23 March 2013

The Best Ever Pad Thai

In our home, I am typically the foodie that does the cooking.  The hubs studies and writes medical journals, while I dabble in the kitchen.  However, when he has the time he is a fantastic chef with a few signature dishes that knock off my socks.  His Pad Thai is one of those dishes.  I have never attempted to make it, but he does frequently.  And let me tell you, we've stopped going out for Thai food.  

Now my husband loves Pad Thai.  Whenever we would go for take-out, this was his choice.  But a few months ago, the hubs informed me in a very serious manner that he was going to perfect Pad Thai at home.  I very readily agreed to support him in this endeavor, appointing myself as Head Taster.  It's been a tough job, but my belly has been well compensated.  He dabbled and tweaked his sauce to an impressive extent, experimented with noodles and vegetables and has come up with a recipe that is pure perfection.  And what he has found is that three quality ingredients are essential to great Pad Thai - tamarind, fish sauce and noodles.  

The first couple attempts used ingredients available in the Asian isle of our local market.  The food tasted alright, but just wasn't on-point enough for my perfectionist medical man.  So off we trekked our favorite tiny Indian food shop with the best selection of authentic Asian ingredients around.  With the help of the grocer, we selected quality tamarind paste, fish sauce and noodles.  When we tried this recipe again with our new ingredients, the result was spectacular.  True, authentic-tasting Thai food made by a Canadian for a Washingtonian in Ohio.  (And in case that isn't diverse enough, the pups is a chug - chihuahua pug).  You will have to make a trip to a specialty store for the ingredients, but once you've added them to your pantry you can make authentic Thai any time you like.  Huzzah!

The first of the hub's essential ingredients is tamarind paste.  This is a bitter fruit that it often combined with sugars and other ingredients to make chutneys and other savory dishes.  It is also an ingredient in worcestershire sauce.  The second essential ingredient is fish sauce.  Yes, it smells nasty and the thought is kind of disgusting.  But it's the magical elixir of Asian cuisine.  Once we starting using it in stir fries and Pad Thai, we could not believe how much better everything tasted.  This fabulous condiment is often used in lieu of salt or pepper in Thai cuisine, and it brings a wonderful fullness to a dish's flavor.  These two ingredients are in the most important element to this dish - the sauce.  Let me stress again - THE SAUCE.  Be sure to taste the sauce before making the rest of the recipe, because if its off the whole dish will be off.  You may find you want to add a touch more brown sugar, dash of cayenne or even a little fresh ginger to get the flavor to where you like it best.  

Thirdy, the hubs recommends picking up a slightly thicker noodle while you're at the specialty market.  I've included pictures of both thinner and thicker noodles and we will use whichever we happen to have on hand. But he finds that thinner noodles can become gummy if overcooked.  The thickness of a wider noodle also matches well with the shredded cabbage for a more uniform consistency.  

And with that mention of cabbage, let's segway into another reason I love this dish so much...it is absolutely packed with vegetables!  Gotta love a dish that tastes good and is also good for you.  About half of the "noodle-mixture" in this recipe is actually shredded cabbage.  When tossed in the sauce, you cannot tell at all that you're eating vegetables rather than noodles.  We once made this for a dinner party in which two of the attendees were adamantly anti-vegetable, and they were shocked to find they enjoyed eating cabbage.  One took a picture of the dish and texted it to her mother to prove that she'd actually eaten a vegetable, before promptly helping herself to seconds.  (Just think of all the good stuff you can feed people without their knowing it at all.)  When making this for ourselves, we love adding broccoli in as well to be cooked and tossed in the sauce, along with a side of raw carrots.  Our favorite protein in this dish is shrimp, but you could also substitute chicken or omit the meat entirely for a vegetarian dish.  

The Best Ever Pad Thai (serves 3-4)

For the sauce:
  • 1 tbs tamarind concentrate
  • 1/4 c vegetable or chicken broth
  • 3 tbs fish sauce
  • 1 tbs reduced sodium soy sauce
  • 3 tbs brown sugar or palm sugar
  • 3/4 - 1 tsp cayenne pepper or red chili paste, to taste
  • 1/2 tsp red chili flakes, to taste (or omit for a milder dish)
  • 1/8 tsp ground white pepper

For the Pad Thai:
  • 2 servings medium rice noodles (based off package)
  • 1 tbs olive oil
  • 1/2 head cabbage, thinly sliced
  • 1 head broccoli (optional)
  • 1 batch Pad Thai Sauce 
  • 12 oz shrimp, peeled & deveined 
  • 1 egg
  • 1/3 c unsalted peanuts, roughly chopped
  • cilantro, to garnish
  • 1 c thinly sliced carrot

To make the sauce, combine in the tamarind, vegetable broth, fish sauce, soy sauce and brown sugar in a small bowl.  Whisk together until the sugar is completely disolved.  Add the spices and mix until well combined.  Taste and adjust seasonings if necessary.  The sauce is the flavor of the entire dish, so be sure you like it.

Place the noodles in a large bowl and fill with warm water.  Let the noodles soak for 45 minutes to an hour until tender.  

When your noodles have been soaking for about 40 minutes, place a wok or large pan over medium-high heat and add the olive oil.  When the oil is hot, add the cabbage and broccoli (if desired).  Cook for about 10-12 minutes until the cabbage is browned and tender.  Strain the noodles, then toss in with the cabbage.  Pour the sauce over the cabbage and noodles and stir until evenly coated.  Push the mixture to one side of the pan, and add the shrimp to the empty side of the pan.  Cook for a minute on each side until just pink, then stir into the noodle mixture.  Push this to the side again, and add the egg to the empty side of the pan, whisking lightly with a fork.  Cook for a minute until it sets, then stir into the noodle mixture. 

To serve, dish the Pad Thai onto a plate and garnish with a tablespoon or two of chopped peanuts and cilantro, if desired.  Serve with a side of raw carrots.  

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