Saturday, February 5, 2011

Chez Pim's Pad Thai

I love Pad Thai. A lot of people don't get as excited as I do because it's sort of generic and you see it everywhere. I don't care because I could eat it every day of the week.

Anyway, I have tried to make Pad Thai before and failed miserably. I am very happy because I have finally found The One. Chez Pim's recipe is by far the best that I've come across. It's kind of lengthy, but that's only because she spells everything out for us beginners. Take the time to read it.

I know I've said this before, but you really have to suck it up and go to your local Asian market and pick up all the right ingredients. If you have the right ingredients, that's half the battle. It's so worth it because once you buy everything, you can bottle the leftover sauce and just keep it in the fridge. Don't be discouraged by the smell of the sauce. The ingredients smell kind of funky, but somehow taste like the best Pad Thai you've ever had. YUM.

Thank you, Pim!

Pad Thai

1 block seedless tamarind (mine was 14 oz)
4 cups hot water
Vegetable oil and/or peanut oil
1 bag (usually about 16 oz) of thin rice noodles, also called, rice sticks, bahn pho or chantaboon (try to use fresh noodles if you can get them)
shrimp or chicken (7-9 shrimp OR 2 oz chicken per serving)
Firm or extra firm tofu, sliced thin into bite size pieces (use as much or as little as you like)
1/2 cup fish sauce
1/2 cup palm sugar (only use 1/3 cup if using white or brown sugar)
4 cloves garlic, minced (about 2 cloves per portion)
2 eggs (1 egg per portion)
2-3 tablespoons dried shrimp (Optional, but use them if you can find them. Either grind them with a mortar and pestle or drop some through the top of the food processor with the blade running. Whichever method you use, you want them to brake down into white, fluffy slivers.)
2-4 tablespoons crushed, dry roasted, unsalted peanuts
2-4 tablespoons green onion
Thai chili powder or paprika to taste

Before you get started, it's important to know that you can only make 2 servings at a time in the wok. If serving more than 2 people, after making your first batch, give the wok a quick rinse and start over. It's really no big deal because this recipe is so quick once you start cooking.

First, make the tamarind paste. Soak the block of tamarind in 4 cups of hot water. Start mashing the tamarind with a fork or potato masher. Once the water has cooled a bit, mash with your hands. Work the tamarind and water together until the consistency is a bit looser than room temperature ketchup. Add more warm water if needed. Then, strain the mixture to remove pits and tough membranes from the tamarind pulp. The consistency will be thick enough that you need to press it through the strainer. You'll only need a 1/2 cup for this sauce, so store the extra in a glass container for next time. It took me a while to find a tamarind block at the store, so this is what it looks like:


If you are using dried rice noodles, soak them in water until they are pliable and almost edible. Kind of like very al dente pasta. Make sure you don't overdo it. You don't want the noodles getting too soft because then they will turn to mush in the wok. Drain well and toss with a little peanut oil. If you are using fresh noodles, skip the soaking and just lightly toss with peanut oil. You will need about 2 cups of loosely packed noodles per serving.
Ok, now you can start making the sauce. In a small saucepan, combine 1/2 cup fish sauce, 1/2 cup tamarind, and 1/2 cup palm sugar (1/3 cup if using white or brown sugar). Melt over low heat. Taste and adjust the flavor to your liking. Add Thai chili powder or paprika. You should get a balance of salt, sour, sweet and spice. By the time you're done tasting and flavoring, the sauce should be gently simmering. Turn off the heat and let the sauce rest while you prepare the other ingredients. (You will probably make more sauce than you need, so store it in the fridge in a glass jar. Now you have homemade Pad Thai sauce whenever you want!)

Before you start cooking, you HAVE to have all your ingredients prepped and ready to go. Cooking in a wok is so fast that you need to be able to toss everything in.

Heat a large wok over high heat until very hot.
  1. Add a splash of oil, about 3-4 tablespoons.
  2. If you are making chicken Pad Thai, add the chicken first, cook, stirring vigorously, until it’s half way done, about 1-2 minutes, then add the tofu, a tablespoon or two of the sauce to flavor the chicken, and a pinch of garlic if you’re using it. If you are making tofu or shrimp and tofu Pad Thai, then only add the tofu and garlic for now. Cook for another minute until the tofu is crisp and slightly brown at the edges.
  3. Add the noodles, about 2 loosely packed cups for one portion is my standard, and then ladle (about ¼ cup per serving) of warm sauce. Stir rigorously, keep everything moving in the wok, and cook the noodles until soft. Remember to break up the noodle and don’t let it lump together. (I found a spaghetti ladle helpful in breaking up the noodles.) If the sauce evaporates too quickly and your noodles aren't quite ready, sprinkle a bit of water and keep stirring. Add a bit of oil if the noodles stubbornly sticks together.
  4. When the noodles are ready (taste it to be sure), push it up to one side of the wok and crack an egg into the middle. (1 egg per portion.) Let it set for 10-15 seconds and toss everything all together.
  5. Add the shrimp, ground peanuts (1-2 tablespoons per serving), ground dried shrimp (1 tablespoon per serving), beansprouts (A handful or so per serving. Really as many as you'd like.) . Keep things moving. Add more sauce if it looks a little pale.
  6. When the shrimp is done, shouldn’t take more than a minute, add a handful of green onion. Turn the heat off, and quickly give the wok a good stirring to mix everything together.
  7. Spoon pad Thai into a bowl and serve with lime wedges, dried shrimp, fish sauce, sugar, bean sprouts, crushed peanut, green onion and Thai chili powder or Sriracha on the side so you can flavor each serving to your personal taste. Enjoy!