Now, I am the first to tell you that I am no expert on Asian cuisine, and I have no great wisdom to impart on the making of Pad Thai. I can tell you, though, that Pad Thai is the sole Asian dish that I have incorporated into my regular repertoire (you know, the things you cook all the time for your family and friends), and I probably make Pad Thai as much, or more often, than I make spaghetti and meat sauce. Pad Thai is also an easy dish for a dinner party. All of the ingredients can be prepared ahead, and when everyone is ready, it can be cooked and put on the table in minutes.
Once you’ve made Pad Thai a few times, the ingredients that once seemed so unusual (like tamarind paste) are just another ingredient in your cupboard, so all you have to do is pick up fresh shrimp, tofu if you are using it, and the veggies. Tamarind (which I buy in a block, seeds and all), dried shrimp and dried turnip come in quantitities enough for about several batches of Pad Thai. I store these in a jar labelled “Asian miscellaneous”, each ingredient bagged in a zip lock to keep the odors separated. I always have fish sauce and rice wine vinegar. (Can anyone tell me if I am correct that fish sauce doesn’t need refrigeration?) I don’t have a regular source yet for the rice noodles. The Asian market in our neighborhood only carries the real thin ones (which are what I used tonight). However, I just now seached Fresh Direct, and they carry “A Taste of Thai” noodles in the several widths, so I think I will get some with my next order and keep them in stock. (I wish I were one of those cooks with time enough to head to China Town on a regular basis, but my life is just too busy. Maybe in my next life…)
I pretty much stick to this recipe barely modified from Cook’s Illustrated. Sometimes I add tofu. I don’t always use cilantro. Enjoy!
2 tablespoons tamarind pulp
¾ cup boiling water
3 tablespoons fish sauce
1 tablespoon rice vinegar
3 tablespoons sugar
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
4 tablespoons peanut or vegetable oil
8 ounces dried rice stick noodles
2 large eggs
¼ teaspoon salt
12 ounces medium (31/35 count) shrimp, peeled and deveined
3 cloves garlic, minced or pressed through garlic press (about 1 tablespoon)
1 medium shallot, minced (about 3 tablespoons)
2 tablespoons dried shrimp, chopped fine
2 tablespoons chopped Thai salted preserved radish
6 tablespoons chopped roasted unsalted peanuts
3 cups (6 ounces) bean sprouts
5 medium scallions, sliced thin on a sharp diagonal
¼ cup loosely packed cilantro leaves
1. Rehydrate the tamarind paste in boiling water. Press through a sieve, discard seeds and rind. Stir the fish sauce, rice vinegar, sugar, cayenne, and 2 tablespoons oil into the tamarind liquid and set aside.
2. Cover the rice sticks with hot tap water in a large bowl; soak until softened, pliable, and limp but not fully tender, about 20 minutes. Drain the noodles and set aside. Beat the eggs and 1/8 teaspoon of the salt in a small bowl; set aside.
3. Heat 1 tablespoon oil in a 12-inch skillet (preferably nonstick) over high heat until just beginning to smoke. Add the shrimp and sprinkle with the remaining 1/8 teaspoon salt; cook, tossing occasionally, until the shrimp are opaque and browned about the edges, about 3 minutes. Transfer the shrimp to a plate and set aside.
4. Off heat, add the remaining tablespoon oil to the skillet and swirl to coat; add the garlic and shallot, set the skillet over medium heat, and cook, stirring constantly, until light golden brown, about 1½ minutes; add the eggs to the skillet and stir vigorously with a wooden spoon until scrambled and barely moist, about 20 seconds. Add the noodles and the dried shrimp and salted radish (if using) to the eggs; toss with 2 wooden spoons to combine. Pour the fish sauce mixture over the noodles, increase the heat to high, and cook, tossing constantly, until the noodles are evenly coated. Scatter ¼ cup peanuts, bean sprouts, all but ¼ cup scallions, and cooked shrimp over the noodles; continue to cook, tossing constantly, until the noodles are tender, about 2½ minutes (if not yet tender add 2 tablespoons water to the skillet and continue to cook until tender).
5. Transfer the noodles to a serving platter, sprinkle with the remaining scallions, 2 tablespoons peanuts, and cilantro; serve immediately, passing lime wedges separately.