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Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Pad Thai

A couple of weeks ago we were eating take-out Chinese, and Derek asks, "Why don't we ever make Chinese food?"  Now, my version of fried rice is part of the semi-regular rotation, as is Tammy's stir fry done in a wok.  Obviously, neither is authentic enough for him, so we were off on a new journey; one in which I would pick a dish, find a recipe, then shop, prep, cook, and serve proudly.  For his part, Derek would emerge from his room 10 or 15 minutes later, wolf it down, and when asked what he thought, respond that it was alright.  We're a good team like that.

I decided I would take this opportunity to learn how to make Pad Thai.  About a year ago, rather than follow a recipe like a normal person, I set out to create a dish based upon what I considered to be Asian staples, and I had a great time, but it kind of sucked.  Same for my Orange Chicken.  This time I was going to do it the right way like a normal person.  Or at least my version of normal, which meant I looked at several recipes until I felt I had the gist of the dish and then decided how I was going to do it. 

Here's your list of ingredients:

3 chicken breasts (typically I use 1 breast per person, but this recipe will easily serve 4 and/or yield leftovers unless you have really big eaters)
8 oz. package of Thai or Chinese noodles
3 TBSP soy sauce
4 cloves garlic or a spoonful or minced from a jar
2 cans bean sprouts drained
1 can water chestnuts drained
3 green onions sliced
1/3 cup of cashews crushed
1/4 cup chicken stock
1/8 tsp ground pepper 
Vegetable oil for stir-frying
(I decided not to use egg)

Here are some of the ingredients I use.

Cut the chicken into about 1 inch cubes and marinate it in 3 TBSP of your favorite soy sauce for as little as half an hour to a few hours.  Then bring a large pot of water to boil.  Now it's time to make the sauce:

3/4 TBSP tamarind paste dissolved in 1/4 cup warm water (I've substituted mango chutney)
2 TBSP fish sauce
1 TBSP chili sauce
3 TBSP brown sugar
1" ginger peeled and grated or minced or a little of each

Wisk the ingredients together in a bowl. 


We're getting to the point where things happen quickly.  For this reason, it's a good idea to crush the cashews and slice the green onions before you go on to the next steps.

If your water is boiling, it's time to get about a TBSP of oil going in your wok.  When the oil is hot add the garlic and then put the noodles in the boiling water and cook according to package instructions.  Mine said 4 minutes.  To clarify, there are 2 pots: a wok with hot oil and garlic, and a pot with boiling water and the noodles.  You don't want to cook the noodles too early, because if they sit in the strainer too long they'll be difficult to work with.

Let the garlic cook about 30 seconds and then add the chicken.  It's important to start the noodles right before the chicken, because you'll need to keep moving the chicken around (i.e. stir frying) for the first few minutes (the chicken will take a total of about 6-8 minutes depending on how big your pieces are, and as I said, my noodles take 4 minutes).  If the wok starts to get too dry while you're stir frying the chicken, you can add a little of the stock.

Strain the noodles, add it to the wok, and then pour in the sauce.  Using two spatulas gently lift and turn like you're tossing a salad.  If you're laughing at that expression, grow up.  If I just confused you, forget about it and move on.

Add the bean sprouts, water chestnuts, and ground pepper; continue tossing another minute.

I think one of the most important parts of cooking is also one that people don't usually do and that's tasting as you go.  If you haven't tasted it yet, now would be a good time.  You may want to add a little more fish sauce.

When you have it tasting the way you want it, you're ready to plate it and top it with the crushed cashews and sliced green onions.

How good does that look?