A new tradition was born tonight, Andrea Bocelli crooning Christmas songs while Shelese sets up the miniature Christmas tree and hangs the ornaments, and I slave away over a wok making pad thai. I know it's jumbled and cross-cultural but it somehow just works, take my word for it. Perhaps the holidays usually elicit thoughts of foods like pot roast, country ham, and pumpkin pie for most of us; but why not pad thai? Yeah, it makes sense, it should fit in! Soul satisfying, hitting on all cylinders in each corner of the flavor trifecta. Sweet, salty, and spicy dancing on the tongue like sugar plum fairies. Okay enough yuletide imagery; truth is, a friend requested the recipe and it's been awhile since I made the dish so voila.
Almost exactly one year to the day before the dreadful Southeast Asian tsunami that took the lives of many poor souls, I was in the very place the waves ravaged the shores. Actually, I was on the peninsula coast opposite of the heaviest hit beaches. The Thai people are a warm and welcoming group. While there, I was told that the literal translation of Thailand was, "The Land of Smiles." True or not, I can vouch for the abundance of smiles. Such a passionate and gentle nation with stunning nature and exquisite cuisine. My heart truly aches for the people shocked and awed by the violence nature wrought that inauspicious day.
As you hop around Thailand you'll see that pad thai is a popular dish offered at many street vendor stalls and ramshackle restaurants. There was not much regional variation that I picked up on; some places offered dried shrimp, others chicken. The dish was relatively consistent throughout the country, and I was fortunate enough to spend time north, east, south, and west. As the smiling Thai woman set my first plate of steaming hot noodles in front of me, a few scent waves permeated my nostrils and I knew life would never be the same! Alright, melodrama aside, I have to say it was frigin' awesome yo! Back in the States, I haven't been able to find a restaurant that produces classic pad thai. Most add such bastardizing ingredients as tomato and/or sweet and sour sauce, paprika, and pineapple. I apologize if you enjoy yours that way... no body's perfect.
While I was in the north in a city called Chiang Mai, I took a cooking course. We learned how to pick produce, make curry pastes, properly stir fry, make coconut soup, and prepare pad thai al la classico. The one dish that has been committed to memory from excessive preparation and consumption was pad thai. I'll get right to the point, here's how I make it now.
Like many Asian dishes, the labor is in the preparation of the ingredients and the cooking is fast and furious. What you'll need: thin, flat rice noodles (Thai or Vietnamese), soy sauce, fish sauce, tamarind juice (orange juice if you can't find it), tofu, green onion (reserve the green portion to be eaten fresh with the finished dish), sprouts, peanuts (roughly crushed), eggs, palm sugar (cane is fine as a substitute), and red pepper flakes. Not shown in the picture below are vegetable oil, and lime wedges. Prep everything as shown below and try not to be frustrated with the lack of exact amounts. The preparation of this dish requires some culinary intuition only gained through the trial and error of several batches. Don't let that turn you off, the first time you make this it will be somewhere between awesome and totally awesome; just realize that the dish gets better as you experiment with adding more soy sauce, and/or fish sauce, and/or sugar, and/or chili flakes. It may take a few tries to reach pad thai Nirvana but rest assured, it awaits you.
Prepare the ingredients and turn the heat on the wok.
While the wok heats up, cook the noodles until just soft. They will continue to cook while you assemble the dish so don't over cook them in the water.
Once the noodles are cooked enough, add some oil to the wok and crank up the heat to high. Just before the oil starts to smoke throw in the drained noodles but BE CAREFUL! They are moist and the oil is hot and splats all she wrote. Wow! I cant believe how cheesy I can get sometimes.
Let the noodles fry, flipping them occasionally until there is a crispy skin formed on the mass of noodles. They will be a large congealed mass of glutinous, sticky noodles but don't worry. The juice, tamarind or orange, does a good job at de-gumming and de-tangling the mass of fried noodles. Continue to toss and the noodles until the juice has evaporated.
Move the noodles to the side and add a little more oil to the empty wok space. Crack in as many eggs as you like and scramble them up.
Next, add the sprouts, white part of the green onions, peanuts, tofu, fish and soy sauces, sugar, and chili flakes.
Give it all a good toss and taste for seasoning. Add more of anything to your preference and serve hot.
Garnish with the green of the green onions and a wedge of lime. In Thailand you would be provided with a tray of add-ons to top your pad thai with. They usually include sliced chilies in vinegar, sliced chilies in fish sauce, crushed red pepper flakes, chili paste, and granulated sugar. Any, all, or none of theses add-ons go wonderfully with the dish depending on your mood. For me, all I need is lime and the onion. Okay, going back for leftovers, thanks for reading. Kop khun krap (pronounced cup coon cup): thank you in Thai.
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