Wednesday, 13 February 2013

Pad Thai

One of my cooking goals this year has been to take dishes that we'd typically order from a restaurant and figure out how to make them at home. Pad Thai is one of those dishes that I'd only ever eaten out, so I took on the task of researching how best to make it. So far it's been the recipe that I've put the most time into researching because there doesn't seem to be one single best accepted way of making it among internet recipe posters.

Some recipes that claimed to be Pad Thai didn't seem remotely close to what I expected and were just a simple veggie stir fry with soy sauce. Others incorporated ketchup into their veggie noodle-y creations and that just didn't sound right to me. Finally after a lot of searching I stumbled on an awesome and comprehensive article on how to make an authentic Pad Thai. One excellent recommendation was to make the sauce ahead of time in order to find the right balance of sour, salty, spicy, and sweet flavours and a few options were given for ingredient choices.

So equipped with notes from the article, I set out on a trip to the local Asian supermarket.  I'd only been there once or twice before to browse and never with a specific grocery list, especially a grocery list of ingredients that I'd mostly never purchased before. I seriously spent about 45 minutes trying to figure out where to find most my ingredients until I caved and started asking clerks for help. Who knew that fish sauce wouldn't be in the same spot as oyster sauce, or that rice stick noodles wouldn't be in the noodle aisle? Or that peanuts would be in the bulk aisle rather than in the 'nuts and snacks' aisle? Even when I did find the ingredients on my own I spent a fair bit of time mulling over which one to pick -- firm or extra firm tofu? Which thickness of rice stick noodle?

Whew. Finally I had all my ingredients gathered together and knew I'd succeeded in picking the right ones when the cashier smiled and asked if I was going to be making Pad Thai!

I was quite pleased with my first attempt which included chicken, tofu (I went with extra firm!), eggs, peanuts, garlic chives, rice stick noodles (I opted for medium thickness), and lots of bean sprouts. I made the sauce from tamarind concentrate (the sour), fish sauce (the salty), hot paprika (the spicy), and brown sugar (the sweet).

While it was a great meal, it wasn't the same as the take-out place downtown that hubby had recently been to for lunch. So a few weeks later I picked up a carton of their take out (for research purposes, of course!), noted that their noodles were very much thinner, and asked about their mysterious brown sauce which turned out to be not mysterious at all. It was simply hoisin sauce stored in an old sriracha bottle.

More Google-ing yielded another recipe for Pad Thai sauce that incorporated both hoisin and sriracha. I made the meal this time with the new sauce recipe, vermicelli noodles rather than rice stick noodles, thinly sliced beef rather than chicken for the sake of variety, chopped green onions rather than garlic chives since I already had them in the fridge, and I left the peanuts out to be added as a garnish. This new recipe really emulated the take-out place's Pad Thai with the only thing missing being the cardboard take out box!

Pad Thai
recipe inspired by Pim and this one
Serves 2

  • 2 tbsp. fish sauce (or soy sauce)
  • 2 tbsp. brown sugar 
  • 2 tbsp. hoisin sauce
  • 2 tbsp. sriracha sauce 
 Mix the sauce ingredients together. Adjust to taste and set aside.

Other Ingredients -- quantities are approximate depending on what kind of balance you prefer between protein, noodle, and sprouts.
  • vegetable oil
  • ~1 cup thinly sliced chicken, beef, firm tofu, and/or pieces of shrimp (I like to use the meat in the freezer aisle that's already prepped for fondue/hot pot)
  • 1 clove finely chopped garlic
  • 1 egg, beaten
  • ~1 cup rice stick noodles or vermicelli  
  • ~2 cup bean sprouts
  • small handful of garlic chives, Chinese chives, or green onions
  • 1-2 tbsp roasted, unsalted peanuts, gently crushed (you don't want it to turn into peanut butter!)
  • lime wedges  
  1. Put the dry noodles into hot water and let soak while you prep the rest of the ingredients. You want them to become pliable but not mushy or cooked.  
  2. Add a few tablespoons of oil to a large wok (or frying pan since I don't have a wok) and bring to high heat.
  3. Add the chicken and/or beef, stirring vigorously about 1-2 minutes until half-way done.
  4. Next add the tofu, a tablespoon or two of the sauce for flavor, and the garlic. (Don't add shrimp yet!). Cook for another minute until the tofu is crisp and slightly brown at the edges, adding a bit of extra sauce or oil if the pan is drying out.
  5. Add the drained noodles, and the sauce. Stir rigorously, keep everything moving in the pan/wok, and cook the noodle until soft. Remember to break up the noodle and don’t let it lump together. If the sauce evaporates too quickly and your noodle isn’t quite ready, add a bit of water and keep stirring. Add a bit of oil if the noodle still stubbornly sticks together.
  6. When the noodle is ready (taste it to be sure), push it up to one side of the wok/pan and add the egg into the middle. Let it set for 10-15 seconds and then scramble it up and toss everything all together.
  7. Last, you add the shrimp meat, ground peanuts, and beansprouts. Keep things moving. Add more sauce if it looks a little pale. If you're out of sauce mixture you can just add extra hoisin and/or sriracha to taste. 
  8. When the shrimps are done, shouldn’t take more than a minute, add a handful of green bits (garlic chives, Chinese chives or green onion). Turn the heat off, and quickly give the wok a good stirring to mix everything together.

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