I was at the back of the bunch, so I couldn’t see where we were going. Our party of 20 or more had disembarked from the hotel in search of dinner. We were a worldly group — Canadians, Americans, South Africans and Ecuadorians — gathered …
Through my recent revelations in the search for new food experiences, I have decided not only to eat in every restaurant possible, but also to expand my horizons in my own kitchen. I am a huge lover of Pad Thai and since, in the past year, I have tried my hand at pretty much any kind of Indian curry, last week I decided to go even further east and conquer Thai cuisine.
The week before last I made an awesome Coconut Curry Soup. Though I am usually a fan of buying actual cookbooks (possibly because I love books or possibly because I love any excuse to go to Chapters and buy them) I researched online to find a good coconut curry soup recipe, settled on Chef Michael Smith’s recipe, and made my way to the grocery store to find the ingredients. It was a a very simple recipe to follow and I must admit I did an great job, even tweaking some of the ingredients as I went. It tasted delicious and Adam also approved with a whole heart and a full belly. After this triumph, I decided to try Pad Thai next.
Pad Thai was a different story. The first hurdle that I had to face was finding a recipe: there are A LOT of variations in this recipe. I searched for days on the internet and through cookbooks trying to find the best one and came up with contradictions over ingredients, arguments over authenticity, and a lot of complicated recipes . My best advice to anyone who wants to cook Pad Thai is to think about what your tastes are, how authentic you want the dish to be, and how complicated a recipe are you willing to deal with. I decided to use a recipe from a website called Thai Table and even though many of the ingredients were easily obtained at the grocery store, I did have some trouble getting my hands on Tamarind paste. After going to several stores, I came across a combination dried red chili pepper and tamarind bottle which I thought would do the job.
The recipe from Thai Table claimed to be authentic, stating that real Pad Thai from Bangkok is much drier and more brownish than the red colour often found in Western Thai restaurants. It was easy to follow and very detailed in the correct way to prep the ingredients, with an especially helpful section on how to make sure the rice noodles are the right texture when you combine them with the other ingredients.
The first thing that the recipe called for was the browning of the peanuts in vegetable oil in a wok, or any big pan. I heated my brand new stainless steel Paderno frying pan, and proceeded to burn the crap out of my nuts. I have to say, though the stove in my new apartment is electric, it is HOT! I only had the poor pan heating on 3 and it was so hot that the minute I put the peanuts in the pan with the oil, they immediately were blackened. I guess I have a lot more to learn about cooking in stainless steel frying pans…oh teflon, where have you gone?
After destroying the peanuts and permanently blackening my pan, I restarted the recipe in a big pot and had a lot more success. Another thing that I suggest when cooking Pad Thai is that you have all the ingredients prepped and ready to go before you heat the pan and start cooking, as all the ingredients go in very quickly. It may seem pretentious to chop and prepare all ingredients and put them in little bowls like they do on cooking shows, but in this case it would help tremendously.
Once all the ingredients were put into the pot, it started to smell and look delicious, and though it was dryer than I am used to seeing, it was definitely not turning the brown that the recipe had described. It tasted good, but lacked a certain tang and spice that Pad Thai lovers all over the world are familiar with. Adam and I cleared our plates, and he claimed it a success, but I was not as happy with the result.
Three days later, I was making a curry for supper, and decided to experiment by putting in some of the crushed red chili and tamarind powder, only to discover that the bottle was unopened. To my dismay, I suddenly realized that I had in fact used Montreal Steak Spice in my Pad Thai and not the red chili and tamarind seasoning!!! No wonder it did not taste as flavourful as normal! Going back over the evening in my mind, I remembered that because I had not had all my ingredients ready to go, I had haphazardly grabbed the first spice bottle out of the cupboard without looking at the label!
Overall, I did enjoy making the Pad Thai, and I think that if I had actually used the correct bottle of spices, it would have turned out great. Despite the fact that it was slightly under seasoned, it did turn out looking appetizing in the end. I will definitely make Pad Thai again, as it continues to be one of my favourite dishes. I have not decided what to make next time, but I did learn a few things about Thai cooking, and I am eager to try something else soon….where in the world will I transport my kitchen?
Things worth mentioning for next time….
Cost: Getting all the ingredients together was pricier than I expected, about 40$, but that was because I had to buy brand new bottles of fish sauce, soy sauce, tamarind paste and chili powder; ingredients which can be pricey.
Pay attention to the spice bottles you grab from the cupboard.
Do not use a stainless steel frying pan, invest in a good non-stick wok.
Make sure to soak the rice noodles in hot water beforehand so that they have a flexible yet firm texture.