Pad Thai with Prawns – in Pictures

Categories: food — Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , — Posted by: Grant @ November 26, 2008 : 4:46 pm
Traditional pad thai with spring rolls

Traditional pad thai with spring rolls

I know, it’s close to Thanksgiving and I’m somehow putting up pictures of pad thai that I made last week of all things. Truth is, I have never actually cooked an entire turkey, partly due to the fact that I’ve never had the need to: it’s always been cooked by someone else at whatever party or event I’ve gone to. The major reason though, is that turkey is huge and I tend to pick and fork my way through rationed amounts of food – which is why I know pad thai and not giant birds. :)

So, here’s pictures and my pseudo ingredients for pad thai. While I’ve been making pad thai for quite some time, I’m constantly adjusting the recipe and have drawn much inspiration was drawn from various websites, especially Chez Pim. Ironically, I have two Thai cookbooks that have pad thai recipies, but both raised my eyebrows for a lack of tamarind (I call it the Thai secret spice) and a complete lack of proper stir fry instructions.

Not everyone is a big fan of fried tofu, but I (supposedly) hear it’s commonly used by the street vendors in Thailand. You can get the tofu at any Asian grocer, like Uwajimaya or even some places like Central Market. Whole Foods and PCC have tofu, but not the light and fried kind. Note: In my experience, tofu goes bad very fast (even with my Sub Zero), so plan on using it soon afterward.

Rice sticks soaking in water

Rice sticks soaking in water

First, soak thai noodles / rick sticks in water for about 45min or until limp but not soft. This alone might be one of the most important aspects of pad thai, as taking out the rice sticks too early leaves you with cardboard like noodles, while soaking too long makes for an incredibly difficult stir fry that clumps together like play dough. I use about a quarter of a packet, which serves 2 and is just the right amount for a wok to handle. If you are cooking for more, soak half the packet.

In the picture, I have the “pink” packet as I like to say, because the common distributor around Seattle seems to come in pink or blue. Blue is the slightly wider rice stick and pink is the smaller one. I normally use the “blue” noodles, but it’s more of a preference than anything. You can also buy the shopper friendly “Pad Thai Noodles” package that they sell at all the major grocers. It just costs about double what you would pay otherwise for the convenience.

Pad thai ingredients

Pad thai ingredients

Next are the ingredients, which include: fried tofu, green onions, sliced white onions, thai chilies, lime wedges, freshly shredded carrot, mined/diced garlic and bean sprouts (not pictured). I don’t measure ingredients, but I can say that about 1/3 cup of each is what you’re aiming for, short of the chilies, garlic and limes.

The trinity of thai sauces: fish oil, tamarind paste and sugar

The trinity of thai sauces: fish oil, tamarind paste and sugar

I call this the holy trinity of pad thai, as these are the most important elements of pad thai! You’ll often see substitutions, like white rice vinegar instead of tamarind or peanut oil instead of fish oil, but you’ll never quite accomplish true thai flavor if you go that route. Even worse, some recipies like Chez Pim points out, call for ketchup or as I’ve seen, peanut butter. Never, ever, do that! I admit in my earlier cooking years to trying one such heinous recipe when I was ravenously hungry, but quickly ruined any appetite after a taste of bastardized thai. Don’t even get that quick and easy “Pad Thai Mix” that rests in a nice little squeeze bottle container; it will just never compare.

The sauce is simply half cup each of cane sugar, fish oil and tamarind paste. If you use white, refined sugar, take it down to about 1/4 cup. Having experimented with the sugar amount, you can increase the ratio of sugar, which is what many Thai restaurants in Seattle do, but I think it makes pad thai far too sweet. That’s one reason why I use cane sugar instead.

You can find both fish oil and tamarind at Uwajimaya (I swear they are not an advertiser for us). The tamarind is often not labeled in English, so ask your friendly clerk if you can’t find it. Be sure to get the paste and not the root for purposes of this dish.

Mix well, then heat in small sauce pan on low heat. Keep it ready, because you’ll be using it soon.

Tofu and onion stir fry

Tofu and onion stir fry

I start with a few tablespoons of sesame or peanut oil on a high heat wok. I’ve done olive oil before, but you need to keep the wok on med-high so you don’t burn the oil, though that depends on your burner and what type of olive oil you’re using.

Tofu tends to take awhile to warm up, so I like to toss that in first along with the onions. As with any stir fry, work the wok fast so the food doesn’t stick and burn. If you have chicken, you can toss that in after about a minute or so after the tofu. I used prawns, which are far more heat sensitive, so I added that farther into the dish after the tofu and onions were cooked. With such a hot wok, I don’t like to add garlic at first because it quickly caramelizes and turns into bits of burnt coal if you’re not furiously stir frying. Right before adding the noodles is often when I add garlic, as that’s when I also turn down the heat to med or med-high.

Adding sesame oil to shrimp and rick sticks

Adding sesame oil to shrimp and rick sticks

After about 2-3 minutes, I add my prawns, garlic and a bit more oil if necessary. Splash a few spoonfuls of sauce onto the mix and stir fry until shrimp is almost (but not quite) pink. At that point, turn down heat and add rice sticks.

Adding rice sticks and green onions

Adding rice sticks and green onions

When adding the rick sticks, I turn down the heat a little because I have an enormous problem with my noodles sticking together at highest heat on my burner. You may or may not encounter this problem, but if you find that you do, try turning down your heat. You can also add more oil or a splash of water to help aid things along as well.

At this time, I also add the green onion and about half the sauce and stir pretty vigorously, getting it mixed in. The trick of the game is that the longer the noodles stay in, the softer and mushier they get, so you want them in and out fairly fast while getting them cooked. Keep the heat high as possible and stir for about two minutes, then add the rest of the sauce.

Adding egg to wok

Adding egg to wok

This part is optional, but you can lift the noodles and crack an egg to one side of the wok and let the egg cook. When it’s fairly opaque, you can put the noodles back over it and then gently stir it around at first, then faster when the egg is cooked through.

Plated pad thai dish

Plated pad thai dish

Plate and garnish with shredded carrots, bean sprouts, red cabbage (not pictured), lime and if you really want to be authentic, a banana. I added some lumpia rolls that I um, er, undercooked, which I found out a few hours later (oops), but otherwise, a successfully made pad thai dish! :)

Oh yeah, since I won’t be posting tomorrow, Happy Turkey Day!

Kayaking and Camping at Baker Lake

Categories: seattle — Tags: , , , , , , — Posted by: Grant @ May 27, 2008 : 9:05 pm

This is a short video taken this past weekend of Bryan and I at Baker Lake. This was my first time attempting the kayaking and camping combo, so I was quite excited about the trip. I had never been to Baker Lake, so I took my time carefully selecting my camp gear on this particular trip, as there were quite a few unknowns to deal with. Bryan and I decided early on that though there were three managed (aka comfortable) camp sites on the West shore of Baker Lake, we would try to do the “Seattle” thing and camp in whatever primitive spot we could find while sploshing around on the water.

Gathering my gear, I quickly realized our kayaks could hold perhaps half the gear I would like to bring. Many modern campers swear by the trek lite method of camping, which utilizes the bare minimum to ensure a quick in-and-out approach. I, however, prescribe to the school of everything and the kitchen sink, which in this case would mean successfully sinking my kayak to the lake bottom the minute it touched water.

On the first night, my regrets materialized when I woke up every hour tossing and turning due to the hard sand that doubled as my bed. I shouldn’t complain however, as we snagged one of the best primitive spots on the lake, a protected sandy bed next to a creek. We even had fish biting all around our secluded point that morning, but couldn’t quite snag enough luck to have grilled trout for lunch.

We had to depart early the next day due to thunderstorms that started rolling in. It was unfortunate, as we had kayaked the entire lake that morning and our arms were sore, but rather than brace a miserable night with limited rain gear short of our tent and jackets, we packed up and took off.

All in all, Baker Lake is a great destination for a summer camping trip. It is crowded however, but there are multiple managed camp sites with quite a few spots at each site. The type of people we saw were primarily family campers and younger groups of teens on motorboats, but no unsavory elements as far as we could tell.

FYI, the video is a bit choppy, as it was taken with my new and experimental Oregon Scientific Action Cam. It’s an enclosed video camera that is waterproof and the size of a monocular that fits in your hand and can record up to an hour of video (with a 2GB memory card). I’m playing around with it for a bit, but it seems pretty useful so far.

Thai Ground Pork with Pineapple (Sorta)

Categories: food — Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , — Posted by: Grant @ March 25, 2008 : 9:28 pm

Thai Pineapple Turkey

Thai Pineapple Turkey, 2

Ingredients:
1 lb ground pork (I used ground turkey)
1 ripe, medium pineapple
1 cucumber
2 teaspoons pepper
4 tablespoons fish sauce
3 tablespoons chopped garlic
3 tablespoons chopped cilantro
2 tablespoons olive oil
mortar and pestle
(optional) 1 thai red chili pepper
(optional) small bunch of cilantro
(optional) small bunch of sliced carrots

I know, Grant isn’t posting about geek stuff for a change. After so much eating out, reviews and coding, I’ve decided to take some time off over the next month. I’m going to re-acquaint myself with some long lost hobbies- namely, cooking!

This my interpretation of a common Thai dish that is easy to make, healthy and tastealicious to boot! It has the nice variety of textures and taste that transition from the aromatic meat, to juicy pineapple and ending with the crisp crunch of fresh cucumbers. It’s traditionally cooked with pork, but I substituted ground turkey as I generally don’t eat red meat when eating at home (blame the BSE).

First, grab that mortar and pestle (or a shiny food processor) and pour in the chopped garlic, chopped cilantro, pepper and 1 tablespoons of olive oil. Grind to a nice paste- I find crushing vs swirling motions works best- and then set resulting cilantro paste aside.

Next, take a medium wok or skillet and coat with 1 tbs of olive oil. While the wok is heating, mix the cliantro paste with the meat evenly. When the wok is hot, put in the meat. Let the underside sizzle a little bit and brown a bit before stirring. Repeat process and break apart meat clumps until no longer pink. The cooking should be relatively short, around 3-5 minutes.

If cooking with ground turkey: Those familiar with ground turkey or ground chicken will know that using it as a substitute for ground pork or beef is always a challenge. The texture (and taste) don’t always travel over. In this Thai recipe, I had quite some difficulty breaking the turkey apart after hitting the wok as the meat simply clumped into large, play dough sized balls of meat. Mmmm… clumps of meat, how enticing! What I did was take the meat out while there was still a little pink and place it on a foil covered tray. I then covered the top with tinfoil and beat the chunks with a meat tenderizer (make sure you use the FLAT side). After a bit of pounding, take off the top foil and viola – nice little meat bits. Put back in wok and then cook until done.

Turn off the heat and set wok aside. Now take the pineapple, cut off the top and bottom and then take off the sides. Slice the rest into slices using a hexagonal pattern around the center core, then cube into pineapple chunks. Next, slice cucumber into slices.

Plating is very easy- arrange cucumbers around in circular or square pattern. Line the inside with a double stacked row of pineapple chunks, forming a little center to place the meat. Optionally, before placing the meat, you can put in some long carrot slices for garnish. After that, scoop the meat into the center of the dish into a mound that eventually pleasingly spills over the pineapples and cucumbers. It should look like a nice volcano of juicy meat. Garnish with fresh cilantro and also sliced red chili and serve!

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