Spatula, Spoon and Saturday

Eating and Cooking all the things in Melbourne

The Secrets to a Really Good Pad Grapow

Cookbook Challenge Week 21*

Book: Thai Street Food by David Thompson Theme: Thai Recipe: Stir-fried Minced Beef with Chillies and Holy Basil

I guess I should start by prefacing that every Thai feels rather deeply about a pad grapow. For the past twenty or so years, it has been at the very top of the Thais’ favourite dishes. No matter how politically divided they are (I really ought to not comment on politics too much otherwise we’d be here all day long), every Thai loves their pad grapow.

For the uninitiated, a pad grapow literally means ‘stir fried holy basil.’ What it is really is a Thai dish of meat or seafood liberally flavoured with garlic, chilli and this very unique herbs, the holy basil.  From my understanding, it’s so called holy basil because people in the subcontinent use it for worshipping purposes thus there are many stories of expat Thais shocking locals by buying a bucket load of this holy basil (also known as tulsi) to make their lunch. The pad grapow is never without its best buddy, the kai dow or crispy fried egg, Thai-style.

My problem of being an expat Thai in Melbourne is that: the pad grapow here is totally rubbish. In fact, I only have one restaurant that I can actually recommend for a relatively authentic pad grapow. Why? Well, firstly, the grapow simply hates the cold Melbourne weather (personally so do I) So most restaurants either substitute with sweet (Italian) basil, Thai basil (no, not right) or even worse, resort to using a prepackaged pad grapow mix from Thailand.

My friends, it pains me to say, none of these options is any good. Another point remains, even if you live in Thailand (or India) and can get your hands on lovely bunches of grapow, why is it that it never tastes the same at home as buying it off the street?

(a squid pad grapow from a street vendor – 30 baht)

So when I visited Thailand in February, one of my goals is to actually experiment with making this fabulous dish.

Which brings me back to why I consider this a Cookbook Challenge. I heavily consulted David Thompson’s Thai Street Food. What can I say? The man really understands Thai food. In fact, after eating around Bangkok where the Thai cuisine has been somewhat bastardised by the recent invasion of foreign foods, quick fixes, cheap-and-nasty ingredients, the Thais themselves have been bastardising their own food.

And that, my friends, pissed me off. David Thompson’s recipes in Thai Street Food do not do this and for that I love him.

So without further ado, I read David Thompson’s take on the dish, I watched a few street vendors cooking it, and I did a few experiments at home (in Bangkok).

Let me present to you, the secrets to a really good pad grapow.

Secret 1: Plenty of fresh holy basil (grapow)

There is no way around this. You need about two big handfuls of the holy basil per serve.

Secret 2: Mince your own meatThis is the way I remember as a child how one achieves minced beef (or pork or chicken) at home. The supermarkets never used to stock minced meat when I was  a child. None of that secondary off-cuts that went into the mincer. No. You start with about 100g of beef which should have a little bit of fat in it, cut the meat into smaller pieces and land the cleaver onto the pieces of meat over and over again. Turn the meat ‘patty’ over and keep going until you get yourself a coarsely minced beef.

Secret 3: Chop, and not pound, your chilli and garlic

There has been a recent trend in Thailand to pound together chilli and garlic to make the starting pad grapow paste. David Thompson reckons it’s better just normally chopped. And I’m inclined to agree. A lot of garlic, mind you. We need about 3 large cloves of Chinese garlic (or about 10 of the little Thai ones) which we will bash with the side of the cleaver before peeling, discarding the skin if you’re using the Chinese ones or leaving the skin in if you’re using nice Thai ones) and roughly chopped. Also three little bird’s eye chillis or one of a small Australian bird’s eye chilli is roughly sliced.

Secret 4: Constant high heat – make just one serve at a time

I used a really big wok to make just one serving. I added a tablespoon of oil into a heated wok. I added the pre-chopped garlic and chillis and tossed them around in hot oil for half a minute or so before adding the minced beef (or pork or chicken).

Secret 5: Don’t overdo the seasonings

There has been a trend to add oyster sauce to all sorts of Thai stir fries. A pad grapow is not a good one to do that. Once the meat had begun to colour, I added three sloshes of fish sauce, two pinches of sugar and a minute amount (a drop or two) of dark soy sauce for colour. That’s it.  I then finished off by adding a heap of the grapow and toss them around until they wilted and serve on a plate of freshly cooked rice.

Bonus: How to make kai dow – Thai-style fried egg

Maybe I should start by saying you should make the fried egg first so you don’t have to wash the wok twice! A good fried egg to go with pad grapow will have crunchy egg white and runny egg yolk in the middle.

Pour a bit of oil (enough for a shallow fry) into a heat wok on high heat until it smokes, crack an egg into the hot oil. It will bubble and and start to brown around the edge. Use the spatula to toss hot oil onto the upside of the egg. Fry for around 1-2 minutes.

Voila. And now, I am off to Vanuatu for a week!

* Woo hoo! Yet another killing-two-birds-with-one-stone post!

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