Thursday, July 28, 2011

Pad Thai: what you need to make it

This is a really underexposed, unsharp, fluorescent photo of the ingredients you need to make Pad Thai.

I've chatted about Pad Thai over here before.

I told you how much I love it. How it's the perfect balance of flavours. How I love cooking on a flaming hot wok. How the sweet, sour and salty come together like a verse written by the Beatles.

I make this dish at least once a week. Sometimes twice a week. OK, sometimes three times a week.

Don't you get sick of it? No. Absolutely not. I never do. Don't ask me that.

So lets review.....

For the sauce you need:
Fish sauce. It's the bottle with the picture of a squid on the front even though it doesn't contain any squid product. Hilarious. I love it more just because of this.

You need tamarind. Don't buy tamarind paste. You want tamarind pulp. It has some thin skins in it but no pits or shells.

Then there's palm sugar. Amazing stuff. It comes in dry form and it's shaped into pucks. It has a robust sweetness with a bit of floral acidity. Look for coconut palm sugar if you can. But, if you really can't find this stuff, you can use a mix of honey and dark brown sugar. That works.

For the flavour base you need:
Garlic. Duh.

Shallot. Make sure you use shallots. I tried using a yellow cooking onion once when I realized I was out of shallots and it was not the same.

Dried shrimps. They're little tiny baby dried shrimps that add a boat load of salty, savoury umaminess. Don't be afraid, they're just shrimps.

Firm dry tofu. Make sure you look for "dry" on the label. Even extra firm tofu is still too soft.

For the mix-ins:
Sprouts, lots of green onion and egg.

For the toppings:
Toasted peanuts. These are mandatory.

Fresh lime wedges. Mandatory.

Red chili flakes. Not so mandatory.

This is enough to serve one person. Do not attempt to double this recipe because it will crowd the wok and reduce the temperature. So, you won't be able to get the same browning on your flavour base ingredients. Dark brown, nearly blackened, garlic, shallot and tofu are the gateway to magnificent Pad Thai.

To serve two, you need to make it twice. But hey! It's like eating two dinners so I like this idea. Basically I prepare ingredients for a double batch and I make a double batch of the sauce. Then, I divide the ingredients in half, prepare a single batch and then split it with Jonathan. Then we finish, rinse and dry the wok and start all over again for the second round.

Here's the mystery.....the second batch is always a hair better. I don't get it, but it's fine by me!

Pad Thai

¼ lb dried Thai rice noodles
1 tbsp peanut oil, divided
1 small shallot, minced
1 clove garlic, minced
1 tsp dried baby shrimp
2 oz dried firm tofu, cut into ½-inch cubes
1 large egg
½ cup bean sprouts
1 green onion, sliced into quarters lengthwise and cut into 2-inch-long pieces
2 tbsp toasted peanuts, roughly chopped
dried red chili flakes to taste
1 lime, cut into wedges

For the Pad Thai sauce:
1 tbsp tamarind pulp
½ cup boiling water
½ oz palm sugar (in brick form)
1 tbsp fish sauce
2 tsp brown sugar
½ tsp soy sauce

Place the dried rice noodles in a large bowl and cover with very hot (not boiling) water. Let soak 30 minutes, changing water every 10 minutes. Drain noodles and set aside.

To make the sauce, place tamarind paste in boiling water and mash with the back of a fork until dissolved. Press through a sieve and into a small saucepot. Add palm sugar, fish sauce, brown sugar and soy sauce. Bring mixture to a boil over medium heat and then simmer until thickened slightly, about 5 minutes. Set aside.

Place a wok over high heat. Once hot, add 1 tablespoon peanut oil. Heat until it shimmers and then add shallot, garlic, tofu and dried shrimp. Fry, stirring constantly, until tofu is golden brown, for no longer than 1 minute.

Add noodles with ¼ cup of water. Toss and cook until noodles soften, no longer than 30 seconds. Push noodles to one side of pan to make room for the egg. If pan is dry, add 1 tablespoon peanut oil and add egg in the space. Pour sauce over noodles as egg begins to set up, which will take about 15-20 seconds. Once slightly set, stir to scramble and toss noodles over eggs. Add sprouts, green onions and half of the peanuts. Toss until heated through, but no longer than 1 minute. Transfer to a serving dish. Serve with remaining peanuts, dried chili flakes and lime wedges.
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