This recipe was originally inspired by a dish from Big Bowl. It’s one of Phil’s favorites: he’d order it every time his work took him to the Chicago area. So he commissioned me to figure out a copycat recipe. Thus began our misadventures with The Stir-Fry from Hell, recounted in nauseating detail here. The take-away lesson learned from that experience? Habañeros are NOT an appropriate substitute for Fresno chilies, which I mistakenly identified as Scotch Bonnets. Oops.
I think you can imagine the results of that experiment.
Several iterations later, I have perfected this recipe. Phil now insists that I’ve ruined Big Bowl for him: my dish is better, he says, so he won’t ever order it out again. The dish is chock-full of fresh, delicious vegetables—so much so that we frequently omit meat altogether. Since it’s sometimes difficult to find Fresno chilies in the supermarket, I substitute mini sweet peppers and use more Thai chilies to amp up the heat.
Thai basil frequently presents a challenge: I’ve identified 3 Asian markets in town that reliably carry it, so hopefully this will be the case in your area as well. If not, regular basil is an adequate substitute.
The original recipe calls for shrimp, but I’ve also made the stir-fry with chicken and flank steak. Tofu would be a fantastic meat-free option as well.
The ingredients of the sauce might cause some consternation: fish sauce, after all, is as vile a smelling concoction as most people care to imagine. But trust me—the resulting sauce is balanced out by the citrus of the lemon and the sweetness of the sugar…it’s delicious. Phil likes a LOT of the sauce to drizzle over his rice, so I’ve probably quadrupled the amount used in the original recipe.
This recipe can come together in the amount of time it takes to make your rice if you prep all of the ingredients in advance. I usually do this the night before and keep all of my chopped veggies refrigerated in containers (using the same container for veggies that get added at the same time). The only exceptions are the herbs, which should be chopped right before serving: Thai basil (and sweet basil) tends to turn black if it sits too long after chopping. The peanuts can be roasted the night before, cooled, and kept at room temperature in a zip-top bag or storage container.
I hope you’ll enjoy this stir-fry as much as we do! All the best—
- 2 cup jasmine or basmati rice, prepared as directed
- juice of 3 lemons, or approx. ⅔ cup
- slightly less than ⅔ cup fish sauce*
- 3 tablespoons pure cane sugar, palm sugar, or Splenda
- 2 tablespoons of peanut oil
- 1 large red onion, cut into large cubes
- 1 bunch of scallions, cut into 1-inch lengths, white parts separated from green
- 1 cup of mini sweet peppers, sliced into 2-inch half moons
- 3 teaspoons Thai chilies (less if you're heat-averse!) , bias sliced
- ⅓ cup sliced water chestnuts (I like the sliced ones in the can, then I slice them into slivers)
- ½ lb whole raw medium shrimp, peeled, deveined, and cut in half down the center of back
- OR, cooked chicken breast (cut into bite-size strips), cooked flank steak (cut into bite-size strips: make sure to cut across the grain!), or cooked chicken thighs, cut into bite-size pieces
- OR, leave out the protein!
- ¼ cup chopped cilantro
- ¼ cup chopped Thai basil
- ¼ cup whole roasted peanuts (fresh roasted are best)
- 2-3 baby bok choys (sliced lengthwise, optional)
- Combine fish sauce, lemon juice, and sugar in a 2-cup measuring cup or a small bowl. Stir to combine and set aside.
- Preheat your wok (or large frying pan) over medium- high heat, until crazy-hot. Add the peanut oil and swirl around the wok, heat for about 15 seconds or until wok is nearly smoking. Stir your onions into the oil. If you're using bok choy, add it now. Add the white parts of the scallions and stir into the oil. Add the red and Thai peppers; stir-fry for 15 seconds.
- Add the shrimp halves (if using). Stir gently until shrimp are barely turning pink, about 20 seconds. Or, if you're using pre-cooked meats, add them now and heat through.
- Add in the water chestnuts, the scallion greens, and your lemon juice + fish sauce + sugar mixture, stirring continuously to combine. Heat the sauce to almost, BUT NOT QUITE, boiling.
- Turn off the heat and pull the wok off the burner. Stir in the Thai basil, cilantro, and peanuts. Combine well and serve immediately over rice. Enjoy!