sambal Oelek)3 teaspoons extra virgin olive oil1 ½ pounds boneless skinless chicken breast, cut into thin strips1 large onion, thinly sliced1 pound asparagus, tough ends trimmed and chopped into 1-inch pieces3 garlic cloves, minced1 to 1 ½ cups packed fresh Thai basil (or sweet basil)
- In a small bowl, whisk the chicken broth, soy sauce, fish sauce, cornstarch, sugar, and chili sauce.In a large nonstick skillet, heat 1 ½ teaspoons of the olive oil over medium-high heat. Add the chicken and cook, stirring frequently, until no longer pink, 6 to 8 minutes. Remove the chicken to a plate. Add the remaining 1 ½ teaspoons of oil to the skillet and swirl to coat. Add the onion and asparagus and cook, stirring frequently, until just beginning to soften, about 3 minutes. Add the garlic and stir constantly until fragrant, 30 seconds. Return the chicken to the pan along with the soy sauce mixture. Stir and let the sauce come to a simmer until it thickens enough to coat the chicken and vegetables. Stir in the basil until wilted and fragrant and serve.