How to make this addictively spicy Thai street food, Pad Kee Mao, or basil rice noodle stir fry.
When you think of noodles in Thailand, Pad Thai comes first to mind. I’ve always much preferred Pad Kee Mao, although it’s not as commonplace on the menus of Bangkok eateries. Pad Kee Mao is known as “Drunken Noodles”, even though there’s no alcohol involved! It’s called as such since this is suppose to be just the kicker of a noodle dish to have after a late night of drinking.
I don’t know about that… I would always order this if I see it on a Thai menu, regardless the time of day! Might be why it’s not as prevalent as Pad Thai or Pad See Ew. This is a perfectly salty, slightly sweet dish punched with an addictive kick of spice; although in Thailand, I would always follow up with a “less spicy please”. I think I have a high spice tolerance, but it’s most definitely not as high as the Thais!
I know this better as Thai Basil Noodle Stir Fry… because that’s exactly what it is! I’m sure you’re familiar with the quintessentially Thai Pad Gra Pow, or Basil Stir Fry. This is just that, but with noodles.
What Do You Need To make Pad Kee Mao?
- Fresh Rice Noodles
- Garlic and Thai Bird’s Eye Chillies
- Seasoning Sauce
- Protein of Choice
- Vegetable of Choice
Perfect Pad Kee Mao: Work One Portion at a Time
With Pad Kee Mao – and most stir fried noodles – it’s best to work one portion at a time. This prevents the noodles from getting soggy. I know it sounds cumbersome, but each portion takes ultra quick to cook, less than 5 minutes!
My recipe cooked the proteins first, you can cook all of this at one go. I used chicken here, but any protein of choice will do. If I had defrosted my shrimps, that would have made it into this dish. I gave my chicken a seasoning of soy sauce, fish sauce and white pepper. Do this right at the beginning, and let it marinate while you prepare the rest of the ingredients.
I added an egg too. The noodles never turn soggy, since you allow the egg to scramble and fully cook. To make this more Thai, fold the eggs in as they cook instead of doing a quick scramble with your spatula. This will give you big chunks of egg, which is more satisfying with the noodles!
If you are worried it might make the noodles soggy, then you can cook the eggs with the protein in the first step. In this recipe, the seasoning sauce bowl is just right to season the noodles and the egg, so you might want to readjust.
The extra time in wok needed to make this happen will also allow the noodles to char even more, giving it that ‘wok hei’ flavour.
Bird’s Eye Chilli and Garlic Mash
Like with Pad Gra Pow, the base flavour is from bird’s eye chillies and garlic. The traditional way to prepare this is to mash the chillies and garlic in a mortar and pestle. This is also the best way, unfortunately, so if you haven’t gotten yourself a pestle and mortar, I highly recommend investing in one.
Pounding it in a mortar and pestle will extract the liquid, creating a nice mash.
Otherwise, you can also use a food processor for this. If you have no equipment at all, you can finely mince the garlic and chillies. You can also try to flatten the chopped ingredients with the side of your knife to mash it.
Another warning: you will most definitely sneeze a lot when sauteing the chillies! Sneezes are worth it, I promise.
Type of Noodle for Pad Kee Mao
You need rice noodles for this. I used hor fun noodles, which are wide, flat rice noodles. You can also use kway teow noodles, which are thinner versions of hor fun. These two would work the best for this, because they provide a nice slight chew for the noodles -it’s incredibly satisfying!
Try to find fresh rice noodles. I personally find the the dry ones just don’t hit the same way. In addition, most dry hor fun or kway teow versions tend to be a lot more fragile, and break in the pan easily. If you can only find dry rice noodles, get the ones used for Pad Thai. They are actually great for Pad Kee Mao and tend to be more sturdier. They won’t be as bouncy as fresh hor fun noodles but still works for the recipe.
Just no rice noodles, but still want to give this a go? You can use any other noodle of choice, and it will still come out delicious. The seasonings are very standard Asian sauces. It’s the chewiness of the rice noodles that make this dish so signature.
Type of Basil for Pad Kee Mao
In Thailand, the Basil used is Holy Basil. There are generally three types of basil to be aware of; Thai Basil, Holy Basil and Italian Sweet Basil. All the basil all has a peppery taste to it, with different levels of mildness and undertones.
Most Thai dishes call for holy basil, which has a slightly stronger, spicier pepper flavour that Thai basil. If you look up these three types of basils, the opinions appear split. Some insist holy basil is not interchangeable for thai basil, others will say sweet basil has no place in Asian cooking.
I‘ll be honest, I interchange with these three basils all the time! It depends on what is available and the freshest-looking herb at the supermarket.
TLDR; use whatever basil that is easily available to you. I’ve done so multiple times, and the dish has that extra layer of herb complexity, without fail.
How To Serve Pad Kee Mao
I can eat this as is… but if I’m bothered, I would squeeze a refreshing zing of lime wedge over it! You can also add crushed peanuts and Thai chilli flakes on the side.
More recipes like this:
- Pad See Ew | Thai stir fried rice noodles
- Pad Thai | Thai sweet and sour fried rice noodles
- Moonlight Hor Fun | Fried noodles served with a raw egg
- Char Kway Teow | Singapore hawker classic! Fried rice noodles
Pad Kee Mao | Spicy Thai Basil ‘Drunken Noodles’Course: Recipes
200g Hor Fun
1-2 tsp Garlic
1-2 Thai Bird’s Eye Chillies
A few stalks of Bok Choy (or any leafy Asian green of choice)
A cup of Basil
100g Chicken, sliced thinly
1/2 tsp Light Soy Sauce
1/4 tsp Fish Sauce
1/4 tsp Ground White Pepper
- Seasoning Sauce
1 tsp light soy sauce
1 tsp dark soy sauce
1 tsp oyster sauce
1/2 tsp fish sauce
1 tsp sugar
- To protein of choice, season with light soy sauce, fish sauce and white pepper. Marinate for about 10 minutes, or while preparing the other ingredients.
- Add bird’s eye chillies and garlic to mortar and pestle. Pound to get a rough mash. Alternatively, you can simply mince the chillies and garlic finely.
- Combine together the ingredients for the seasoning sauce bowl and keep to one side.
- To a pan, add oil. Stir fry the marinated chicken pieces over high heat until cooked. There should be some brown searing on the chicken surface. Take off the pan and keep to one side.
- Add more oil to the same pan, and once hot, add the birds eye chillies and garlic mash. Give it a quick stir fry, and once fragrant, add the noodles and the seasoning sauce. Stir to incorporate and let sauce evenly coat noodles.
- Push noodles to one side, and add more oil if needed. Add an egg and scramble it to cook. Toss with the noodles to incorporate. Make sure the egg cook fully, so there shouldn’t be any soggy egg mixture running through the noodles before you move to the next step.
- Add back the chicken as well as bok choy, or any leafy green of choice. Stir fry and once bok choy wilts, turn off the heat.
- Immediately add basil, and toss through noodles. Allow the residual heat to wilt the basil and serve immediately!