Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Pad Thai-The real deal

A casually plated dish of Pad Thai.  Fresh off the wok.
 Cooking School in Chiang Mai- Part II

Hello everybody. Today we are going to cook Pad Thai, and the first ingredient we are going to add will be ketchup. Stop. I am just KIDDING! 

But seriously now, sometimes when I order Pad Thai at restaurants in the United States, I get some soft, messily fried tangled mess that is coated with a thick layer of ketchup.  At first, I couldn't understand why ketchup makes such a regular appearance in a traditional Thai dish.   While I understand and respect the element of personal preference of seasoning in cooking and that a chef can take a lot of creative license with ingredients, putting ketchup in Pad Thai is sort of like putting a piece of kiwi in sushi. It is inauthentic and doesn't add to the overall flavor of the piece.

So, why ketchup in Pad Thai?  Well, I suspect the reason is because one of the ingredients in Pad Thai is tamarind sauce.  Tamarind sauce can be perceived to be a rather exotic ingredient because it can be difficult to find in a mainstream grocery store.  Since tamarind sauce has a flavor that is best described as smokey and a little sour, ketchup may seem like a good substitute if no easy replacement for tamarind sauce can be found.  While that is certainly an acceptable substitution, it is important to note that ketchup is not only sour, it is sweet at the same time, with lots of umami flavor.  Whereas the tamarind flavors unite the flavors in pad thai, ketchup tends to dominate and becomes the lone, top flavor.  And the last thing we want to eat is a dish renamed as “ketchup sweet noodles." With online stores, today you can get tamarind paste delivered to your doorstep relatively economically (See Resource).

Real pad thai is easy to make, and the ingredients are humble and simple.  There are three rules when making pad thai: 1) Make sure the wok is hot. 2) Do not over soak the dried pad thai noodles.  3) Do not fry more than 1-2 portions at a time unless you want to end up with a mushy, gelled mess.   

Here is the pad thai I learned to cook from the Chiang Mai Cookery School:
Approximate amount of ingredients for 1 serving.
Ingredients (2-3 Servings):
10 oz dried pad thai noddles.  Soak it in water for about 10-15 minutes
3 tablespoons oil
1 tablespoon garlic
1 tablespoon dried shrimps
1 cup firm tofu, cut into tiny pieces
6 tablespoons chicken stock or water
2 eggs beaten
3 tablespoons of roasted peanuts
1/4 cup chopped chives
1 cup bean sprouts
2 limes

Seasoning Sauce
3 tablespoon sugar
3 tablespoons fish sauce
1 tablespoon soy sauce
2 tablespoons tamarind juice (To make tamarind juce, soak the seeds in hot water and then dilute the water)
*Note, there is NO KETCHUP!

Method:
1) Heat the wok on high for about 2 minutes.  To test the wok for appropriate "hotness", drop a few drops of water in the bare wok. If it sizzles immediately, the wok is hot enough.
2) Put the oil in the wok and fry the garlic, dried shrimps and tofu until the garlic turns golden brown. 
Note the hot, sizzling wok.
3) Immediately add the rice noodles.
Noodles added, after the ingredients have browned.
4) Keep on stir frying on the high heat. 
5) Next, add the chicken stock (or water) and stir fry until the noodles are soft.  Only when the noodles have become soft can we turn down the heat and add the sauce ingredients.
Added chicken stock, it is almost ready now!
6) Stir well to combine.
7) The next few steps should take no more than one minute in total to execute. Add the eggs and stir-fry until the eggs are cooked and well combined with the noodles.  Add the peanuts, chives and beansprouts.  Stir fry until combined.
8)Turn the heat off, garnish with lime or with more fresh chives.  Serve warm.  :)

In the meantime, enjoy these beautiful photographs from Thailand:
Rattan tools used to catch fish in the rice paddies.
Releasing of Sky Lanterns, or Khom Loi.  It is believed that the lanterns will float away all your worries.
A rice farmer, husking rice, the traditional way.
Rice husks and a water buffalo

Have a great week ahead everybody!

Julie

Resources:
Tamarind Paste:
http://importfood.com/sads1701.html

Chiang Mai Cookery School:
http://thaicookeryschool.com

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