We always think of comfort food as familiar food from our childhood, but there are some dishes that hit me like the proverbial foudre de coup—comfort at first bite, as it were. Pad Kra Pao is such a dish. Ground pork sautéed until crisp and sizzling, with intermingling salty, sweet, sour, spicy and savory sensations hitting your tongue like a flavor monsoon. Seriously, they should have called this Pad Kra POW.
Perhaps it’s the resemblance to our local silog that does it for me, because rice and an egg will transform nearly anything into a comfort food, as far as I’m concerned. And while many comfort foods are lovingly slow-cooked for hours, Pad Kra Pao hits a hot wok with a satisfying sizzle, producing clouds of aromatic smoke that evolve with every addition until a few minutes later, the dish is done.
Like our silog, it’s a perfect breakfast dish, post-debauchery 3 a.m. restorative, or one-bowl/one hand meal to accompany your Netflix binge. A classic Pad Kra Pao is made with ground pork, but you can substitute beef, chicken, seafood, or even tofu, if you prefer. It’s also made with holy basil, but since that’s hard to find, I usually substitute regular Italian basil. Surprisingly, this approximates the taste of holy basil more closely than Thai basil. Real limes are also hard to find, but I think calamansi is a perfectly delicious substitute.
For me, the hardest part of preparing this dish is getting that perfect fried egg with the runny yolk and crispy edges. But frying your egg in hot oil in the same hot wok and watching it like a hawk to make sure it doesn’t overcook ups your chances of getting things right. And even if you mess up the egg (like I did in the video), you’ll find that like most things in life, it may not necessarily be perfect, but it’ll still be damn good.
- 3 Tbsp neutral oil
- 2 Tbsp shallots (sibuyas Tagalog), thinly sliced
- 8 large cloves garlic, thinly sliced
- 3-4 Tbsp birds eye chili (siling labuyo), thinly sliced (deseeded if you want less heat)
- 500 grams ground pork
- 1 tsp sugar
- 1 Tbsp fish sauce
- 1 Tbsp light soy sauce
- 2 tsp dark soy sauce
- 2 tsp oyster sauce
- ⅓ cup water
- 40 grams holy basil leaves (can be substituted with regular Italian basil)
- Salt and pepper to taste
- Fried eggs
- Lime or calamansi
- In a wok over medium high heat, add the oil, shallots and garlic, and fry for 3 minutes. Add the chilies and cook for another minute.
- Turn up the heat to high and add the ground pork, stirring frequently to break up the chunks.
- Add the sugar, fish sauce, soy sauce, dark soy sauce, and oyster sauce, stirring in between additions to incorporate, as well as crisp up the pork.
- Deglaze the pan with water. Add the basil, and stir-fry until just wilted. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Serve over rice with a fried egg and a slice of lime (or calamansi).
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