How to Make Pad Thai: Through the Alimentary Canal with Book and Box
In the words of Veggie Tales: Hey! Irene. Here’s a good way I’ve found to mix and mash two different recipes to make a very edible Pad Thai dinner.
The noodle box version (recipe context: you’ve just bought a box of our noodles — here’s how to use them!) is a simple recipe you’ll be able to use again and again as a basic framework, throwing in whatever compatible ingredients you might have around the house.
The book is from the Dinner and a Movie cookbook put together by Chef Claud Mann from the TBS cable B movie-hosting show of that name (recipe context: You’re watching Airplane! and here’s something you could eat with it!). It’s a bit more involved , but it shows how you can think about expanding on any basic recipe, and how to think about particular flavor effects you might be able to apply in other recipe situations.
The full version of each recipe is at the bottom of this post, blown up to legible size. But here, I’ll give an overview of stir-fry philosophy, some recommendations about which ideas to take from each version, and thoughts about which ingredients are optional vs. crucial.
THE PHILOSOPHY: Basically there’s five steps you’re always going to make in any kind of stir-fry situation:
- Prepping (and marinating) the protein
- Pre-cooking the noodles (if they are going to be part of the stir-fry and not simply a “bed” at the end)
- Chopping, opening, and otherwise arranging your stir-fry and garnishing ingredients
- Additively stir-frying the ingredients in the order of how much time they need to cook
So let’s go! And remember, everyone is counting on you.
Prepping and marinating the protein
Go with Dinner and a Movie’s suggestions for making forkful-sized bits and marinating them for a bit (throughout, I recommend all of the book’s sauce suggestions). You’ll get the best flavor if you do this an hour or even more ahead of time, keeping the bowl covered and refrigerated.
TIP: Another thing you can do well ahead of time is to prep the peanuts. I have a nice little hand-string-pull food processor, but a plastic bag and any hammer-like object will work to get the peanuts, first, into small pebble-sized chunks for the stir-fry and then, second (with a portion), into sawdust size for the garnish. I find it’s nice to do more than I’ll need of each type because they come in handy for sprinkling on oatmeal, desserts, and other things throughout the week.
Pre-cook the noodles
Follow the directions on the box to cook these not-quite-all-of-the-way done. And then stop them from cooking by running them under cold water and setting aside (they’ll get cooked the rest of the way when you put them into the stir-fry).
TIP: You should completely ignore Chef Mann’s suggestion to use spaghetti noodles — I think when he wrote the book, it might have been harder to find rice noodles in your average grocery store.
Then, as the water boils, as the noodles cook, and as the world turns, you should start furiously…
Chopping, opening, arranging
Once the frying starts, that’s about all you’re going to have time to do as you add in the ingredients and stir them to keep them from burning. So you’ll want to get everything ready to add while you can ahead of time: chopped, measured, lids opened, sauce elements pre-mixed, eggs lightly beaten, AND everything arranged in order of how you plan to add them to the mix. (I line everything up on the counter from left to right).
In the box recipe, you’ll see this doesn’t have to be much in terms of raw ingredients: an egg, green onions, sprouts, pre-made sauce, and peanuts; some cilantro and lime wedges. The book recipe does more — and more from scratch — adding garlic, serrano/jalapeno peppers, shredded ginger for the base; sherry, soy sauce, fish sauce, sugar, and ketchup (!) (I substitute BBQ sauce usually) for the sauce; bell peppers thrown into the stir-fry; and mint and red pepper flakes for the garnish.
How much of this is absolutely necessary to call what you’re doing Pad Thai? Well: the noodles, some kind of protein (chicken, egg, shrimp, tofu), some kind of sauce, and peanuts. Everything else is nice but not necessary.
TIP: However, I highly recommend the book’s garlic/hot pepper/ginger base. And if you’re not using a pre-made Pad Thai sauce, I really like everything liquid the book suggests for that.
The key word in “stir-fry” is “stir” (although I suppose “fry” is important too). Once you starting frying, keep ‘er moving.
Here, I like the box’s suggestion to do the eggs first (once the peanut oil is hot) — like the noodles, don’t cook them all the way, but fry them until they are firm-ish, then move them out of the wok and into a small bowl for finishing up later in the step after adding the chicken. Use a paper towel to make sure all egg pieces are out of the wok, and then add/heat a little more oil.
Follow the book’s directions on creating a garlic/pepper/ginger base, and then start adding things in the order of how long each ingredient will take to cook. Once it’s done, move everything into a serving dish.
TIP: Rather than add these items to the dish itself, instead, have the garnishes in small bowls/plates for each person to add to their plate after serving themselves from whatever serving dish you’ve moved everything to.
Serve it up and watch your dinner guests exclaim that they picked the wrong week to stop eating stir-fry.