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Pad gaprao (often misspelled as “pad kra pao”) is a true staple of the Thai diet, sold by street vendors and at fancy restaurants, and made in homes all over the country. Cookbook author Pailin Chongchitnant calls this version adapted from her cookbook Sabai: 100 Simple Thai Recipes for Any Day of the Week—“old school” because it’s so simple, seasoned only with fish sauce and basil. Newer takes on the classic dish include add-ins like soy sauce, oyster sauce, and veggies, but Chongchitnant's original pad gaprao recipe is easier to prepare—and preserves a little Thai culinary history in the process. If you can’t find holy basil, don’t be tempted to swap in Thai basil—Italian basil is in fact a closer substitute.
Pad gaprao is typically paired with a fried egg when served as a one-dish meal. If serving as part of a multi-dish Thai meal, you can omit the egg. For an old-school pad gaprao experience, make this dish as spicy as you can handle—it's not just about the heat, as chiles also provide flavor that's important to the dish. Chongchitnant uses a mixture of mild and hot chiles; the mild ones add the necessary chile flavor without overpowering the dish with spice. Red bell pepper will work, but she suggests you try to find something smaller and less watery (we like Jimmy Nardellos). The bird’s eye chile seeds can be removed to moderate the heat further.
- 2–3 bird’s eye chiles
- ⅓ cup coarsely chopped mild red peppers
- 7 garlic cloves
- 3 Tbsp. vegetable oil, plus more for frying
- 4 large eggs
- 1 lb. lean ground pork
- 2 Tbsp. fish sauce, plus more
- 2 tsp. sugar, plus more
- 1½ cups holy basil or Italian basil leaves
- 4 cups steamed jasmine rice, for serving
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