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

Shirataki & prawns stir fry

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This is a very simple way to make noodles; in this recipe I use Shirataki for a low-calorie, low-carb dish, but it will work perfectly with other types of noodles, as long as you follow the proper cooking instructions.

I love stir-frying, I’ve always been fascinated by this technique; in my area there is an Oriental restaurant with an open plan kitchen, and when I go there I enjoy watching the cooks using their woks to produce excellent dishes at an incredible speed.
If you are not able to do the proper stir fry (it requires some skill), you can simply stir the ingredients using a spoon. There are only two tips that I would like to give you:
First, the sides of the wok will get hotter than the bottom, so try to make the food slide on the sides as well to cook it more quickly and enhance the flavours
Second: when you stir fry you will need to add some liquid. When you do it, add it little by little, not all at once. This is a fried dish, you don’t want boiled vegetables!

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INGREDIENTS (serves 4)
600 g shirataki noodles
100 g baby corn
100 g mange-tout
1/2 medium red onion
1 carrot
200 g bean sprouts
16 prawn tails, deveined
Rapeseed oil

For the sauce:
1 tbsp. Nam Pla (Thai fish sauce)
1 tbsp. Dark soy sauce
2 tsp. white sugar
2 tsp. tomato paste
150 ml vegetable stock (or slightly salted hot water if good quality stock is not available)
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  1. Cut the vegetables:
    Cut the mange-tout in half, lengthwise
    Quarter the baby corn lengthwise
    Cut the carrot a julienne
    Finely slice the onion
    The bean sprouts do not need any cutting
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  2. Heat the oil in the wok on high heat and, when hot, add the veggies
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  3. Stir-fry for 2-3 minutes on high heat, adding the liquid little by little as indicate above
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  4. As the veggies start softening up, add the shirataki and the prawns and cook for 3 minutes, still adding the liquid a little at a time
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Obviously, you can use any type of noodles for this recipe, just follow the instructions on the packaging

Prawns & prawn stock

First, a consideration on prawns/shrimps and whether you should buy them fresh or frozen. I say this because prawns are an exception to the general rule that we should always buy fresh ingredients and the difference between fresh and frozen ones is not so big. Furthermore, most of the prawns you buy is frozen at sea and shipped to us because fresh shrimp has a very short shelf-life. When you buy it ‘fresh’, unless you know the fishmonger and can trust what he says, it is likely to be defrosted (maybe even a couple of days before), rather than fresh. Therefore I suggest that you buy the frozen ones and defrost them just before use.

Unless, like I said, you can source the fresh ones from a trusted supplier. Do not buy precooked ones!

If using frozen prawns, you can defrost them quickly placing them in a bowl filled with cold water. Some suggest putting them in a bowl under running water, allowing overflowing as it is faster.

A second consideration is whole shrimps vs tails. In the UK you will mainly find prawn tails. They are quicker and easier to use, but don’t have much flavour. Back home (I’m from Sardinia), prawns are normally cooked whole and the head is actually considered the part with most flavour, and rightly so; I remember making a dish once, back home, using only the tails and being told off because I had discarded the heads; since that person definitely had a point, I took that complaint very seriously and started to think how I could keep the flavour without forcing my guest to shell their prawns as they are eating (which can be quite awkward).
This is why I started making a stock with the heads and shells and adding it to the dish, in order to offer the practicality of serving the tails but keeping the flavour of the whole thing

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This is how to shell the prawns (obviously you will need to defrost them as above if using frozen ones):

  1. Remove the head
  2. Remove the shell, leaving only the last bit as it will look nice in your presentation
  3. Using a sharp knife, make a shallow cut at the back of the tail and extract the vein (usually it’s black, it might be transparent)
  4. Cover and chill until ready to use

NOTE: what the recipes usually call ‘vein’ is actually the intestine of the prawn; it’s not harmful to eat, but it might be a bit gritty. Furthermore, that incision, when the tail is cooked, will create a nice ‘butterflied’ look

Now let’s make the stock with the heads and shells; a prawns stock can be made in many different ways (and you will find many different recipes), but I find that this process gives a better taste and texture.

NOTE: I’m indicating 1/2 litre of water for 12 large or 16 medium prawns, you can make a proportion based on how many prawns you are cooking:

1) Heat 1 tablespoon of olive or rapeseed oil in a pan
2) Add the prawns shells and heads and cook until they turn red

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3) Add 1/2 litre of water, bring to the boil, add 1 tbsp. tomato paste and 1 tsp. anchovy paste
4) Simmer for 15 minutes, skimming the surface
5) Take the pan with the shells off the fire, and blend (using a hand blender)
6) Passing it through a fine sieve lined with muslin, transfer to a clean pan or any suitable container if not using immediately

A consideration on seasoning: I have not forgotten the salt, but I will normally use thiis stock for other preparations, and it’s likely to be reduced further depending on what I’m doing, so the salt should be added whilst preparing the final dish.