Monday, September 29, 2008

22. Pad Thai

Date Cooked: September 25th, 2008
Page: 296
Rating: A+

I had been thinking about making this dish for several weeks but I was struggling with gathering all of the ingredients. Although most of the items are easy to find I wouldn’t commit to the produce until I had the rest gathered. The real hang up though was tamarind paste. To be honest I didn’t even know what it looked like so I spent several visits to local grocery stores perusing the aisles looking for this stuff. I finally gave in and hit a local Asian grocer and asked someone. They literally reached to the counter in front of me and handed a small package of a dark brown fruit paste that said Tamarind on it. Well at least I now knew what I was looking for. Here is the interesting thing though, and I am sure many of you have experienced this. Once I bought it I started seeing it elsewhere, the oddest location being Wal-Mart, although I don’t know if I would buy it from Wal-Mart. It looked pretty dry and was more like packed sawdust than a thick dark fruit paste.

So I finally had the tough ingredient to find and now I could move onto picking up the produce and shrimp to get this meal started. The one thing about pad thai is how quick it all comes together which means that a lot of work is actually required to prep the dish. I started by soaking the noodles in hot water and the tamarind paste in boiling water. As these were soaking I peeled and deveined the shrimp and set those aside as I started chopping the scallions, peanuts and dried shrimp… let talk about the dried shrimp. As soon as I opened up the bag I was assaulted by the shrimp aroma. My wife looked at me and with a little look of distaste on her face asked if I was actually going to use that. I smiled as I poured them out onto the counter and began to chop.

I confess, my wife did help me a great deal in getting things prepped. I’m trying to make it sound like I was organized while getting this done but in fact I was all over the place. When I was soaking the tamarind I left it as large chunks and in the future I would chop it up a bit more. I would probably run the peanuts and dried shrimp through a food processor to speed up chopping them. Also I would remember to defrost, peel and devein the shrimp before starting everything else. I had everything soaking and chopped when I remembered the shrimp were still in the freezer. It’s a good thing shrimp are quick to defrost in water. I spoke about dried shrimp but let’s reflect on the completely hydrated version for a moment.

I have raw shrimp in their shell simply because I plan to make gumbo pretty soon (once I find a place to get good Andouille sausage), and the shells of the shrimp are used for a simple stock. Anyway that is for another time. Shelling them is easy but deveining them was tedious and I’m not sure of the value of the process. I did a bit of research on shrimp and most agree the vein neither detracts from the flavor nor adds to it. In larger shrimp it can become a textural issue though. So while digging out this thin soggy wormlike strand I had to wonder if this was really worth it. Unfortunately that decision will have to wait until I cook shrimp again to compare… which could be soon.

After the prep was done it was time to begin cooking. The shrimp get a quick sauté and then set aside. The shallots and garlic are next into the pan and when they are softened and fragrant the eggs get tossed in for a light scramble. The noodles get added, tossed before the rest of the spices and tamarind liquid get added. Cooked for a few minutes and then finally the sprouts, scallions, dried shrimp and peanuts get tossed in. The whole dish gets tossed together and then it was plated to serve. Garnished with some scallions, peanuts and fresh cilantro it was complete.

What was the verdict? Truly amazing! I almost never eat pad thai at a restaurant because I find it oily and the noodles are usually pretty slippery with sauce. This dish was all of the wonderful flavor, without the unpleasant texture. Each noodle was tender but still had some chew to it and it was coated in flavor without a slippery greasy feel. The shrimp were delicious and everything had a nice crunch to it from the sprouts and peanuts. My wife (who likes Thai food much more than I do) was requesting I make it again before we had even finished.

I do believe it is time I get an assortment of plain white dishes for plating though. I’ve used the same plate for just about every photo.

Rating: A+ I was very happy with how this turned out. I will definitely make a few changes when I prepare it again but overall I don’t know how this could be improved upon.

Update: Between cooking this recipe and posting I made it a second time. I figured out how I can improve upon it. Either omit the dried shrimp or ensure they are chopped extremely fine. There is something not quite comforting about biting into a chewy intensely shrimp flavored crumb. On the plus side my son has decided he likes cooked shrimp now. I can barely get him to eat beef or chicken but so far shrimp and calamari are good. Oh yeah, I deveined the shrimp because the thought of that blue little string is pretty unappealing, cooked or not.


  1. I actually just read on another blog that it's not necessary to devein the shrimp, but it's mostly done because of a textural thing. I've never made pad thai before - maybe it's time I tried!

  2. I am impressed!!! I can understand about the dried shrimp part. Even to the fact that I am accustomed to it, the smell of it still makes me wrinkling my nose. If you been in Toronto's Chinatown, there is this store that has about a dozen different type of dried shrimp on its storefront!! My husband usually walk away very fast.

    For andouille, I get mine at St.Lawrence Market - The Sausage King. Or, there is Cajun Corner, But Ajax is about 40 minutes from here, yeah? :) Just case you coming down this way.

  3. I haven't been to the St. Lawrence Market in awhile. Probably time to take the drive and see what's available!

  4. Hi Mediocre Cook
    If you like Thai cooking try this site
    It's got about 30 recipes each one with a cooking video to go along.


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