While the dinner at Red Fish and the brunch at Signe’s were both delectable, I didn’t pass up the offer to cook while on vacation. We usually celebrate my mother in law’s birthday over this trip, so I was asked to make dinner for that night. And this year, this was a big one for her, so I was more than happy to cook and let her enjoy the grandkids. Since we’d already eaten seafood, I opted for another fresh, summery idea and made a marinated flank steak with avocado relish, allowing us to take advantage of fresh cool ingredients and the poolside grill. Plus, the guys felt as if they contributed since they got to do the grilling, which Chris claims is “his territory”. I say, “no fair” ’cause I like grilling too.
If you can’t tell from the previous posts about red and green curry dishes, I am quite a fan of Thai cuisine. And if you like peanut sauce, you should most definitely check this out. But what I have yet to discuss, after almost 3 months of blogging, is one of my favorites, possibly everyone’s favorite Thai dish, Pad Thai.
I am no stranger to the neighborhood Thai joints that frequent the streets of Chicago. In graduate school, a friend of mine discovered this great little noodle shop just off the Diversey brown line called Satay. If my memory isn’t pullin’ my leg, I’d have to say this is the first place I ever tried Pad Thai. Despite trying this stir-fried dish at multiple eateries since, Satay’s version has sustained a hold of the top spot for Pad Thai for more reasons than taste alone: their tofu cooking method, price – 8 bucks, BYOB policy of the restaurant (and to boot – no charge), quantity of food being enough to feed a medium-sized country, proximity to public transportation, and the weird chatty waiter who serves it, David. And even with a lovely Thai eatery right near our house, I can’t bring myself to order their Pad Thai again. Because of Satay’s? Maybe. Because there are a thousand other good dishes there? Another maybe. But either way, Satay has undoubtedly left a mark and provided a meal that no other establishment could provide.
Until recently. After multiple iterations, I think I have finally concocted a satisfyingly awesome bowl of Pad Thai. Finally. Every time I changed something, there was something else to change. Ah, the fun of recipe tweaking. And unfortunately for you, the fact that I eyeball mostly everything these days (except when baking) suggests that even the recipe I’ve provided might not be perfect. Hence, that one bowl may be the best I’ll ever have at my place. But boy was it somethin’.
Pad Thai facts: Key ingredients are rice noodles, eggs, fish sauce, tamarind, and chili pepper. It’s generally garnished with a lime slice, crushed peanuts and cilantro, with various forms of protein added. It’s a national dish of Thailand. There’s a couple of versions of Pad Thai: the traditional (as in the version below) is dry and light (non-greasy), and the “restaurant type” is heavier and tends to be covered in oil.
Serves 4-6; depending on hunger & ability to stop eating
I think the key is the method of cooking the tofu. You really have to dry it out good, otherwise it gets all soggy. The sprinkling of cornstarch also helps to give it a little crunch without frying it.
1 package (12.3oz) extra firm tofu
1 T cornstarch
8 oz flat uncooked rice noodles
2 T tamarind concentrate (or strained tamarind paste)**
2 T rice wine vinegar
3 T sugar
4 T reduced sodium soy sauce*
2 T fish sauce*
1-2 T Sriracha (or less, if you’re a wuss)
1 1/2 t fresh grated ginger
2 T peanut oil, divided (unrefined if you have it)
2 eggs, lightly beaten
1 egg white, lightly beaten
1 cup fresh bean sprouts, optional
1/2 cup carrots, matchstick, optional
1/2 cup chopped green onions
2 T chopped cilantro
2 T unsalted, dry roasted, peanuts, chopped
4 lime wedges
1. Drain tofu. I start this the night before by taking it out of the tray and sitting it on top of a dish towel in a round cake pan. I cover the tofu with another dish towel and put another cake pan upside down, and then i put something really heavy on top and put it in the fridge. If the towels are soaked, I do another round before cooking. You could easily do this for 30 min to 1 hour before cooking, but if it’s not drained it will lead to that soggy texture. After it’s drained, cut into 1/2 inch cubes and toss in bowl with cornstarch. Set aside.
2. Prepare noodles according to package directions, without salt. Drain and set aside. (If you make these first, I’d rinse them with cold water after cooking stop the cooking once you take them out of the boiling water – otherwise they will overcook while sitting in the strainer – you re-warm them in the skillet anyway)
3. Combine tamarind through ginger in small bowl. Heat 1 T oil in non-stick skillet over med-hi. Add tofu and saute for about 7 minutes, until golden. Remove from pan and set aside.
4. Heat 1 t oil in pan. Add eggs and egg white; cook for about 30 seconds, stirring constantly. Removed and add to bowl w/ tofu.
5. Heat remaining 2 t oil. Add noodles and cook for ~3 minutes. Stir in liquid mixture; cook ~30 seconds. Add egg and tofu back in along with bean threads and cook for about 1 minute. Remove pan from heat. Stir in onions and cilantro.
6. Divide among 4 plates, top with lemon wedge and crushed peanuts.
*If you need a gluten-free version, buy Thai Kitchen brand. The Tamari brand at Whole Foods also advertises a gluten-free soy sauce that can also be purchased low-sodium.
**Tamarind is hard to find. Sorry. I buy tamarind concentrate from The Chopping Block in Chicago or the Spice House. Even Amazon.com. You can instead buy a block of tamarind paste at asian markets. Put a chunk in boiling water and let it soak for a while, then drain and you’ll have concentrate.