Sunday, March 1, 2009

For the Love of Pad Thai

As you know it all started with my love of Thai food—how to replicate the dishes I so loved. Chief among these was Pad Thai. It was a mystery. When I realized the recipe in my Thai cookbook didn’t come close to approximating the dish we were served at our local Thai restaurant I almost gave up hope. A search of the internet turned up nothing at the time, but I found a noodle recipe that came close, and for about a year, we made do with it. Delicious though it was however, it was not Pad Thai.

One day while visiting a large Asian food store, I happened upon a jar of Pad Thai sauce. Hallelujah! Of course, there were about six different versions to choose from—all expensive—so I chose two and went home to experiment. The results as you might expect, were mediocre at best, but it was better than nothing. Consequently, we would have Pad Thai only as often as I got to the Asian market to stock up, which was infrequently.

This is where I would probably still be if not for my Thai sister-in-law May. Her recipe for Pad Thai was simple and easy to make. It had the added benefit of not having a bunch of fancy ingredients that would be hard to come by and the recipe tasted like what I had come to expect of Pad Thai. I was delighted. While this recipe bears little resemblance to the street food so common in her homeland, I think you will find it a supreme comfort food.

A word about creativity: Noodle dishes in most Asian cultures are incredibly versatile. They take the “kitchen sink” approach, using whatever happens to be fresh and on hand. With that in mind, feel free to experiment with ingredients that go beyond those listed here. Street Pad Thai often includes tofu, soybeans, egg, bean sprouts, chives, red pork, fresh or dried shrimp, salted radish, carrots, scallions, lime, peanuts, pickled turnip, garlic, tamarind, and dried chili. We’ve also used crab with good results. Bottom line, be creative. I also wanted to include a very nice YouTube video of street Pad Thai which you will find here.

Auntie May’s Pad Thai

First, we make the sauce—much better than the expensive jarred version.
I usually make a double batch and then keep it handy in a quart jar ready for use in the pantry. This recipe makes about 1½ C of sauce which is enough for one package of noodles—it generously serves four and does not need refrigeration.

½ C Brown Sugar
½ C White Sugar
½ C Seasoned Gourmet Rice Vinegar
½ C Water
1 tsp Fish Sauce
¼ tsp salt

Place all of the above ingredients in a small sauce pan and cook until it comes to a boil and all the sugar dissolves. Set aside.

1 package of Rice Stick noodles.

Rice noodles usually come in packages of 14-16 ounces and a variety of widths. We like the wider noodle (about 5 mm) but any rice stick noodle will do. Soak the noodles in cold water for 1-3 hours if you can. Soaking in cold water will give you a nice, non-sticky noodle. (You can soak them for about ten minutes in hot water just prior to using but they will be sticky and you will have to watch that they don’t get too soft or they will turn to mush in your wok.)

Other ingredients:

2-4 Tbs Peanut or Canola Oil
4 Eggs
2 Boneless, Skinless Chicken Breasts, diced
1 16 oz. can Chicken Broth
1 bunch Scallions-julienne into 1” pieces
1-2 C Bean Sprouts
Peanuts, roasted, ground
1 Lime, Cut into Wedges
Crushed red pepper flakes or Thai chili powder

Now to the cooking…we make Pad Thai in two batches.

Heat your wok or large non-stick skillet to high. Add 1-2 Tbs of oil and heat until it shimmers. Add two eggs to the oil and scramble quickly, add diced chicken (1 breast) and cook for about 2-3 minutes. (Chicken will not be fully cooked.)

Next, add half of your presoaked rice noodles, ¾ C sauce, and 1 cup Chicken Broth to wok. Stir-fry until your noodles are soft and the liquid is absorbed. (About 6-10 minutes depending upon the intensity of your heat source and thickness of your noodle. If all the liquid is gone before your noodles are completely cooked, add more Chicken Broth or water.)

About 30 seconds before your noodles are done (taste them to see), add the scallions and bean sprouts, stir to mix and wilt the scallions.

Serve immediately.

Garnish with roasted peanuts, lime wedges, and Thai chili powder to taste.

Repeat process with second half of the ingredients.

Also, a note about fish sauce: In Thai cooking, fish sauce is, as you taste your noodles, if you like saltier dishes, add a splash or two of fish sauce as your Pad Thai cooks.

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