Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Pad Thai

Pad Thai
Yesterday was one of those rare days when I just didn't have any idea about what I wanted for dinner. It happens from time to time. Ann and I talked in the morning and she didn't have a lot of input other than she wanted something Asian, something light and refreshing. This didn't spark anything for me until late in the afternoon when I got to thinking that it has been years since I had Pad Thai. While I was writing out a list of ingredients that I'd need to make sure we had on hand, Ann texted me out of the blue, "Carter says he loves Pad Thai." That's kind of freaky coincidental!

It's been years since I had Pad Thai because it's been years since I found a restaurant that actually made good Pad Thai. All the ones in this area serve a dumbed down Americanized Pad Thai. Pity. I love the interplay of tamarind, palm sugar, lime juice, and fish sauce that gives Pad Thai it's wonderful flavor, the flavor that is missing in many restaurant versions of the dish.

Mise en Place for Pad Thai
In the photo above, you see most of the ingredients for our dinner. From the little crock of tamarind pulp in the upper left, you see a hunk of palm sugar, garlic chives, a shallot and a lime, bean sprouts, preserved vegetable, firm tofu, peanuts, shrimp, and rice stick. Missing are the egg, fish sauce, white pepper, and sriracha.

The rice noodles need to be soaked, but not all that long. Start them soaking before prepping the rest of the ingredients and you will be fine. I buy tamarind pulp in blocks, then rip off a chunk, soak it in warm water, and then work it well with my hands to separate the pulp from the seeds. I strain the pulp to make sure I have got all the seeds out.

I like to make my sauce separately from my noodles, because palm sugar is nearly rock hard and in the time that it takes to dissolve into the sauce, the noodles would be overcooked. I melt about equal quantities of tamarind pulp and palm sugar together and then add a little sriracha for heat. Traditionally, ground red pepper is used but I find that the liquid sriracha mixes into the sauce better. I adjust the sweet-sour balance according to my taste and then add a little fish sauce to get the salty component to my liking.

Then it is just a matter of stir-frying from here. First go in the ingredients that you want to really sear or caramelize such as the peanuts and shallots and then each item in its turn according to cooking time, save for the soaked noodles which go in next to last. Last in the pan are some of the sauce and an egg that gets scrambled in as I sprinkle in a bit more fish sauce and white pepper. Done.

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