Fried Minced Beef with Basil and their Maillard flavours

Monday, October 28, 2013

This Thai dish, by the traditional name Pad Ga Prao is one of my favourite dishes.

A one-plate wonder, Chef McDang calls it a Thai national fast-food dish. Think of the aroma of fried minced beef -  with Maillard flavours in abundance - combined with fresh basil leaves, chillies, fried egg and rice. It is indeed the perfect meal.

The good news is that you can easily cook this in your own home. I agree with Leela of SheShimmers in her post of the same dish that you don't need to be an experienced cook to do this well.

What are "Maillard flavours," you may ask?

These are flavours you get when meat is cooked in high heat (i.e. above 120C). In high heat, protein molecules will combine with sugared ones to form complex molecules, producing the wonderful aromas that we love when steaks or burgers are seared. This normally happens only at the surface of a steak or burger patty which comes in contact with the searing high heat from a metal of a pan or grill. You can find out more about Maillard reactions here.

The thing about stir-frying minced beef in high heat is that you get those Maillard flavours produced in abundance due to the higher proportion of meat-metal heat contact. Another way of putting it is to say that you will get Maillard flavours all over the meat when it is minced and fried.

The trick is to get those reactions going without drying out the meat. This is where wok stir-frying is perfect for this. You keep the minced meat turning, applying the high heat evenly across the surface without overcooking the meat inside.

Well, enough of the science. Let's just say that if you have some minced beef and basil leaves, you will have a great meal at hand. I should add that holy basil leafs is traditionally used for this. It can be difficult to find that. The more common Thai basil can be used instead.

Fried Minced Beef with Basil Recipe
Fresh Thai or Purple Basil

Enough for 2-3 pax

300 gm minced beef
4 cloves of garlic
5 chilli padi (bird's eye chillies)
1t palm sugar (or brown sugar)
1T Fish Sauce
1T Thai Soy Sauce
Holy Basil Leafs (or substitute with Thai Basil)
1T cooking oil

  1. Smash the garlic and chillies in a mortar or mince it with a heavy knife. If you are using a blender, blend it coarsely. 
  2. Mise en place and ensure that the minced beef is at room temperature and not frozen. 
  3. Heat up the wok. Add the oil. Using low flame, fry the garlic and chillies for about 1 minute.  
  4. Increase the flame to medium-high and add the minced meat. Add the fish sauce, soy sauce and sugar. Stir-fry vigorously for about 1-2 minutes and ensure the meat is not bunched up.  
  5. Add the basil leafs and switch off the fire. Serve immediately on a plate of hot white rice with one fried egg.  
As for the fried egg, you want the sides to be crispy and the yolk to be creamy. The eggs can be fried beforehand using the same wok. The wok is great for this. Ensure the oil covers the egg. Fry them one at a time. The oil needs to be hot enough for the egg white to crisp on the sides.

Cooking Notes
  1. The green capped "Nguan Chian" Light Soy Sauce brand is very good for this dish. See photo on the right. 
  2. As for basil leafs, you should use Holy Basil ("Ga Prao" means Holy Basil. See Leela's explanation here). Holy Basil is very good for frying and it crisps up nicely. If it is not available in your area, the purple-stemmed Thai Basil or Purple Basil is a very good substitute, especially in terms of taste though it will not crisp up as well as the Holy type. Actually, if you want your Holy Basil leaves to be really crispy, you need to deep fry them first in oil. Then you add them to the fried minced beef towards the end.
  3. Don't over-fry the minced meat or they will dry up. 
  4. Minced Chicken or pork can be used too.
The wok is great for frying eggs - do it one at a time
Ready for dinner

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  1. Hi Pastor, where do you usually get your basil leaves, and how much do they cost?

  2. I get it from here: