Chicken with Lemongrass and Basil

This recipe is not inspired by, or adapted from any particular recipe, but the ingredients I am using are very southeast Asian in spirit and would likely be quite at home in Malaysia, Indonesia or Thailand. Lemongrass plays a very central role here, but the fire in the recipe comes from the Sambal Terasi I prepared some weeks ago…

The Ingredients

  • 1 large boneless Chicken breast, sliced crosswise into strips;
  • 4 Scallions, white part only, cut into 2” sections;
  • 3 or 4 baby tomatoes, seeds and pulp removed, cut into thin wedges;
  • A few sprigs of Basil;
  • 1 ½ tsp. Sambal Terasi;
  • 2 short sections of fresh Lemongrass;
  • 1 tbsp. Sugar;
  • 2 tbsp. Fish Sauce;
  • 2 tbsp. Lime Juice;

My homemade Sambal Terasi was made with Thai chilies and is very hot. If you aren’t inclined to use my recipe, you could substitute a generic chili paste and add it to suit your heat tolerance. I would also be inclined to use quite a bit more Basil than I have here (maybe even 2 or 3 times as much) but I only had a little on hand.

The Method

First, mix the sugar and the fish sauce with the chicken and allow it to marinate for at least thirty minutes. Finely mince the lemon grass and then pound it in a mortar to make it a coarse paste and, finally, coarsely shred the basil.

Heat a half-cup to a cup of vegetable oil in you wok. When it comes to the shimmering point, fry you chicken in two, or even three, batches until it is starting to get a little golden in places. If you do this in small enough amounts, the chicken will be nicely done on the outside but still be partially uncooked in the center, which is just what you want. Remove the chicken to a separate bowl as each batch gets done.

Drain off all but a couple of tablespoons of oil and then, when it comes back up to a shimmering heat again, throw in the scallion sections and toss them until just beginning to soften. Now, scoot the sections up the sides of your wok and add the Sambal Terasi and then the lemongrass into the oil in the middle. Let them flavor the oil and release their aromas and then add the lemon juice. Continue to cook for a few more seconds until the liquid has reduced ever so slightly.

Now add the chicken back into the pan along with the tomato and stir-fry until both are cooked through but not so long that the tomato begins to break down too much (a minute or two should suffice). Lastly, add the basil, toss and stir until this is wilted slightly and then plate and serve.

The Verdict

I served this dish with rice that I had leftover from a previous meal but I think this would actually be much better over rice noodles, possibly garnished with some crushed peanuts and a few sprigs of cilantro.

In any event … the meal turned out very nicely and it is a shame that my wife is out of town (yet again) as she would really have enjoyed this. The sambal terasi lent such a heat to the final result that my nose started running while I was eating and I was glad to have the rice alongside as a balance. I would have liked the lemongrass to have been a bit more assertive (the chili dominated somewhat) but it was actually nicely apparent as a background taste along with the basil. A bit of tweaking might improve things here or there but, basically, I thought this was really good…

5 thoughts on “Chicken with Lemongrass and Basil”

  1. I can tell from your pictures that your wok is very seasoned and gets lot of use and with dishes like this I am sure it will get used a lot more. Very delicious and great flavor combinations. Did you use Thai Basil?

    1. No … just the common sweet variety. We have had Thai Basil before, and a few other varieties, but usually ony the common kind is available at any given time. That’s not a serous problem for me though as I like it the best 🙂

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