You know if I post about something that’s not a dessert, I must really love it. The Dough Ball is mainly about sugar, but every now and then I can’t hold in one of my favorite savory dishes. Enter pad thai. I do love this dish, I don’t know when it first started, but I usually always went more for Mexican than Asian food growing up. I do come from Austin, so that might explain things (and no, I ain’t complaining about being surrounded by buckets of queso, chips, enchiladas, and fajitas).
I’ve also always been a little intimidated by the thought of cooking Asian food. Honestly, I don’t attempt a lot of Mexican dishes because you can find the same thing, homemade, just as good (or better) and cheap. There was never any need to make myself some enchiladas…I could walk outside and they’d be falling from the sky (you get the idea: lots of Mexican food in Texas).
Anyways, this is about pad thai, not Mexican, and how another reason I always shied away from making it was the trouble with finding all the ingredients. Well, in Austin, that seems to have been taken care of if you head up North, and here in Barcelona, I’ve also found a store that will take care of most of my Asian ingredient needs. I mean, they have jellyfish. Thank god that’s not in pad thai, but I’m just saying, they got a range of ingredients, especially for being not huge and in Spain. I was able to find all my needs (as outlined by Chez Pim, who popped up when I googled ‘pad thai,’ and she gives a nice explanation of how to put pad thai together). I got little dried shrimp (I’m not sure those are necessary), and Chinese chives. There were some things they had, but I opted out of them, for example pickled turnips and tofu. I was happy to purchase my first shrimp at the Boqueria market here, and now I’m thinking I should do it more. They’re not the cheapest thing, but when they’re fresh and you cook ‘em up right, man they’re good.
How do I feel about the final pad thai? It was pretty good, and I’d make it again, but somehow, I can’t get it to taste like restaurant pad thai…why is that? Do I need to be Thai to make perfect pad thai? Either way, if you can find the ingredients, I say go for it, I’ll be doing it again (I mean, I do have almost a whole package of dried shrimp left).
From Chez Pim
for the sauce
tamarind (if you just find pulp and not paste, that’s ok)
palm sugar (I used brown sugar…the store had palm sugar but it seemed so hard!)
something spicy, like chili powder or crushed red pepper
everything else (alright, there’s no measurements for any of this stuff, depends how many people you’ve got, you’ll be able to make about two servings at a time in the pan, so just plan on a handful of everything per panful)
Chinese chives (spring onion will substitute)
Peanuts (and some extra for serving)
Eggs (1 per panful)
Garlic (a clove per panful)
Flat rice noodles (you know how many noodles you can eat)
Lime and cilantro (for serving)
First, I started with my shrimp, preparing them all, getting that stuff over with. If you’ve never peeled and de-veined a shrimp before, here ya go. Pull the legs off, then the shell, but leave the tail and the next shell ring on, and careful not to tear the meat. Now, hold the shrimp on a cutting board and take a knife cutting a shallow incision straight down the middle of its back (over the dark vein, it should be easy to see) down to its tail. Then, using the knife put it under the vein and pull it up and out of the shrimp. Most of the time, it comes out easy, sometimes you might have to use your fingers. Now stick them in the fridge until you’re throwing them in the pan. And now you can make the sauce. If you have tamarind pulp, heat up some water (you can always add more if you need to) until almost boiling, and stir in your pulp. According to one of my favorite Time-Life Foods of the Worlds books, you need 2 oz. tamarind pulp to 1 cup boiling water. The liquidy bit should be the consistency of ketchup, says Chez Pim. When you’re happy with it, push it through a fine mesh sieve to get the juices. Now put ½ cup tamarind water over heat, with ½ cup fish sauce, ½ cup sugar, and however much spice you see fit. All this goes on personal taste, so if you want it spicier, or sweeter, or more sour, or perhaps, more fishy, you know what to do. Heat this up and stir together.
Now you can prepare all your other ingredients. First soak the dried shrimp in some water (I don’t think you need that many, I don’t think they’re totally necessary). Chop the chives into about 1-inch long shoots, chop the garlic finely, crush the peanuts into bits and pieces with a few substantial chunks, and get your noodles ready. To do this, you heat water up to boiling, remove from heat and put in your noodles, letting them soak until they’re flexible but still al dente because they’ll cook a lot in the pan. When you take them out of the water, make sure and put them in a bowl with plenty of oil so they don’t stick. But you should be ready now with all your other ingredients.
Get your wok ready (don’t worry, if you don’t have a wok, it’s ok. I used a non-stick pan). Put it over high heat and make sure all your ingredients are nearby and ready. Drain the dried shrimp and pat dry, take the fresh ones out of the fridge. So first, heat some oil in the pan, then throw in the garlic for just a minute. Next put in a big scoop of sauce and the noodles. Stir around to mix for a bit, then push aside and crack an egg, letting it set about 15-20 seconds, then start mixing it up, and when it’s almost all done, mix it around with the noodles. Add the dried shrimp, peanuts, fresh shrimp, and bean sprouts all with another big scoop of sauce. Cook until the shrimp just turn firm and are no longer trasparent where you de-veined them. Then you know they're done, but not overcooked (don't let them get rubbery and overdone!) Finally add the Chinese chives and turn the heat off. If you need to add more sauce, do so. Stir everything together, put onto plates, and sprinkle on some peanuts and a squirt of lime juice. Eat while hot (I definitely did...if you can't tell, I didn't even have time to wipe my plate off for presentation, I just went straight to eating). If you’re really lucky/special, you’ll have Thai beer to go with it, which is quite refreshing…