Workaholics: Turn Your Student Food Stir Fry into a Thai Masterpiece


This story is over 5 years old.

Workaholics: Turn Your Student Food Stir Fry into a Thai Masterpiece

Andy Oliver, chef and co-owner of top London Thai spot Som Saa, shares his 30-minute recipe for stir-fried duck with holy basil and chilies.

In our new cooking series Workaholics, we invite chefs, bartenders, and other personalities in the world of food and drink who are serious hustlers to share their tips and tricks for preparing quick, creative after-work meals. Every dish featured in Workaholics takes under 30 minutes to make, but without sacrificing any deliciousness—these are tried-and-tested recipes for the super-busy who also happen to have impeccable taste.


"Stir fries are an exciting part of the Thai food repertoire, so we're always keen to showcase them as they are in Thailand—rather than the things people just make up or that come out of a student kitchen."

Andy Oliver, chef and co-owner of Som Saa, the East London restaurant that has become synonymous with Thai food in the capital, does not mess about when it comes to stir fry.


Andy Oliver of London Thai restaurant Som Saa slices chilies for his stir-fried duck dish. All photos by the author.

Som Saa started life as a much-lauded residency at Hackney's Climpson's Arch back in 2015. Oliver and fellow founder and chef Mark Dobbie opened their permanent restaurant near Spitalfields Market earlier this year.

People might be queuing out of the door for the pair's punchy take on regional Thai cuisine, but Oliver generously found the time to slip us the recipe for a fiery stir fry to warm the winter evenings.

READ MORE: The Sea Bass at This London Thai Restaurant Might Stare at You

Best of all, you probably have all the ingredients you need in your cupboard already. Say hello to your new midweek meal lifesaver: stir-fried duck with holy basil and crispy eggs.

"A lot of Thai food is pretty complicated—like curry pastes and fresh coconut cream," says Oliver. "Stir fries can be one of the more simple options and this is a street food-style stir fry, which are simpler still."


He adds: "But it still has punchy flavours and is really satisfying."

Oliver starts by preparing a chili and fish sauce accompaniment called prik nahm pla. He combines fish sauce, bird's eye chilies, and garlic, before squeezing in the lime.


Next comes the duck. As Oliver starts to chop the meat to a rough mince, he explains why people shouldn't be afraid of swapping out their beef or chicken for game.


Oliver grounds chilies, garlic, and salt.

"Duck is quite an easy meat to cook with but it's also one that people don't use so much. It stands up to the stronger flavours of the chili and holy basil. But the dish can be made with a lot of different proteins."

Duck done, it's onto a stir fry paste so ridiculously simple and easy, you'll wonder why you thought supermarket chow mein sauce was ever an option.

Oliver uses a pestle and mortar to pound more garlic and bird's eye chilies with a pinch of salt. Now he's ready to stir fry.

Told you it was easy.

First to face the wok are the crispy eggs. Because, like everything, eggs are better when they're shallow fried.


Charred onions.

"You've got to use a plain oil like vegetable and make sure there are a good couple of inches of oil in the wok," advises Oliver. After the eggs are done, Oliver lifts them out with a wok spoon (which looks a bit like a ladle) and lays them on some kitchen roll to absorb the excess oil.

Onion chunks are charred in a clean, dry wok and set aside before more oil is added. Oliver adds the chili and garlic paste, followed by the duck, some fish sauce, and chicken stock.

"Yeah, maybe you want to keep down the level of smoke if you're making it at home with a regular extractor fan," he says, noting the growing spice plume that exudes from the wok.


The charred onions are added back in and Oliver anoints the mixture with holy basil as the final flourish.


He then begins to plate up the jasmine rice: "For perfect rice, I'd recommend getting a cheap rice cooker—you can get them for £20. Wash the rice gently three times and put cold water in until you have a fist knuckles depth of water over the top of the rice and flip the steamer on."

On top of the rice goes the stir fry mix and a crispy egg.


The finished dish: stir-fried duck with holy basil and a crispy egg.

"A lot of Thai food is meant to be shared so you're supposed to have various dishes on the table. But there are some street food dishes called aharn jan diaw which literally means 'food plate alone' so they're a whole meal in themselves," explains Oliver. "This is an example that kind of stir fry. When you add the rice and the fried egg, it's a meal in itself."

RECIPE: Stir-Fried Duck with Basil

And in 30 minutes, what a knock-your-socks-off, blow-out-the-cobwebs meal it is. Is it dinner time, yet?