With Pim’s blessing (thanks, Pim!), I shall now share my lazy interpretation of her upstanding version of pad Thai.
So, as I mentioned, I printed out her primer, studied it for hours, marked it up with a highlighter, and did some very complicated calculations that mostly involved subtraction. Things like, subtract one wok from recipe, minus I don’t have this kind of time, minus I can’t find this ingredient. This kind of math.
As an aside, I just finished reviewing the blogger code of ethics that Harrison3 made me read, and, come to find out, lying is bad. So, let me just clarify that it wasn’t so much that I misplaced my wok as I intentionally sold it at a yard sale. What can I say, I had a crappy electric stove in my apartment at the time, and the combination didn’t seem to work well. So, my wok collected dust until I decided it was taking too much valuable space away from the rest of the dust.
Now, I’m cooking with gas, and despite a nice collection of All-Clad, I felt it was very important to keep my paper-thin, non-stick T-Fals from college (priorities, people). They heat up fast and hot, and I’m not going to say they work as well as a wok, but they work well enough. (They also stack efficiently and the dust isn’t making a stink.) But, really, any crappy non-stick frying pan will do, with the emphasis being on crappy.
Another basic concept of pad Thai, besides owning a wok, is that you shouldn’t crowd said wok by trying to cook too much at a time. I can appreciate this concept. A crowded pan is like a crowded MBTA bus. Somebody peed in the back, no one’s owning up to it, so everyone just stews. Everyone’s a little hot under the collar, but no one’s really smokin’ hot, if you know what I mean. To get around this, Pim suggests sizzling up one serving at a time.
I’m not doing that. Well, what I mean to say is, someday I aspire to be patient and caring enough toward my dining companions to make their pad Thai to order. Meanwhile, my kids will be shrieking that their meal isn’t dinosaur-shaped, and then to add my own hungry, pitiful whining on top of whatever cooking-lecture-of-the-day the engineer has to offer: it’s just too much. I’m throwing it all in there at the same time. I just made a point to be extra-diligent about keeping things moving in my alterna-wok.
Which meant that I scrambled my tofu. The egg was supposed to be scrambled; the tofu was not. I fixed this problem the next time by cooking up the shrimp and tofu, setting them aside while I cooked the noodles, and then adding them back in at the end. This is starting to sound way too much like a Cook’s Illustrated article. Maybe I should insert some swears.
Another thing I learned, besides another use for tamarind, is that you should never grind your dried shrimp in a food processor. I mean, unless you happen to like the sensation of jagged shrimp shell shards in your meal. The mortar and pestle, Pim elucidated, gives you soft, fluffy shrimpiness instead of shards. And it’s true. In my previous attempts at pad Thai, I had always wondered what the Thais found so appealing about the equivalent of crushed rocks in their noodles. Turns out there is no appeal. The joke was on me.
Anyway, here it is...
Wok-less Pad Thai
8 oz. dried rice noodles
2 Tbsp. tamarind concentrate
3 Tbsp. fish sauce
3 Tbsp. sugar
1 tsp. paprika
3 Tbsp. canola oil
½ lb. large raw shrimp, peeled, deveined
½ package extra-firm tofu, cut into bit-sized pieces
1-2 garlic cloves, minced
¼ cup roasted unsalted peanuts, ground, plus extra for the table
2 Tbsp. dried shrimp, crushed in a mortar and pestle
1 cup bean sprouts, plus extra for the table
½ cup Chinese chives, cut into 2-inch pieces
In a large bowl of warm water, soak the rice noodles until pliable, but not mushy (20-30 minutes). Drain and set aside.
In a small pot over low heat, mix tamarind, fish sauce, sugar, and paprika. Heat until simmering, remove from heat, and set aside.
Heat oil in a large, nonstick frying pan over high heat until smokin’ hot. Add the tofu, half of the garlic, and 1 Tbsp. of reserved sauce, and stir-fry for a minute. Add the shrimp and cook until pink and gently coiled, and the tofu has browned. Remove to a dish, reserving the oil in the pan.
Add the rice noodles, the rest of the garlic, and the remaining sauce. Cook vigorously making sure to keep things moving to prevent noodles from clumping and sticking together. You can add more oil if necessary. When the noodles are cooked, push them all around the sides of the pan. Crack the eggs into the middle and let set for 15-30 seconds. Then mix all together. Add the peanuts, dried shrimp, and bean sprouts. Toss quickly. Then add the Chinese chives and the reserved shrimp and tofu. Gently toss to heat. Serve with extra raw bean sprouts and sprinkled peanuts.
Yummy with beer.