Sunday, June 3, 2012
Several years ago I traveled to Thailand, and as a Thai food lover, I was very excited to eat there. The first thing I wanted to try was authentic Pad Thai. I was very disappointed to hear that Pad Thai is actually not a traditional Thai dish, but rather something that was invented in China, and is the Chinese way of making Thai-style noodles. I did eat a lot of other fantastic food on that trip, and I still love Pad Thai even though it's not officially Thai.
This recipe is one I got several years ago online, and I've modified it over the years to make it easier to make while still retaining the flavor of real Pad Thai. There are so many recipes out there for Pad Thai, and most of them are terrible, but I promise you this one is very very good.
In most Thai dishes there are a few ingredients that really make it taste Thai. This recipe utilizes three of those key ingredients, namely fish sauce, tamarind paste, and lime. Fish sauce and lime are easy to come by in any grocery store; tamarind paste is a bit trickier. I have found it in my local Wegman's grocery store, in the Asian food aisle. I have found it at our Asian grocery store, H-Mart, though it was very difficult to find because of the communication barrier. Probably the easiest place to get it would be to go to an Indian or Middle Eastern or Asian market, a little store where it won't take you an hour to walk every aisle, and get it there.
Once you have tamarind paste (it's also sometimes called tamarind concentrate, or tamarind juice, even though it's a thick paste (the thickness of peanut butter)), you can keep it practically forever in your refrigerator and it's used in LOTS of Thai recipes. You can also thin it with water and make it into a juice, but I personally think it tastes terrible! I guess it's an acquired taste.
So, without any more delays, here is the recipe for Pad Thai. I hope you love it as much as I do.
1/2 lb dried thin (1/8" wide) rice noodles (also called "Oriental Style Noodles," gkuay dtiow in Thai, or ban pho in Vietnamese)
3 Tbs fish sauce
3 Tbs tamarind paste
2 Tbs brown sugar or palm sugar if you have that
4 tsp peanut oil (or you can use vegetable oil)
1/3 lb fresh shrimp, shelled, deveined and butterflied, OR 1/2 lb boneless chicken, cut into 1/2" cubes
3/4 cup firm pressed tofu, cut into thin strips about 1"x1/2"x1/4"
4-5 cloves garlic, minced (that's at least a tablespoon of minced garlic. I usually put in 2 T)
1/2 medium onion, chopped, or 3 shallots, chopped
2 T soy sauce (if you can get dark sweet soy sauce it's better)
1 tsp ground dried red chilies, or 1/2 tsp cayenne pepper
3 cups fresh bean sprouts
1 cup garlic chives, cut into 1-1/2" long pieces
2/3 cup chopped unsalted roasted peanuts (for garnish)
1 lime, cut into 4 or 8 wedges (for garnish)
Cilantro springs (for garnish)
4 green onions, root trimmed and top cut back until the onion is about 4-5" long (for garnish)
Soak the dried noodles in a large bowl of lukewarm water for about 40 minutes, until the noodles are limp but still firm to the touch. While the noodles are soaking, combine fish sauce, tamarind paste, and brown sugar in a small bowl. Prepare all other ingredients so they will be close at hand while cooking, as the cooking process goes very quickly.
When the noodles have softened, drain and set aside. Prepare a large wok by heating over medium high heat until smoking. Add 2 tsp oil and stir-fry the shrimp or chicken until cooked through. Remove from pan and place in serving bowl. Drizzle just a little bit of fish sauce over the meat.
Add another tsp oil to the wok, and swirl it around to coat the surface. Wait 20 seconds or so until it is hot, then add the tofu, frying and turning for a few minutes until they begin to brown. Add garlic and stir-fry for 15 seconds, then add onion and cook another 15 seconds. Add soy sauce and ground chilies, stirring to combine everything.
Add the noodles in, and toss well with everything in the wok. Cook for about 2 minutes, until noodles have softened and are nearly cooked. Push the whole mass of everything up on the top sides of the wok so you have a free cooking surface at the very bottom. Add the last tsp of oil to the bottom, wait for it to heat for a few seconds, then crack the eggs in that spot. Scramble them as they cook, and when they're set, cut them up a bit with your spatula and mix them into the noodles.
Pour the tamarind mixture over the whole thing, stirring to make sure everything is evenly coated. If the noodles are still too firm, you can add a little water (1-2T) and let them cook for a few more minutes. You may need to add more tamarind, sugar, and fish sauce if you do this.
When everything is cooked and well-mixed, toss in the meat, bean sprouts, chives, and half of the peanuts. Stir just until the vegetables are partially wilted, then transfer to a serving dish. Arrange green onions, lime wedges, and cilantro on top, and sprinkle with remaining peanuts.
Serve immediately, squeezing some lime juice onto it before eating.
Makes 4 servings.