Saturday, October 6, 2007

Pim's Pad Thai

Pad Thai
Pad thai is my favorite food ever and I almost always order it at Thai restaurants. I can never get enough the fresh-from-the-wok noodles coated in lightly caramelized sauce perfectly balanced with the classic Thai flavor combination of salty, sweet, sour, and spicy. I've tried various disappointing recipes at home resulting in one miserable attempt after another. One reason is because I used ketchup and that is my dirty shameful pad thai past. (I hope you don't read this Pim because I am so embarrassed.) Now that I've tried tamarind in my sauce, I know there is absolutely NO substitute for it because the flavor is irreplaceable and ketchup will never touch my rice noodles ever again.

TamarindFinding tamarind was a bit tricky. On my first try, I asked several employees of my local Asiam market where I could find this magical ingredient. Each led me to the different aisle (6, no 9, try 11?, maybe 4!) until finally one employee said the store didn't carry it. Though skeptical, I went home defeated. I bet it would have helped if I had known what it was called in Chinese. The next time, I returned absolutely determined on finding the ever elusive tamarind. I checked every aisle looking up and down the shelves until finally I saw a plastic container that had a picture of the brown knobbly fruit on it. Ah Hah! I found you! I scan the container for English and it says "Sour Fruit Soup Mix." "Hmm... maybe this is the wrong thing," I wondered. I checked the ingredients, which said "Sour Fruit" and water. I took a chance and crossed my fingers that it would be tamarind and not hot and sour soup mix when I opened it. Though I really wanted to find a brick of tamarind paste, this was the best I could do. Thankfully it was the right thing.

As for the recipe? Look no further than Pim's blog because this is the absolute best pad thai recipe ever!

Salted Turnip- You need the tamarind, no ketchup! Don't make the same mistake I did.
- For the sauce, like Pim says, the sourness of your tamarind, the saltiness of your fish sauce, and sweetness of your palm sugar will vary. Start with this base amount and adjust as you go. It should be salty, then sour, sweet, and spicy at the end. I find that Filipino and Thai fish sauces are saltier than Vietnamese fish sauce.
- If you have tamarind paste and need to reconstitute it, look at Pim's notes at the bottom of the recipe here
- You can replace the garlic chives with the green part of scallions/green onions if you can't find the chives.
- Use as much chives/green onions and bean sprouts as you like. I like a lot of both when I use chives and sprouts, I would use less green onions if I had to make the substitute. (pst veggies are good for you)
- If you can't find the preserved turnip and dried shrimp, it's okay since they're optional.
- It's best to make this portion by portion like Pim says. But I don't have a wok so I made the whole thing in a skillet and it turned out great but I bet it'll be even better in a wok made in a smaller portion.

Chez Pim's Pad Thai aka Best Pad Thai Ever (take that Cook's Illustrated)
Serves 2 - 3

Master Sauce
1/2 C tamarind concentrate
1/2 C fish sauce
1/3 C brown sugar (or 1/2 C palm sugar)
Thai chili powder/cayenne to taste

8 oz. rice noodles/sticks
Shrimp (peeled and deveined), chopped extra-firm or pressed tofu, or sliced chicken breast (I used about 8 oz. of shrimp and 4 oz. of tofu)
1 - 2 eggs depending on how much egg you like
2 C of chopped Chinese garlic chives (or green part of green onions but use less)
2 C bean sprouts (mung bean sprouts not soy bean sprouts)
4 Tbsp ground peanuts (minced or grind in a food processor)
Vegetable oil

2 Tbsp minced pickled/preserved/salted turnip
2 Tbsp minced dried shrimp or pounded until fluffly with a mortar and pestle
A few cloves of minced or pressed garlic

Start by soaking your rice noodles in warm water if they're the dried kind. You'll only want to soak your noodles until they're pliable not completely soft. If you're using fresh noodles, give them a quick rinse and let them drain.

I also like to soak my dried shrimp in hot water for a few minutes then rinse them off.

Combine all the ingredients for the sauce and simmer until everything is dissolved. The fish sauce will smell sooooo bad (oh-my-goodness-feet-sauce-did-you-turn-on-the-vent bad) when it simmers but it tastes oh so good. Taste and adjust the seasoning of the sauce till you like it. I still haven't gotten it down quite right but the pad thai is still excellent. This will likely make enough sauce for plenty more portions of pad thai. You can keep it in your fridge or freezer (it doesn't freeze in the freezer).

Begin by heating 2 tablespoons of oil in your skillet or wok. Add your tofu and pan fry until golden brown. Then add your shrimp or chicken and cook and stir fry for a bit. Then add a few spoonfuls of your sauce and take out of the wok just before it is cooked through and set aside.

Drain your noodles before cooking. Add some more oil to your wok/skillet (2 tbsp to 1/4C) be generous since you don't want the noodles to stick. Add your noodles, turnip, shrimp, and garlic if using. Then add about 1/4 C (or 1/2 C of sauce if you're making the whole thing at once) and stir fry until the noodles are the edible. If the pan is getting too dry, add some water. Cook until the noodles are edible.

Add your eggs in the middle of the wok or skillet and let it set a bit before tossing it with the noodles.

Add your bean sprouts, garlic chives or green onions, and your protein. Keep on stir frying until the protein is fully cooked and warmed through.

Sprinkle with ground peanuts before serving. Serve with slices of lime and more chili powder.

(Yup I can pretty much eat this whole thing myself)

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