Hi all, Sean here. Lately I’ve been on a bit of a heat kick, a quest to find extremely hot but delicious foods. This craving was triggered, in no small part, by watching far too many episodes of Hot Ones, a wonderful and unique YouTube series featuring celebrities being interviewed while eating progressively hotter chicken wings. I wondered, how I would fare on the show? Could I handle the worst? So I did a few things: first, I ordered up some seriously hot wings from a local place — they were good, but I needed more. So I ordered some Zombie Apocalypse Ghost Chili Hot Sauce and Rapture Trinidad Scorpion Pepper Hot Sauce, both from TorchBearer Sauces, and started adding them to everything. These melted my face off, and all was well in the world. But I still wasn’t done. One evening we ordered Thai, and I chose the spicy Thai basil and beef dish called Pad Gra Prow at the highest available heat level. It was delicious and disturbingly hot. I became slightly obsessed with the dish, and tried to coax Ina into ordering it again. But she did me one better, and made it for me herself.
Ina spotted Thai basil and Thai chilli peppers on FreshDirect, and figured maybe she could make it from scratch with really good ingredients. She came across this recipe for Phat Bai Horapha. It was the absolute pinnacle of my recent journey, a fantastic meal that left me sweating and reveling in my burning mouth. It was perfect. Robed in a sweet and spicy sauce, strips of boneless sirloin are sautéed with red onion, sliced garlic cloves, red bell peppers, and lots and lots of fresh Thai basil. The underlying smoky heat comes from crushing small green Thai chilli peppers with fresh garlic cloves in a mortar and pestle before combining it with brown sugar, fish sauce, and soy sauce, which forms the gravy. The dish is spicy, sweet, smoky, and savory all at the same time. If you have a craving for something truly spicy, there is nothing better.
HEAT WARNING: we used 6 Thai green chillies the first time we made it, and then went up to 8 chillies the second time. Keep in mind this is very spicy yet flavorful but it isn’t for everyone. Depending on your threshold, you might want to use 2 or 4 chillies instead.
First up, put on your rice. This way it’s done and out of the way. We measured out one cup of uncooked basmati rice and two cups of cool water, setting the small pot to boil. If you want to master how to steam rice perfectly on the stovetop — and without a rice cooker, you’ve come to the right place, just click on the photo.
Next, prep your sirloin by marinating it in fish sauce, soy sauce, and white sugar; we did this for 30 minutes but you can do it overnight for the best results, the flavors just seep in and taste even better. You can opt for anything here — flank steak, skirt steak, or hanger steak will all do the trick. We chose these “Local Angus RWA Beef Stir-Fry Strips” and bought about one pound:
When you’re ready to cook, prep your aromatics. You’ll first make the chilli sauce and then chop a bit of red onion and slice fresh garlic cloves.
And finally, you will need two cups of fresh Thai basil. Yep, two full cups. It’s probably the most amount of basil we’ve ever used in one sitting. The fragrance is beyond words. Thai basil is quite different from Italian basil in this regard. It has a deeper, sweeter citrusy type aroma and taste that gives the right amount of sweetness to balance out the super spiciness of a dish like this.
We thinly sliced a fresh red bell pepper, which adds a great color to the dish and melds beautifully with the beef and basil.
And then, it begins. You sear off the beef strips for no more than a couple of minutes before removing them to a plate or platter with a slotted spoon. You don’t want them to overcook and get tough and chewy. In fact, you want them to be a bit pink in the middle.
Thai-Style Beef With Basil and Chillies (Phat Bai Horapha)
- 1 pound (450g) flank steak, skirt steak, hanger steak, or flap meat, cut into 1/4-inch-thick strips
- 5 teaspoons Asian fish sauce, divided (2 teaspoons for marinade and 3 teaspoons for sauce)
- 1 tablespoon soy sauce, divided
- 1 teaspoon white sugar
- 6 fresh red or green Thai chillies, divided
- 6 medium cloves garlic, divided
- 1 1/2 tablespoons brown sugar
- 1/4 cup red onions, chopped
- 1 tablespoon lime zest (around one small, fresh lime)
- 2 tablespoons vegetable or canola oil, divided
- 2 cups packed Thai basil
- 1 red bell pepper, thinly sliced
- Kosher salt
- Cooked basmati rice, for serving
Combine beef, 1 tablespoon soy sauce, 2 teaspoons fish sauce, and white sugar in a bowl. Toss to combine and set in refrigerator to marinate for at least 15 minutes or overnight.
Roughly chop half of the Thai chillies and garlic and place inside a stone mortar with brown sugar. Grind with pestle until a mostly smooth paste has formed. Add the remaining fish sauce and soy sauce and mash in mortar to form a sauce. Set aside. Thinly slice the remaining garlic and Thai chillies and combine with red onion and lime zest in a small bowl.
Heat 1 tablespoon oil in a wok or skillet over high heat until smoking. Add half of the beef strips and cook, without moving, until well seared, about 1 minute. Continue cooking, while stirring and tossing, until beef is lightly cooked but still pink in spots, about 1 minute. Transfer to a large bowl. Repeat with 1 more tablespoon oil and remaining beef, transferring beef to the same bowl.
Wipe out the wok or skillet and reheat over high heat and add all of the beef, along with sliced garlic-chillies-lime zest mixture. Continue to cook, tossing and stirring constantly, until stir-fry is aromatic and the red onion has softened, about 1 minute.
Add the sauce mixture and red bell pepper and cook, tossing and stirring constantly, until completely reduced. (The beef should look moist, but there should be no liquid in the bottom of the wok/skillet.)
Immediately add basil and toss to combine. Season to taste with salt. Transfer to a serving platter. Serve immediately with basmati rice.
Recipe adapted from Thai-Style Beef with Basil and Chilies (Phat Bag Horapha)