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January 24, 2007

Pad thai-blogging

united colors of thai food, originally uploaded by colodio.

Amanda's pad thai recipe sounds delicious.

One good pad thai recipe deserves another. Mine is based on the version developed in the Cooks' Illustrated test kitchen.

I haven't made pad thai in ages. I'm inspired to get some tamarind paste tomorrow and make it again. If I do, I'll post pictures.

Pad Thai
2 tablespoons tamarind paste
3/4 cup tap water
3 tablespoons fish sauce
1 tablespoon rice vinegar (or the juice of half a lime)
3 tablespoons granulated sugar
4 tablespoons peanut oil
1/4 teaspoon cayenne powder (or to taste)
8 ounces rice noodles
2 large eggs (beaten)
As many big shrimp as you want, peeled
3 cloves of garlic (minced)
2 medium shallots (minced)
1 teaspoon dried shrimp (chopped fine, optional)
6 tablespoons salted roasted peanuts (chopped coarsely)
5 medium scallions (green parts only, cut on the bias)

1. Put the tamarind paste and the 3/4 of tap water in a 2-cup Pyrex measuring cup. Microwave on high until the water starts to bubble. Let the mixture cool for a few minutes.
2. Add the fish sauce, vinegar, sugar, cayenne, and 2 tablespoons of oil to the tamarind water. Set aside.
3. In a large bowl, cover the rice noodles with hot tap water, set aside. It takes about 20 minutes to soften them properly, so figure out how long it's going to take you to do the other steps and time the immersion accordingly.
4. Heat a big skillet on high, add 1 tablespoon of oil. When the oil is just about smoking add the shrimp, sprinkle with salt. Turn the shrimp occasionally and cook until opaque and browned. This should take about 3 minutes. Transfer the shrimp to a plate and set aside.
5. Take the skillet off the heat, add 1 tablespoon of oil.
6. Reduce the heat to medium, return the skillet to the heat.
7. Add the garlic and shallots. Saute until they are browned.
8. Pour the egg mixture over the browned garlic and onions. Scramble with a fork until dry.
9. Drain the rice noodles. They should be pliant, but not completely soft.
10. Add the noodles and the dried shrimp to the egg mixture. Toss with wooden spoons.
11. Pour in the pad thai water. Increase the heat to high. And cook, tossing, until the noodles are well coated with the sauce.
12. Sprinkle in 4 tablespoons of chopped peanuts.
13. Add the shrimp and 1/4 cup of scallions. Keep tossing gently until all the ingredients are well-mixed and the noodles are done. You may need to add an extra tablespoon of water, or two if the noodles don't soften right away.
14. Transfer the mixture to a serving plate. Sprinkle with the remaining peanuts and scallions. Garnish with cilantro, if desired. Serve with lime wedges.

Don't be intimidated by the large number of steps. When I write out recipes, I like to break everything down into the simplest possible tasks.

Some people get put off when they see a recipe with more than a couple of steps in it, but ironically, the more explicit breakdown makes the recipe simpler to follow.

Try this recipe at home. It tastes exactly like the best restaurant pad thai--only better because you can fine-tune the seasonings and load up on fresh shrimp.

Pointers for success:

Have all the garnishes and additions chopped up and organized in custard cups before you start the actual cooking.

Tamarind paste and fish sauce are not optional!!

Be careful with the dried shrimps. Brands vary dramatically in their fishiness. I often use less dried shrimp than the recipe calls for if the dried shrimp smells especially fishy. You can always sprinkle more on top as a garnish.

Sometimes, I'll add sauteed tofu and/or bite-sized strips of chicken breast. If you're adding chicken or firm tofu, saute it at the stage you would have cooked the shrimp. If you're using both chicken and shrimp, add the chicken to the hot pan first to give it a bit of a head start on cooking.


Man, that sounds good. The significant other hates sweet thai dishes, so I haven't gotten a good thai meal in forever because I don't know what to suggest.

Do you know of anything I could suggest as a compromise? Something as non-sweet as possible, but otherwise similar, flavor-wise?

Though, honestly: pre-chopped ingredients in custard cups? That shit is straight Food Network. If I saw you doing that, I'd be waiting for you to pull the completed dish out from under the cupboard as soon as all the ingredients were popped into the demonstration dish.

My Pad-Thai recipe:

- Go to Lindsay's pad
- Have her prepare Pad-Thai
- Snarf down entrée like the uncouth, unmannered Midwestern pig that I am
- Belch
- Fart
- Belch again
- Scratch nether regions
- Retreat to exit in haste, with Lindsay chasing me with meat cleaver
- Call up Amanda, ask her to prepare Pad-Thai for me

No, no, a thousand times no. Peanut butter is not a substitute for peanut oil. It has far too much sugar. If peanut taste is what you are looking for peanut oil and chopped peanuts are the way to go.

Aeroman, the good news is that pure tamarind paste isn't sweet at all. It's tart. Some tamarind products might have sugar in them, but the plain dried fruit-in-a-brick is sour enough to pucker your mouth if you taste it straight.

All the sweetness in this recipe comes from the granulated sugar. So, you leave that out if you want. Or, try cutting back to 1 tablespoon and adding the juice of half a lime over and above the vinegar or lime juice the recipe calls for.

Ooo... I love thai food more than almost any other. This sounds just slightly more ambitious than I'm ready for yet, but I did make a Tom Kha Gai soup recipe. I'll see if I can dig it up. I was quite proud--I had an idea of what should go into it, and made it from my muse, with no recipe, then wrote down what I'd done. It tasted every bit as good as the restaurant Tom Kha Gai (and San Jose has, like, the best Thai restaurants anywhere). I'll see if I can dig it up.

Other Thai dishes that aren't too sweet: Massaman curry (yellow curry with potatoes), thai salads, Tom Yum soup (this is sometimes sweet in restaurants, but it doesn't have to be).

Check out David Thompson's "Thai Food." TF has everything I look for in a cookbook: Great scholarship, excellent recipes, creative photographs, and sheer length. (I like to get a lot of pages for my food porn dollar.)

Completely OT, but relevant because Lindsay is a dual Canadian/American citizen: WTF is going on with this wild woman geographic feature in the Canadian plains? This isn't some type of Canadian PSYOPS against America, trying to feminize us, is it?

Pardon my mental meanderings. The Vicodin just kicked in.

1984, bring on the Tom Kha Gai recipe. Mmm.

A woman with a fetus on her shoulder, no less.

Lindsay, the world's very best tofu product for Asian cooking is AFC baked bean curd. It comes in Asian markets for about $2.50 to $3.00 a loaf. It provides an excellent basis for vegan Asian meals and makes other brands of tofu taste like cardboard by comparison..

As the meat supply in Asia becomes more dangerous, more and more persons are turning to baked bean curd as a safe alternative to bird flu, mad cow disease, E coli or other contaminations and illnesses.

AFC baked bean curd is high in both protein and calcium.

Another great vegan meat substitute for making sandwiches that are restaurant quality is products from Seattle's Grain Meat Company. Their smoked tomato meat substitute is wonderful. Their celebration roast is great for dinner use.

Mmm... tamarind. When I go home to visit family, my mother makes a spicy tamarind lentil stew that she likes and I love.

Comin' up--gotta dig but hopefully tomorrow night. And I may give this pad thai a go, too. Cheers!


Peanut butter isn't sweet at all if you get the real thing; the ingredients should be peanuts and salt, nothing else. (Smucker's is a widely available brand of that sort.) (Don't get the bizarre nasty kind with sugar and hydrogenated oil--for any purpose; it's in the category of "non-edible things people eat" AFAIAC).

Turnip cake is an excellent addition to Pad Thai, if you're looking for something different. I also learned to do the hot wok/cold wok thing with the eggs. When you're ready to add them, you push the garlic/shallots to one side of the pan, then tilt it so that they are up away from the heat and oil drains down to the part near the flame. You cook the eggs very quickly in the hot part of the pan, then mix everything back together. Supposed to be better for not burning things in a very hot wok.

For the slightly less organized cook (like me), a flexible cutting board, if one is careful about where one places the different ingredients, substitutes for separate custard cups. You sort of scoot or flick them off the board with your big knife.
Unfortunately, flexible cutting boards eventually give way under the strain of having pork minced on them, but they are cheap.

Lindsay- What's changed from the Cook's recipe? Theirs is the best Pad Thai I'v ever had, but it's been at least 6 months since I've made it, so I can't see for myself what you did differently?

Oh, and custard cups? An absolute necessity for Thai food (actually, I have a set of a dozen nesting glass bowls + fabulous orange melamine measured bowls). If I have to add a dozen ingredients in a 4 minute cooking time, they'll damn well be prepped.

It's almost exactly the same as the Cook's version. Here are my personal tweaks: I double the amount of shallots, and add and extra clove of garlic. I also reduce the amount of cayenne from 3/4 teaspoon to 1/4 teaspoon. I also err on the side of caution when it comes to the dried shrimp. I don't know what kind of dried shrimps they use, but the original recipe calls for 2 tablespoons, which I find excessively salty. I also use salted roasted peanuts instead of the unsalted roasted peanuts they recommend in the recipe.

I love spicy food, but pad thai is one of those dishes that should be relatively mild, IMO.

Found it! It won't be precisely authentic Thai, because as mentioned, I made it up from within my own head. But it's good!

Boil 8 cups water.
Add 15 mushrooms,
one clutch of basil,
10 cloves of minced garlic or one sauteed onion,
2-3 T Soy or Worcester Sauce,
~10 oz. Bell Peppers,
2 Chicken Breasts, diced,
1 t ground Cumin,
1/2 t chili powder,
salt, pepper, lemon grass and Tom Ka root to taste,
and a splash of white wine.
Simmer for 1/2 hour, then add 10-oz coconut milk (canned or fresh).

I like to open a coconut or two for the coconut milk if I'm feeling ambitious (strain it through a fine mesh to be rid of the husk), and pulverize the chilis and cumin seed sometimes instead of the bagged powder. I keep an extra coffee grinder just for doing that with (usually for curry, as I don't make this soup often). Fresh things are good. Enjoy it!

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