Thai Spicy Chicken, Basil and Asparagus

I decided last August that local eating didn’t have to preclude global flavors.

When I made the choice to continue to eat condiments and foods that have never been and will never be produced in Ohio, while choosing Ohio-produced staple foods: vegetables, fruits, meat, eggs, and dairy items, that meant I didn’t have to give up three of my greatest loves in the world: Chinese, Indian and Thai foods.

This decision has extended to this year’s Eat Local Challenge, which meant that the other night when we needed a very quick and flavorful dinner, I could utilize my abundance of basil and make Spicy Thai Chicken and Basil. The rest of the ingredients I had on hand–green garlic, I substituted for garlic, the chicken was from a local farmer, shallots I had from a local source, Thai chiles came from the freezer–they were grown in Athens county last summer, and lime juice and zest came from Florida. (Not so local, but then, limes don’t grow here.)

Usually, I use fresh green beans and carrots in the stir-fried dish, but the other night, I had some more of that lovely, delicate, “thinner-than-a-pencil” asparagus, so I decided to use that. Thicker-speared asparagus would have had a stronger, more “asparagusy” taste, but these wee spears are delicate and very verdant in flavor. They taste very green, and very good.

They worked beautifully alongside the rest of the bag of young basil that didn’t make it into the pesto, and the dish was fairly bursting with delicious, bright flavors. The basil played perfectly off of the chiles and the asparagus, while the chicken was enhanced with the fish sauce and the lime. The shallots carried a sweetness into the mixture that really bound it all together, and the whole thing flavored great steaming piles of jasmine rice admirably.

Once again–there were no left-overs, which let me know that the dish was an unqualified success.

I think that it will have to become a springtime tradition.

Spicy Thai Chicken, Basil and Asparagus


1 lb. boneless skinless chicken breasts, cut into 1”X1/2” slices
1 tbsp. cornstarch
1 tbsp. oyster sauce
3 tbsp. peanut oil
2 large shallots, sliced as thinly as you can manage
3-5 Thai bird chiles sliced thinly on the diagonal (or to taste–with me, more is better)
zest of one lime (If you can get fresh kaffir lime leaves, 3 of them cut chiffonade are best)
8 cloves garlic minced
fish sauce to taste (I use about two to three tablespoons)
1/2 pound pencil thin or thinner asparagus, cut into 1 1/2″ long pieces
2 cups basil leaves, firmly packed into the measure
2 tbsp. oyster sauce, or to taste
juice of one small lime
1/3 cup unsalted chicken broth or stock


Toss cut chicken with cornstarch and oyster sauce.

Heat oil in wok until smoking. Add shallots, chiles and lime zest, and cook until the shallots begin to brown. Add garlic and cook until fragrant.

Add chicken, and push into a single layer and allow to cook without stirring for about one minute, or until chicken begins to brown. Stir, and then stir constantly, cooking until chicken is nearly all white, with only a bit of pink showing.

Add some fish sauce, and let it cook down, then add asparagus and cook for one minute, stirring madly. Add the basil leaves and stir for another minute, allowing them to wilt.

Add a dash more fish sauce, a dollop (about a tablespoon is all I use, but some folks like more) oyster sauce and lime juice, boil until sauce cooks down (this takes about thirty-45 seconds, really). Add broth or stock and cook just until sauce is barely thickened by reduction, barely a minute. The basil should be wilted, the chicken glazed with a bit of browning but mostly white and tender, and the asparagus crunchy-tender.

Serve over steamed jasmine rice.


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  1. Looks delish. This is one of my fave. I cheat though and use a jarred thai spicy basil paste which my cupboard can do without.

    I haven’t tried it with asparagus…. must try soon.

    Comment by mae — May 11, 2006 #

  2. Sounds just fabulous. Wish I could come to your house for dinner!

    Comment by kalyn — May 11, 2006 #

  3. Barbara,

    That sounds delightful!

    Comment by kevin — May 11, 2006 #

  4. That picture is making me hungry! I can almost taste the crispiness of the asparagus and the fresh basil as I read this. Yum.

    Comment by Stephanie — May 13, 2006 #

  5. I’ve never tried it with a paste, Mae–but I tend to grow so much basil in the season that I wouldn’t need to, though I could make my own paste and freeze it and then see what happens. Kind of like freezing my pesto. Hrm.

    Kalyn–you’d be welcome anytime, dear!

    Kevin, thank you–I do love using fresh asparagus in anything that will hold still for it.

    Stephanie–as I said, I usually use green beans with this dish, but the asparagus was really pretty special. I really liked it.

    Comment by Barbara — May 13, 2006 #

  6. Barbara,

    I waited too long to use the online food sources you recommended and now I have all the ingredients except Oyster Sauce. Is there something I can use instead?

    Comment by Brandi — May 18, 2006 #

  7. Most bigger grocery stores usually carry small bottles of oyster sauce in the Asian foods section. If not, you can do a couple of things–one, leave it out and move along–it will still taste good. You can use “vegetarian stir fry sauce” which is a mushroom-based version of oyster sauce, if you have some around, or can find it at the local grocery store. You can use some fermented soy bean paste–but use less of that, or you can use a little more fish sauce, a pinch more sugar and a tiny dab of soy sauce for the color that the oyster sauce imparts.

    I bet it would turn out fine without it, though.

    Comment by Barbara — May 18, 2006 #

  8. I’ve been to all my local stores, an asian market that has gone out of business :(, Whole Foods, Fresh Market, and that expensive place in the mall. I shall move using one of your suggestions, thanks!

    Comment by Brandi — May 18, 2006 #

  9. let me know how it goes, Brandi!

    Comment by Barbara — May 18, 2006 #

  10. […] Although there is a hefty selection of Thai recipes at Five Star Recipes, I often go out looking for other receipes. Check out this recipe for Thai Spicy Chicken, Basil, and Asparagus. […]

    Pingback by Five Star Recipe Blog » Blog Archive » Chicken Thai Spicy — December 28, 2006 #

  11. Hi Barbara,

    How can I incorporate Japanese eggplant into this dish without burning the garlic or overcooking the chicken? Should it be cooked separately and added with the asparagus?

    By the way, I’m a huge fan of your site! I recommend it like nobody’s business.

    Comment by Melissa — July 10, 2007 #

  12. Melissa–sorry I am so late with this reply.

    I would cut the eggplants into fairly thick slices, and then cut each slice into matchstick-shaped pieces to echo the thickness and shape of the asparagus.

    Then, I would leave out the garlic at the beginning. I would add the eggplant and the garlic at the same time, while the chicken is still laying on the bottom of the wok, browning. Scatter the garlic first, then the eggplant and then start stirring them all together after the chicken has browned. (You may need extra oil, because eggplant soaks up oil like nobody’s business. Just so you know…)

    That is how I would do it.

    And thank you for recommending my blog to people–that makes me happy.

    When you have made it with the eggplant, let me know how you like it!


    Comment by Barbara — July 18, 2007 #

  13. If you haven’t tried Thai Oyster Sauce (Nahm Man Hoi)-please do-it has a very different flavour from the Chinese Oyster Sauce. Thai Oyster Sauce doesn’t contain MSG and is less salty, and has a richer flavour! I buy Mae Krua Brand, which means “mother of the kitchen,” and has a picture of a woman cooking on the label.

    I love asparagus with pork or chicken stirfied Thai-style!

    Comment by mary-anne — March 20, 2008 #

  14. […] been so inexpensive lately. I was considering substituting it when I just happened upon a Thai recipe that used asparagus and basil, posted by the very creative Barbara at Tigers and Strawberries. […]

    Pingback by Thai-Style Basil Tofu and Asparagus | recipe from FatFree Vegan Kitchen — June 29, 2011 #

  15. […] Tigers & Strawberries – Thai Spicy Chicken, Basil, and Asparagus […]

    Pingback by Chicken Stir-Fry with Asparagus and Snow Peas Recipe, and My Thoughts on Carbon Steel Woks — Andrea Meyers — April 19, 2012 #

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