Saturday, October 2, 2010

Move over Thai Spice

I am stoked right now and frankly can't wait to heat up tonight's leftovers for lunch (or even breakfast!) tomorrow.  I've done a little experimenting with making my own Thai food at home, but I started off relatively easy.  I'd been ordering a mixed vegetable stir fry when we'd get thai takeout and I've made that at home now a few times.  Although it turned out decent, it was nowhere near as good as the takeout.  Recently I started ordering a more classic Thai takeout dish - pad thai.  And just like everything else, I decided to make my own version at home.

When I discovered that my regular grocery store carried rice noodles I thought I'd be set.  I had the chicken, peanuts to crush up for garnish, and I already knew how to make a thai stir fry sauce.  Oh but wait...stir fry sauce is not pad thai sauce!  So after searching through a dozen recipes, I realized I needed one more secret ingredient that I definitely didn't have lurking in my pantry:  tamarind paste.  I had never even heard of this stuff let alone knew what it looked like.  After stopping at two big name groceries stores, I called my sister to have her find the nearest Asian market.  Turns out, it was pretty close by.  I walked in, asked for this mysterious ingredient, and walked out with a block of weird brown stuff.

Now I was all set for my first adventure into making pad thai.  Well almost anyway, when I got home and started sifting through all the pad thai recipes again I realized I needed green onions too.  Luckily I just called my sister again and voila...she showed up just before dinner with a fresh bunch of green onions.  Her reward for all of the helpfulness today:

I'd say that was worth the effort!  Once I had all the ingredients I needed and after writing down the final version of the recipe I planned to use, preparation began.  The most important part of making any kind of stir fry is to have everything prepared before you begin.  I felt like one of the TV chefs having everything out in little bowls ready to dump into the wok.  I had the rice noodles, marinated chicken, minced garlic, green onion, fresh coriander, and eggs all setup in various size bowls on the counter.  The crushed peanuts and bean sprouts remained in their bags but still ready to go.  

Pad thai sauce turned out to be much easier to make than I expected.   I give credit for this to the many step by step recipes that can easily be found with a Google search for pad thai.  Thai cuisine focuses on flavors that are sweet, sour, spicy, and salty.  The pad thai sauce not surprisingly is 4 ingredients, one from each category.  Brown sugar (or palm sugar) for the sweet, Tamarind paste for the sour, chili paste for the spicy, and fish sauce for the salty.  This wonderful combination is no doubt what creates the cravings I have for some yummy Thai food!

Once the sauce was ready, and my rice noodles were soaked and ready to go, it was time to stir fry.  I heated up my wok, added some oil and.....OH $%&#.  It caught fire!  Hmm well I think that pan was on it's last leg anyway.  I think I had been reading about how important a hot wok is to stir fry and forgot just how hot my burners really do get when they're on High.  So after switching to a different pan, a smaller newer wok, I lowered the temperature a bit and began my stir fry.

First went the garlic, then the marinated chicken.  The marinade was just a combination of soy sauce and corn starch.  It didn't look very appetizing, but once it started cooking it smelled divine!  Once the chicken was nearly done it was time to add the eggs (I guess that answers that question about which came first).  I scrambled them around for a minute and then added the noodles and the sauce.  Finally it's started to look like real pad thai!  There was another minute or so of stir frying and then the addition of fresh bean sprouts.  Another minute or so more and it was ready for a garnish of green onions, fresh coriander, and chopped peanuts.  I'm not sure how they say "Bam" in Thailand, but that would be the moment!

I made it in two batches because I had to switch to a smaller wok.  The first batch was plenty split between three people.  It was a touch on the spicy side for our little guy so he enjoyed some of last night's tostada fixings with tortilla chips instead.  I couldn't wait to dig in, so I made the second batch after we finished eating.  I spent just about an hour on preparation and cook time which is pretty close to the time it takes me to order takeout and drive round trip to get it.  The cost savings from making it at home though is enormous!  This will definitely become a regular recipe in my kitchen.  I know it's not a healthy meal, but I may be able to experiment with ways to make it better.  I could easily omit the peanuts and use less egg or even omit egg altogether as well, add a few more complimentary veggies like bok choy or shredded carrots, and cut back on the oil.  I may even get adventurous and try it with tofu sometime instead of chicken.  Now that I know I can make the dish, the possibilities are endless!  Now I just have to figure out how to make the Thom Yum soup that Link always orders to go with this!

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