We reckon you can’t love Thai food without loving pad thai – the country’s national dish. Your average Thai cook can probably whip this up with a few swishes of the wok and flips of the, umm, wok flipper. But for us at home there are two pitfalls that are easy to, errm, fall into. As you’ll find out in this episode.
First thing is those rice noodles (and don’t ever get taken for a ride in a restaurant – unless these particular noodles are under your nose, you’re not eating pad thai). You usually buy the dried variety in a packet. They need to be soaked in warm water before going into the wok. But soaked for how long? You’ve just come to a trap for young players.
Second thing is the wok, which needs to be smoking hot. Forget about cooking enough for the whole family in one go. The volume of the ingredients will suck the heat straight out of the cooking surface, and by the time it reheats you’ll have a gluggy mess. We speak from experience.
So, to deal with the first point. The dried noodles come folded in the packet. Our advice is to soak them in warm water just until they will straighten under their own weight when held by one end. Drain immediately, DO NOT RINSE, then get on with the cooking before they go cold.
Secondly: cook one serving at a time. Serve it, then get the wok back up to full heat before starting the next. Keep everything moving as you cook.
The good news is that a decent wok will heat up really quickly over your biggest gas ring. Got an electric stove? Then think seriously about getting a gas cylinder and gas-fired wok burner that you can sit on a heat-proof surface atop your kitchen bench.
We fell at both these hurdles on our first attempt. Then we consulted Pim’s blog, where she gives an excellent pad thai tutorial. Thanks to Pim our second effort was much more respectable. We made a few slip-ups with ingredients too – you’ll find out in the video.
Back to woks for a sec. Don’t buy a fancy one. The non-stick kind, the electric ones and other flashy variants are an expensive rip-off, even if some big-name “expert” Asian chef lends his name to a particular brand. You need a simple wok made of thin metal. They’re in all Asian supermarkets for very little money.
Don’t be turned off pad thai by an indifferent restaurant experience. This commonly comes at the hands of a flagging proprietor who has tried to rebadge their Chinese restaurant as Thai. The most cynical ones are easy to spot – on the menus they just add “Thai” as a prefix to the usual Cantonese suspects.
Pim’s blog post suggests a list of optional ingredients, like pickled turnip. We chose to go a fairly basic route first time around, as per our Pim-derived recipe below.
It does assume you’ve watched the video – after all, watching and learning is the point of Crash Test Kitchen.
- Waz and Lenny
PS Feel free to eat with chopsticks or not. Thais generally use a fork and spoon – as for us two, we use chopsticks because we like ‘em.
Right-first-time pad thai
Rice noodles, 2 cups per serving
Tamarind juice, made up to taste from concentrate or pulp
Chilli powder or paprika
1 egg per serving
Chinese chives, handful per serving, chopped into short lengths (if unavailable, regular chives)
Uncooked prawns/shrimps, shelled and deveined. Handful per serving
Garlic, 1 clove per serving, finely chopped
Peanuts – blanched, unsalted/unflavoured, ground but not to a powder, roasted
Vegetable/sunflower cooking oil. NOT OLIVE OIL
Lime(s) cut into segments
- Have all ingredients at room temperature
- If noodles are the dry kind, soak in warm water until they straighten under their own weight.
- In a small saucepan over low heat combine 1/3 cup each of fish sauce, palm sugar and tamarind juice. Once sugar has melted completely, kill the heat. Add a teaspoon or two of chilli powder according to taste. This is your sauce.
- Heat 2-3 tablespoons oil in wok until smoking. Throw in a clove’s worth of chopped garlic or more to taste. Fry very briefly (just a few seconds).
- KEEP THE HEAT ON HIGH. Add 2 cups noodles, then a quarter-cup or ladle of your sauce. Fry, flipping, until noodles are edibly soft. If they clump together, pick them up between two forks and shake them apart.
- Push noodles up the side of the wok and crack 1 egg into the base. Break yolk and swizzle the egg around with your wok flipper until just set. Mix the noodles back in.
- Add a handful of prawns/shrimps. Keep tossing everything until shrimps are thoroughly coloured and therefore cooked – about two minutes for big ones.
- Add 2 tablespoons of chopped peanuts
- In goes a handful of garlic chives, then a handful or more of bean sprouts. Heat and toss just briefly, then turn off the flame.
- Serve in a bowl with a wedge of lime and extra chopped peanuts sprinkled on top.
- Reheat the wok and repeat.