Monday, August 6, 2012

Thai Cooking | Phad Thai


 I am fond of eating anything pasta or noodles. And I love Thai dishes. What would you feel if two of your most loved foods, the one closest to your heart (and stomach) is served to you in one plate? The result is sublime ecstasy, just like a pill that numbs your senses and boosts your state of wellbeing. That is how I described my plateful encounter with that strange “pansit” and I fell in love with it the very first time I ate it.

What I love most about Phad Thai is its “strange” mix of sweet-salty-sour savory flavors I thought would never complement…so complex yet you don’t have to understand it fully to appreciate its taste. I love how that strange flavors tickled my buds, and the playful mix of textures: long-chewy-tender glass noodles, crunchy fresh bean sprouts, soft silken tofu and eggs and the graininess of crushed peanuts. I told myself if I were to cook my first Thai dish, it will be Phad Thai. Sure enough I did. And I am more than happy with my kitchen experimentation: I got the flavors I wanted: fresh, light yet complex, and I can say almost authentic since I have no less than the Thai cook judged my first output.

Phad Thai is considered as Thailand’s national dish, and is known in the world over. It is ubiquitous in Thai’s streetfood scene (how I love to be in Bangkok soon!)


The key here is to use the freshest ingredients as possible: bean sprouts as much as possible are freshly harvested, not discolored and contained in a pack for how many days, and fresh shrimps oozing with orange-colored fats. Also, the noodle should not be soggy and overcooked, just like how your pasta should be tender to the bite (al dente).

What we need:

Flat Rice Noodles, it comes in different width sizes, I used the one that is flatly wide
Fresh Bean Sprouts, we will need only a handful, chilled to retain freshness
Skinless Peanuts, we will need also a handful
Tofu, in blocks, a size of two matchbox will do
Shrimp, you can have 3-4 pieces per serving/cooking
Phad Thai Paste, two tablespoons
Tamarind paste, a teaspoon
Egg, one piece per serving/cooking
Coriander, a few sprigs
Shallots, one stem for garnish
Garlic, 2 cloves per serving
Fish Sauce, according to taste
Muscovado Sugar, according to taste
Lime/Lemon for garnish
Canola Oil for stir frying

Pardon me for not giving you any exact measurements on the ingredients. For me, there is nothing standard as taste is very subjective. This dish is best prepared the “street food” way that is cooking in small servings, not batches unless you are already expert in cooking for a group of guests at just one time. Don’t worry, this can be cooked in less than no time and I guarantee your guest will enjoy eating it fresh and hot off the wok. Most of the time will be spent on preparing the ingredients.

Preparation:

1. Crush garlic in mortar and pestle, set aside

2. Sliced firm tofu in small thin strips or slices, which can be fried in a few seconds or will not take that much when frying, set it aside.

3. Clean the shrimps: remove the whiskers, the body shell while retaining the head and the tail. Devein. I love the head retained intact because all the flavors are concentrated in the head which we wanted to capture in this dish. Set aside. You can use at least 3-4 pieces of shrimps per single servings.

4. Prepare the noodles: Boil 1.5 liters of water (or more depending on volume of noodles to be cooked). Once the water is boiling, removed from heat and submerged the flat glass noodles. Let it stand for quite sometime to absorb liquid, swell and slightly cook and just tender to the bite. Warning, do not over soak as it will make the noodles soggy and mushy. It must be flexible and ready for a few minutes of final stir-frying. Drain. Tip: just like preparing pasta, I suggest you put some oil when the water is boiling so the noodles will not stick to each other when drained. Set Aside.

5. Prepare the sauce: There is available Phad Thai paste in any Asian section in our local supermarkets. You can readily use it, but I still enhanced it by using the basic ingredients in making the Phad Thai sauce:

Tamarind Paste – You can buy shelled ripe tamarind in blocks in Carbon Public Market. It sells about P35.00, but you will only need a tablespoon of it. I suggest you can prepare a batch of tamarind paste ahead of time and freeze it for future use. Soak the tamarind in warm water, enough to remove the seeds and veins and will make a paste. Do not put too much water as we don’t want to make our sauce watery.

In preparing the sauce, let’s use the principle behind any Thai dishes: the playful balance of sweetness, sourness and saltiness. The tamarind lends us the sour taste, the palm sugar or muscovado for the sweetness, and fish sauce for the saltiness. Combine these enough to balance the flavor. Set aside.

Just like any other cooking, you cannot go wrong if you will be on the safe side: you can always put more fish sauce later to adjust saltiness, the lime wedges prepared as garnish to adjust the level of sourness and chili flakes if you want it more spicy.

6. Prepare the peanut: I bought raw, skinless peanuts and prepared it in advance. Using a wok with no oil at all, pan-roast the peanuts, stirring constantly to distribute the heat evenly to the nuts, until golden brown. Let it cool. Crushed the peanuts in mortar and pestle (the old-fashioned Thai way) until coarsely grounded. Set Aside. (You may want to use the microwave oven: in a maximum level in your oven, roast the nuts in level 2, turning them once in a while. Be very careful as you cannot moderate the heat from the oven.)

7. Prepare the toppings: wash in running water the bean sprouts to remove dirt and residues. Slice the lemon into wedges. Set Aside.


How to cook Phad Thai

1. In a wok with high heat, sauté crushed garlic in a little oil. Some cookbooks prefer peanut oil, use this if available as this will make a flavorful dish.

2. Put the sliced tofu and fried a bit, adding the shrimps one by one until the shrimps turned rosy and pale.

3. Add the semi-cooked noodles and stir-fry

4. Add Phad Thai paste, mix and make sure all noodles are coated. Continue stir-frying until noodles are firm and cooked. Add some more fish sauce or sugar or tamarind paste to balance the taste.

5. Check the doneness of noodles: If it is almost done with no starchy taste, push the noodles on the side of the wok and make a well at the middle. Crack an egg, let it cook for 10-15 seconds then scramble it to cook the other side, then mix thoroughly with all the ingredients in the wok. Stop the heat. The remaining heat will cook the egg. Your noodle mixture is ready for plating.

6. Spoon the noodle mixture in the plate, top it with fresh bean sprouts and crushed roasted peanuts, dried chili flakes and coriander leaves. Garnish with shallots and lime wedges on the side. Serve hot.

Enjoy!

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