Pad Thai

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Pad Thai is probably the best-known Thai dish, and its fame is well deserved, thanks to the tangy, subtle flavour that makes this dish so unique.

Funnily enough, although regarded nowadays as the Thai national dish, originally it is not from Thailand, but it was introduced in Thailand in the 1940’s (from Southern China or Vietnam, I’ve heard different versions).

Pad Thai owes its characteristic and absolutely delicious flavour to a sauce that the Thais made mixing Tamarind (or lime juice), sugar and fish sauce (although I’ve seen recipe that use soy sauce instead).
This combination brings four tastes (acidic from the tamarind or lime, sweet from the sugar, salty and Umami from the fish sauce) to the dish. I will be giving quantities but they are just guidelines: it will be your task to get the proportions right in order to ensure the correct balance that, in turn, will result in an extremely pleasant flavour for you and your guests.
Another important thing to consider is the texture of the noodles. First, for this dish you should be using flat rice noodles, and then cook it in the right way to assure that the right texture is achieved. The tricky thing about Pad Thai is that the noodles should be chewy but not too much and making them too soft will spoil the dish, whilst keeping them too hard will make it inedible.
Obviously this comes down to the way the noodles are cooked -or, better, not cooked.
Purists suggest that, rather than being boiled, the noodles should be soaked in cold water until they’re soft enough to wind easily around your finger.
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After that, they should be cooked quickly in the pan with the other ingredients adding the sauce little by little; at the end the dish should look quite dry.

A quick note before describing the process: I have come across loads of different versions of Pad Thai, each ones using different ingredients. I have used here only the ones that are, in my opinion, the common denominator, but other things can be added (chilli, even if I don’t think this dish should be hot, ginger, but it might be overpowering, dried shrimp or shrimp paste, sweet chilli paste etc). Eggs do not appear on every single recipe you will find online but, for what I’ve seen, in Thailand they tend to use it , so I’ve added them Note: The Thais prefer duck egg, so use them if you can find them.

Also, many recipes suggest adding tofu, but since I am already using prawns and eggs, I think it is enough protein, so I have omitted it.

Lastly, normally the dish is finished with some coriander but unfortunately it is a flavour I dislike, so I have used flat leaf parsley instead.

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INGREDIENTS
200 g flat rice noodles (Sen Lek)
1 clove garlic, minced
1 Tbsp.shallot, finely sliced
10 prawn tailes, deveined
200 g bean sprouts
1 duck egg, lightly beaten
Peanuts, roughly chopped
2 tbsp peanuts, roughly chopped
A handful of coriander, roughly chopped

Cooking Sauce
100 mlTamarind water or 2 tbsp. lime juice
1 tbsp/ Palm Sugar
2 tbsp. Nam Pla (Thai fish sauce)
150 ml water
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  1. First, make the sauce: for the tamarind water, mix the tamarind paste with water (the rate will depend on the paste you are using; the one I normally buy requires 100ml water for 2 tsp. paste), then add the fish sauce and palm sugar and stir until dissolved; After this, add 100 ml water
  2. On medium heat, shallow fry the shallot, and, when soft add the garliccook for 1 minute (making sure it doesn’t burn!), then add the prawn tails; when they start cjhanging color (from greyish to red), add some sauce, turn the heat on, drain the noodles and add them to the pan
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  3. Keep adding the sauce little by little, stirring the noodles
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  4. When the noodles start softening up and look translucent, add half of the chopped peanuts and the bean sprouts:
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  5. Keep stir-frying for a minute, adding liquid if it gets too dry, then push the noodles to one side, add a scant tbsp oil and  crack the eggs on to it. When the eggs have set, cut into small chunks with a wooden spoon or spatula and stir in with the noodles
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  6. To serve, decorate with lime slices, chopped coriander and sprinkle with the remaining peanuts

Skate wings alla Milanese

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Cotoletta alla Milanese, like the name suggests, is a typical dish from Milan.
Similar to Austrian Wiener Schnitzel, is a bone-in veal cutlet which is pounded to make it thinner and more tender before being coated in flour, beaten egg and breadcrumbs (in this order) and then shallow fried in butter and/or oil.

Skate (razza, for the Italian readers) is, in my opinion one of the most underrated fish of all (although I won’t complain because this keeps its price low).
The structure of the wing is a rib to which a layer of cartilaginous bones is attached, and those gelatinous bones inside the wing is something that puts many people off. In spite of the fact that when the fish is cooked the meat will come off very easily, I have to admit that I do not like eating skate with those bones either. For this reason, I started to fillet the wing, getting one fillet for each side.

However, the problem is that the two sides are not symmetrical and I ended up with a fillet which is much bigger and thicker than the other.
Therefore, I started to fillet it keeping the flesh attached to the rib (see below), and then cutting the bone with scissors.

The result is a ‘bone-in skate steak’.
At this point it can be cooked like Cotoletta alla Milanese; the only difference is that, unlike a veal cutlet, skate cannot be pounded (but it’s extremely tender and juicy anyway, so it won’t need it) before cooking.
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INGREDIENTS:
1 large skate wing (about 400-450 g), cut in half
1 tbsp. flour
1 egg, beaten

3 tbsp. breadcrumbs
1/2 tsp. minced garlic
1/2 tsp. anchovy paste
2 tsp. finely chopped parsley
Salt (to taste)
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  1. First, fillet the skate: using a very sharp knife, separate the flesh from the cartilaginous bones, on both sides, making sure you don’t cut it on the rib side
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  2. Using scissors, cut off the bones, as below
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  3. Mix the breadcrumbs with all the other igredients listed
  4. Now that you’ve got your skate steak, coat it in flour and then pass it in the beaten egg
  5. Shake off the excess egg and coat with the aromatic breadcrumbs
  6. Heat the oil on medium heat, with the butter.
  7. The butter will start foaming;
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    when it stops, add the skate and cook for 4-5 minutes on each side.
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    Here is worth noting two things

    • I don’t usually cook with butter, but here I find it very useful because, when it stops foaming (which means that all the water it contains has evaporated), it will be at the right temperature. This is very important to make the outside crispy and golden. It is virtually impossible to understand the temperature of the oil when shallow frying (unlike deep-frying, where a thermometer can be used), and this it crucial because if the fat is too hot it will burn the batter, if it’s not hot enough it will make it soggy
    • The fish is ready when the inside is white
  8. Serve it with a squeeze of lemon

Seabass & Aubergine

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TECHNIQUES NEEDED:
Grilled Aubergines

INGREDIENTS (4 people)
4 sea bass fillets (150 – 200g each)
800 g aubergines
Smoked Salt
Sea salt
20 cherry tomatoes on the vine
Sun-dried Tomatoes, 2 halves, finely chopped
2 garlic cloves, minced
Olive Oil
Extra Virgin Olive oil (to drizzle)
Chives (or parsley), finely chopped
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If I was told that I can eat only one type of fish for the next 12 months, I would definitely go for sea bass. If fresh and cooked properly is tender and pleasantly moist, and its subtle, delicate flavour makes it extremely versatile as it will work with virtually any accompaniment.

This recipe uses grilled aubergines and roast cherry tomatoes, and these flavours work just beautifully together.

AUBERGINES
Peel (optional) and slice them 1/2 cm thick, purge, pat dry, brush with oil and grill (see Grilled Aubergines for details):.

When they cool down and can be handled, cut the aubergines in small cubes
Heat 1 tbsp. olive oil and gently cook the minced garlic, sun-dried tomatoes and anchovy fillets, being very careful not to brown the garlic
When the anchovy has dissolved into the oil, add the aubergine and sauté for 3 minutes

ROAST CHERRY TOMATOES:

  1. Preheat the oven to 180C
  2. Wash the tomatoes an place in a roasting tin, lined with baking parchment
  3. Drizzle with olive oil and a bit of Sherry vinegar, sprinkle with salt
  4. Cook in the oven for 10 to 15 minutes, or until the skin starts blistering

SEA BASS FILLETS:

  1. Check with your finger for any pin bones and remove them with tweezers if it’s the case
  2. With a sharp knife, make shallow incisions on the skin, about 1/2 cm apart from each other. Pinch the fillet between the thumb and index as shown below, it will make it easier:
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  3. Sprinkle with smoked salt, cover with cling film and refrigerate for 20 minutes
  4. Heat 3 tbsp. of oil in a large skillet, pat the fillets dry on both sides and place the fillets, skin side down, on the pan.
  5. The heat will make the skin retract and the fillet curve: press the fillets down with a spoon or a fish slice until they can hold the shape. NOTE: It’s very important that there is direct contact between the skin and the pan, because you want the fillets to cook quickly and the skin to get crispy. If you are making more than one fillet, you can place a weight on top of it. I use a ramekin in the picture below:
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  6. Cook on high heat until the upper side is almost white
  7. Turn them and cook the other side for 30 seconds

To serve, make a bed of aubergines and place the fillet, skin side up, on top of it, with the roasted tomatoes, on the side; drizzle with extra virgin olive oil and sprinkle with finely chopped chives (or parsley)