Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Taste of Thailand pad Thai

Pad Thai is my ultimate fast, (mostly) pantry food. Rice noodles, fish sauce, lime and ketchup. Yep, I like my pad Thai with ketchup.

Over at Canadian Family we were sent a Red Velvet Cake from Heinz to try out. Verdict: Delicious. Believe me, there is no shame in ketchup. You can also link through to other recipes in which I have unabashedly used ketchup with great results.

Although some pad Thai experts like Pim decry the use of ketchup here, I stand firm. And even though I met Pim at the IACP conference last year in New Orleans and loved her, I also firmly believe that if you are going to get others to cook along with you, one unique ingredient per recipe should be it. In pad Thai’s case, this would be the fish sauce.

Fish sauce is a popular Southeast Asian ingredient made from salted and fermented fish or anchovies. If you are not familiar with this ingredient you are probably having a little bit of a gag reaction at the thought. Do not let that stop you from actually buying some and making this recipe. It is essential.

Fish sauce is usually found along with the soy sauce in what some mainstream grocery stores ubiquitously call the International Aisle. The problem is they may only carry one particular brand. I suggest that you try to hit an Asian grocery store that will have some variety.

My favourite brand is Three Crabs that is made from anchovies (no crabs here although there are three on the label). Being Vietnamese, it is called nuoc mam, whereas fish sauce from Thailand is nam pla. My main advice is this: buy the more expensive brand because it is worth it. I pay about $5 for a large bottle, steering clear of the $1.99 specials. You can taste the difference.

The rest of the ingredients can be found in most grocery stores. The thin rice stick noodles are the noodles used in pad Thai. They come in 500-gram packages. I prefer them to the thicker noodle, but it is up to you. A full package will feed about 8 people. Soak the noodles you need in warm water for about a half hour before using.

Make the sauce in advance with the ratio of one part ketchup, one part fish sauce, one part sugar and one part lime juice. Mix together until sugar has dissolved. Add some chilli flakes or chilli oil to your taste. You need about 1/3 cup of sauce per portion of noodles so if you are making a big batch using the full package of noodles make about 2 generous cups sauce.

Mince three cloves of garlic, dice 250 grams firm tofu (1/2 pkg) whisk two eggs together, rinse 3 to 4 cups bean sprouts then chop the 4 green onions, 1/2 bunch cilantro and 1/4 cup roasted peanuts.

The key to success here is to do the pad Thai in batches. Have all your ingredients ready sitting on the counter next to you. Do one or two servings at a time. Heat a large wok with some oil. Cook a bit of garlic and tofu until fragrant and lightly coloured add a big handful of drained noodles and toss around. Add a bit of whisked egg and toss to coat the noodles. Add 1/3 cup fish sauce mix and toss around then add a handful of bean sprouts and green onion.

If your noodles are not soft enough, add a splash of water, and oil as well if stuff starts to stick. You are doing a noodle stir fry so you have to keep stuff moving or else the noodles will ball up and be awful (hence the reason to do small batches).

I like to add cilantro and peanuts right at the end. Serve with a slice of lime and pass the chilli oil for people to spice it up if they want to.

Although I could just eat pad Thai, I usually pair it with a protein and vegetables or salad. Sort of maintaining the zone philosophy of a one third each of carbs, protein and veg. I find even if you have the protein within the pad Thai, I eat way too many noodles on my way to the protein, but it is up to you. If you want to combine the noodles with shrimp or chicken, add them when you first start with the garlic and hit them with a bit of sauce.

I roasted some salmon that I doused with lime, garlic, salt and pepper. At 425F, it took about the same time as a batch of pad Thai.

Although my husband pairs mayonnaise with his salmon (and just about everything), I draw the line at additional condiments with mine, not even ketchup.

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