Monday, 21 March 2011


I will start by saying that compared to the other dishes I've written about so far, I find this dish, Pad Thai (Thai style fried noodles) quite hard to get right. It's not a taste thing, it's a technique thing.

As best I can tell, based on my experience, a good wok is a key component. I have an excellent but small wok, and recently added a larger wok to my kitchen. It's a good wok, don't get me wrong - heavy steel with a big wooden handle all the way from Hong Kong - but it's young, and the food that comes out of it still tastes like new wok to me. And it's hard to get it hot enough on my domestic wok burner.

I get how to season a wok, and my little wok is completely black and pretty much a non stick wonder from the build up of hard set oil. It's not sticky or yukky or rusty and everything that comes out of it tastes like wok food should. But despite the careful seasoning of the new wok, it's just not yet matured enough to withstand the addition of things like water into the cooking without taking on some of the metallic wok taste.

The second key component - and really I know this and yet I continue to push it past the point of sensible - is keeping the serving size small. Pad Thai is a lunch dish, a hawker dish, a one plate meal dish. It is not made in bulk to feed the masses, and there is a reason for this. Unless you have an industrial wok burner on your stove, a seriously big restaurant style one, you simply can't get enough heat to cook a large quantity before the noodles on top go claggy.

Which brings me to the third critical issue for success - the noodles. Of course in Thailand, fresh rice noodles are freely available in every market. They taste better, they have different texture and they cook differently and faster than the dried kind. You toss then straight into the wok, with perhaps a dash of water to make a little steam if they are a bit dry, but basically they just need heating.

Dried noodles on the other hand need to be re hydrated as well as simply warmed, and the manner in which this is done will determine how firm and al dente (to borrow and Italianism) they are, and how well they avoid the gluggy thing. At cooking class we simply tossed the noodles, un soaked, into the wok and added water, a little a time until they were perfectly well cooked.

But this absolutely will not work with a larger quantity (ask me how I know this). Before learning this I had always pre soaked the noodles in cold water and then added them to the wok once softened (but still firm). I know from the really delicious version I made in class that wok cooking the noodles is a better option than pre soaking, but it also feel a bit like a high wire act.

Pad Thai (Thai style fried noodles)
1 tbs vegetable oil.
Extra firm tofu (usually in vac pack plastic rather than in water), small block (a little bigger than a matchbox) per serve, cut into Julienne
1 red shallot finely chopped
2 cloves of garlic finely chopped
Thin flat rice noodles - fresh is best, but more likely dried, a handful per serve
1 tbs Thai preserved turnip, chopped (omit if you can't find it)
2 tbs tamarind puree
1.5 tbs shaved palm or regular sugar
1 tbs fish sauce
1/2 tsp ground dried chili (optional)
1 egg
1 tbs dried shrimp and/or a few fresh raw prawns (the latter gives you the luxe version of pad thai)
1/2 cup bean shoots
A bunch of chinese (garlic) chives in 3cm lengths.
2 tbs peanuts, chopped
Half a lime

If you are going to pre soak noodles, put them in cool water first and set aside. Boil the kettle too so if you are adding in a bit of water for noodles later it will be hot already.

Get everything ready because you are going to work fast on the wok and don't want to stop stirring long enough to measure anything out.

Heat the wok, add the oil and add the shallots, garlic and tofu. Toss for a minute or so.

That's Yui there in my cooking class - Hi Yui!
Add noodles to the wok and a bit of water if necessary. Even if pre soaked they should still be firmer than you would like to eat them. They will want to stick so keep them moving and only add small amounts of water at a time - don't let moisture build up in the pan.

Add turnip, tamarind, fish sauce, sugar and chili (if you are using any). Toss.

Push everything to one side and crack the egg into the bottom of the wok. Using the wok stirrer, scramble the egg up and when mostly cooked, toss the noodles on top and stir in.

Add shrimp, half the bean shoots and half the chives and toss well. Taste to make sure the balance is right - add more tamarind, sugar or fish sauce if required.

Noodles should now be al dente. Pour noodles onto a plate and serve with peanuts, remaining bean shoots and chives and lime.


flowerpress said...

Yum, I'm really loving your series of Thai food posts! We are lucky enough to have shops selling fresh rice noodles (my favourite) nearby, but I still manage to get them soggy mostly.
I'd love to know your take on pad sie ew. my favourite, especially with wide fresh rice noodles.

aracne said...

Many thanks for this recipe (and the others). I love Thai food, especially Pad Thai and I am delighted to learn the secret of not soggy noodles!

kim at allconsuming said...

I am ADORING these recipes from you but need to come back and spend some time ruminating and taking it all in. This year is eating me alive. So boring.

Got my personalised reg grundies though, which makes anything possible.

Ren said...

I'm coming over for dinner!