Friday, 15 February 2008

Pad Thai: Thai spicy noodles

Since I had a couple of hours to spare after my annual physical, I decided to hunt down a specialist Thai food shop I had sussed out on the Net (actually it was listed in the stockists section of the web site of a local cooking school. Japan-based foodies, you might want to have a look...).

I was planning on making a Thai salad for my big cook-up at the weekend and, knowing that a certain area of Isezaki-cho has a number of Thai restaurants and thinking (rightly!) that a supply shop could not be far away, I had managed to get the ingredients I was going to need. But, with 3 other Thai recipes in my hot little hand, and a couple of hours to spare just days before my cook-up, I decided I really should give one of them a test-run. To check that the recipe writers knew what they were talking about (g). So I took the most direct route to this shop (with my trusty map downloaded from the Net), and found, of course, that it was the exact same shop I had visited a few days before! (g)

Anyway, I got a few more Thai goodies, including my very first shallot. And what a strange vegetable it is. The pear-shaped bulge is the result of little fronds lined up somewhat like picket fences tucked in between the layers of the shallot (the dark bits you can see in the photo). My shallot didn't have any particular smell, so I didn't know what to expect from it taste-wise, but I took a leap of faith, and chopped the whole lot up and stir-fried it as instructed.

This, and the recipe I chose for my cook-up are from a lovely Thai food site, ThaiTable, which I am sure to visit regularly whenever the mood for Thai food strikes.

Pad Thai

1/2 lime
1 egg
4 teaspoons fish sauce [S: The brand with the oyster on the label seems to be the best for begginers like me]
3 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 teaspoon ground chili pepper
ground white pepper
1 shallot, minced
2 tablespoon sugar
2 tablespoon tamarind [S: I used tamarind paste]
1/2 package Thai rice noodles
2 tablespoon vegetable oil
1/2-1/4 lb prawns (optional) [S: about 3 big prawns each should do it]
1/3 cup tofu - extra firm (optional) [S: I used the firm Japanese kind, but it could have done with a bit of draining with a plate or other weight on top]
1-1/2 cup Chinese chives, green (optional)
2 tablespoons peanuts (optional)
1-1/3 cup bean sprouts (optional)

Tips and substitutions
By far, the trickiest part is the soaked noodles. Noodles should be somewhat flexible and solid, not completely expanded and soft. When in doubt, undersoak. You can always add more water in the pan, but you can't take it out.

Shrimp can be substituted or omitted.

In this recipe, pre-ground pepper, particularly pre-ground white pepper is better than fresh ground pepper. For kids, omit the ground dried chilli pepper.

Tamarind adds some flavor and acidity, but you can substitute white vinegar.

The type of extra firm tofu called for this recipe can be found at most oriental groceries in a plastic bag, not in water. Some might be brown from soy sauce, but some white ones are also available. Pick whatever you like.

The original Pad Thai recipe calls for crushed roasted peanuts. Many people in Thailand avoid eating peanuts because of its link to cancer.

Soak the dry noodles in lukewarm water while preparing the other ingredients, for 5-10 minutes. Julienne tofu and cut into 1 inch long matchsticks. When cut, the extra firm tofu should have a mozzarella cheese consistency. Cut up Chinese chives into 1 inch long pieces. Set aside a few fresh chives for a garnish. Rinse the bean sprouts and save half for serving fresh. Mince shallot and garlic together.

Use a wok. If you do not have a wok, any big pot will do. Heat it up on high heat and pour oil in the wok. Fry the peanuts until toasted and remove them from the wok. Add shallot, garlic and tofu and stir them until they start to brown. The noodles should be flexible but not expanded at this point. Drain the noodles and add to the wok. Stir quickly to keep things from sticking. Add tamarind, sugar, fish sauce, chili pepper and preserved turnip. Stir. The heat should remain high. If your wok is not hot enough, you will see a lot of juice in the wok at this point. Turn up the heat, if it is the case. Make room for the egg by pushing all noodles to the side of the wok. Crack the egg onto the wok and scramble it until it is almost all cooked. Fold the egg into the noodles. Add shrimp and stir. Add bean sprouts, chives. Stir a few more times. The
noodles should be soft and very tangled.

Pour onto the serving plate and sprinkle with peanuts. Serve hot with a wedge of lime on the side and raw Chinese chives and raw bean sprouts on top. As always, in Thailand, condiments such as sugar, chili pepper, vinegar and fish sauce are available at your table for your personal taste. Some people add more pepper or sugar at this point.

The YM declared this recipe a winner (9 out of 10, apparently; the point off being for the raw spring onions on top (g)), and I have to admit I was pretty proud of my very first forray into Thai cooking--until the YM came home with the ego-bruising news that his classmate, who is not long back from a holiday in Thailand, reckons it's nothing like what he had there. Perhaps that's because he had the "red, oily pad thai...that is common in many western Thai restaurants"?? Never having been, I can't say for sure...


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