On a trip to Thailand last fall, my wife and I did a one-day cooking class in Chiang Mai. That day I made the perfect batch of pad thai. (For the uninitiated, Pad Thai is “noodles Thai-style.” It’s one of the more popular dishes at your local Thai restaurant. If you don’t believe me, go check. I’ll wait.)
Anyway, I preceded at home to make 35 batches of pad thai that bore little resemblance to food. That’s not true. Only the first five dishes were fundamentally inedible, the next thirty were tasty enough– they just didn’t taste like pad Thai. A poor cook might blame the difference on the variation in ingredients between Thailand and home. However, I have a sneaking suspicion the cooking school staff was slipping good cooking into my dish while I wasn’t looking. They’d say, “Godzilla” and point, and I’d turn (because one can’t take a chance that close to the Pacific), and when I turned back around the contents of my wok would look and/or smell better.
If making mac-n-cheese from a box, microwaving a HotPocket, or grilling a burger aren’t counted as cooking, then you might say that my experience with cooking was nothing. However through an extensive process of error and error, I arrived at delectable pad thai.
Below is what you’ll need.
First, for the anal retentive types who’ve noticed that I took this picture on top of the washing machine, that was solely for lighting purposes. This process in no way involves use of the washing machine. It’s not one of those clever recipes like cooking fish in the dishwasher. I’m serious, under no circumstances are you to attempt to use your washer in the making of pad thai.
In list form, what you’ll need is:
– 2 Tablespoons of oil (anything but olive)
– 4-ish cloves of garlic (more if you have a vampire-infestation problem)
– shrimp (several to many)
– chicken (one to two tenders’s worth; like the size of tender they give you at Applebees or Chilis– NOT McDonalds, i.e. a swanky tender)
(substitute tofu if you’re one of those quasi-vegetarians who count chicken as animal but don’t count shrimp/fish.)
– egg (1)
– 2 Tablespoons fish sauce
– 1-1/2 teaspoons sugar
– rice noodles (about 2 ramen packets worth, not that you should buy it that way)
– crushed peanuts (3 heaping Tablespoons)
– spouts (1 cup-ish. Normally this is soy or mung bean sprouts, but I’ve substituted Alfalfa sprouts because they work fine and last longer in the fridge.)
– spring onions or chives or something green and oniony (1-cup-ish)
– 1/2 a lime
Step 1: Heat your oil in a wok. Get it hot enough so that when you throw the garlic in, it’ll sizzle. This will make you feel more chef-like.
Step 2: Add the animal stuff. Put the chicken in first, it takes longer than the prawns. If you’re using tofu, put it in after the shrimp (tofu won’t cause you severe debilitating diarrhea if it’s under-cooked. [I don’t think, but I have no idea what I’m talking about. Although I do suspect one shouldn’t refer to diarrhea at any point in a food blog post.])
chicken and shrimp (lamest superhero duo ever.)
Step 3: Add the egg, fish sauce, and sugar. Scramble the egg up good, and mix everything together.
egg, fish sauce, and sugar
Step 4: Add the noodles. This is the trickiest part of all. First, they make a lot of different types of rice noodles in different dimensions and colors, and they all cook differently. I prefer thin noodles. I must admit the noodles are the weak part of my game. In the batch I’m showing, the noodles are overcooked, but I have done them just right. (You’ll have to take my word.) It’s preferable to have them slightly under-cooked when they’re mixed with the prawn scramble (There’s usually enough moisture that they’ll continue cooking.)
At the cooking school, we put pushed the prawn scramble up to the top of the wok and tilted the wok over and put dry noodles and a cup of water in the bottom of the wok. We then cooked the noodles, and then mixed them with the prawn scramble. If you’re an octopus or a ninja, that method works great. I, however, pour boiling water over bowled noodles when I’m putting the chicken in the wok, then I tong them into the wok and mix them right together with the prawn scramble.
overcooked noodles this time, so sad
Step 5: Add the vegetable stuff. First, throw in the crushed peanuts. Then stir in the sprouts and the spring onion. (These are all done last, because you want them to provide a bit of crunch. i.e. You don’t want them thoroughly cooked.)
with the veges in
The penultimate step is to squeeze on the lime. This can be done into the wok after it’s removed from the heat or directly on top of one’s bowl.
Step 6: Eat. I’ve included the following picture as proof that this was, in fact, edible.
last few bites