The first time I every had Pad Thai was at the Thai Country Kitchen in the St. Louis Loop. I was 16 and with my sister Katie and my friend Margaret Ware-Smith, and it was amazing! I had had Thai before; many times, but never like this...this was sweet, sour and salty all at once. This was before I had developed my love of spicy foods, and as you may know, Thai food can be spicy. Every time I had eaten Thai in the past, I had been filled with the fear of spicy. Pad Thai is not spicy though, not spicy at all (which might account for its wide popularity) it’s just flavorful. That first Pad Thai was a delectable treasure...predominately noodles (I love noodles) with bits of all sorts of things thrown in, creating little surprises of texture and flavor...things to root around in the noodles for. This was more than just a lunch, this was a food adventure.
Now, I must admit I have had Pad Thai many times since then and ordered it quiet regularly for a while, but it was never like the first time...it never is I suppose. So when I decided to do Thai night tonight, I decided that I would try my hand at Pad Thai. I must say that I think, my Pad Thai is pretty good. It was certainly not like my first, but it was better than many that I have had; in part I think, because I was able to control just how much of what went in and so it did not become too greasy as some Pad Thai that I’ve had.
Now my dear reader, do try not to judge too much; but the recipe that I used was one by Alton Brown...I know, he is not actually Thai, but looking at it I imagined that it was rather authentic, whatever that means. I have posted the recipe below. There are a few things listed that you may not happen to have on hand, but all are things which I have used for other dishes, so they’re versatile and store well if you choose to invest.
1-ounce tamarind paste
3/4 cup boiling water
2 tablespoons fish sauce
2 tablespoons palm sugar
1 tablespoon rice wine vinegar
4 ounces rice stick noodles
6 ounces Marinated Tofu, recipe follows
1 to 2 tablespoons peanut oil
1 cup chopped scallions, divided
2 teaspoons minced garlic
2 whole eggs, beaten
2 teaspoons salted cabbage
1 tablespoon dried shrimp
3 ounces bean sprouts, divided
1/2 cup roasted salted peanuts, chopped, divided
Freshly ground dried red chile peppers, to taste
1 lime, cut into wedges
Place the tamarind paste in the boiling water and set aside while preparing the other ingredients.
Combine the fish sauce, palm sugar, and rice wine vinegar in a small bowl and set aside.
Place the rice stick noodles in a mixing bowl and cover with hot water. Set aside while you prepare the remaining ingredients. Once the other ingredients are measured out into separate bowls, drain the water from the noodles and set them aside. Cut the tofu into 1/2-inch wide strips, similar to French fries.
Press the tamarind paste through a fine mesh strainer and add to the sauce. Stir to combine.
Place a wok over high heat. Once hot, add 1 tablespoon of the peanut oil. Heat until it shimmers, then add the tofu. Cook the tofu until golden brown, moving constantly, for no longer than 1 minute. Remove the tofu from the pan to a small bowl and set aside.
If necessary, add some more peanut oil to the pan and heat until shimmering. Add 2/3 of the scallions and then the garlic, cook for 10 to 15 seconds. Add the eggs to the pan; once the eggs begin to set up, about 15 to 20 seconds, stir to scramble. Add the remaining ingredients in the following order and toss after each addition: noodles, sauce, cabbage, shrimp, and 2/3 of the bean sprouts and peanuts. Toss everything until heated through, but no longer than 1 to 2 minutes total. Transfer to a serving dish. Garnish with the remaining scallions, bean sprouts, and peanuts. Serve immediately with the ground chile peppers and lime wedges.
6 ounces extra-firm tofu, not silken
1 1/2 cups soy sauce
1 teaspoon Chinese five-spice powder
Wrap the tofu firmly in a tea towel. Place the wrapped tofu into an 8-inch cake pan. Top with another cake pan and weigh down with a 5-pound weight. (Bags of dried beans or grains work well.) Place in refrigerator and press for 12 to 15 hours.
Place pressed tofu in a 2-cup container. Combine soy sauce and five-spice powder and pour over tofu. Cover and refrigerate for 30 minutes, turning once. Remove the tofu from the marinade and use immediately or store in the refrigerator for up to 2 to 3 days.
Yield: 6 ounces tofu