So I am bracing myself for yet another year of Lebron James losing in the Finals and I am in desperate need of consolation. Two things about me and the NBA. 1) Yes, I am a fan of Lebron James – not the Cleveland Cavaliers, not the Miami Heat, not even Kyrie Irving (he played at Duke for one year, but got injured early and ultimately just got in the way) or Kevin Love or Bosh – Wade is okay, but mostly because Lebron says he’s okay. Heck, I might have rooted for the Knicks if Lebron had gone there in 2011. 2) And I have always been a fan of Lebron James. He’s two years older than me, a very lucky poor kid from a small town in a state people only care about once every four years. In high school I remember Escalade-gate (I don’t think it was ever called that, but look it up), and when he moved to South Beach I moved even further South to Peru, and I admire him for going back home to take care of business. So you can imagine how frustrating it is to hear all these johhny-com-lately Warriors fans popping out of the woodwork to take a cheap shot at Lebron. But this is not a post about the NBA, so I’ve channeled all my frustration into a simple Warriors Fan Litmus Test which I will be using a lot this month.
So I am in desperate need of consolation. In the words of Dorothy Day, “there must be food for the soul”, and for me nothing does the trick better than Pad Thai. I first had Pad Thai in a college restaurant in Newport News. At the time I thought it was the weirdest-sounding thing on the menu but it came recommended so I tried it. And my life has never been the same.
Pad Thai is not only good to eat, I’d say it’s also really good to cook. There are only a couple things that could go wrong (once you know how it’s supposed to taste), but I find that I automatically keep good cooking ingredients around the house just so that I’m ready for when I need it.
You’ll need some basic ingredients – chicken (400 grams), 3 red chillis, up to three tablespoons of brown sugar, a bunch of chives, two garlic cloves, three limes, cilantro and peanuts as much as you want, and canola or peanut oil to cook it all in. The stranger ingredients that really make it different are bean sprouts (which give it an amazing texture), tamarind paste and fish sauce (for amazing flavor), and rice noodles (amazing texture and flavor). You may have to go to an asian market to get these four ingredients, but it’s worth it!
PREPARATION (for 6 portions):
- Chop the chicken in small squares (for added flavor, lightly cover the chicken with a bit of cornstarch and drizzle some soy sauce on top).
- Bring a pot to boil, then drop the rice noodles in the boiling water and turn off the heat. Cover and try them after four minutes. When they are soft enough to eat but still tough and stringy/sticky, drain the water and wait for stir-frying.
- Chop all the chives, garlic, chillis and cilantro and leave to the side with the bean sprouts and peanuts
- In a wok or deep frying pan, lightly fry the chicken in oil. Remove from the pan and set to the side
- Make the Pad Thai Sauce
What makes this dish is this sauce, so you have to get it right. All Thai food revolves around 4 flavor areas – sweet, spicy, sour and salty. The sweet is provided by the brown sugar (or you could substitute honey. Palm sugar is the best but I can never find it), the spicy comes from one of the three chopped chillies, the salty comes from the fish sauce (I have found that fish stock also works), and the sour comes from the MVP of the dish – tamarind paste. Tamarinds are basically little brown beans with a type of jelly around them. That jelly is the most delicious naturally sour flavor you’ll ever try in your life! You can buy tamarind paste, or fresh tamarind pods and do it yourself. I strongly advise against buying tamarind sauce if you’ve never tried it directly from the pod (there are a lot of cheap tamarind sauces out there that look like holiday ketchup and taste awful). You’ll know you’ve got the balance right when you can taste all four flavors – sweet, spicy, sour and salty. If you really love spicy you can up the ante a little bit, but give all four flavors a chance.
This sauce is TO TASTE, which means you don’t have to cook it or modify it in any way once you’ve mixed it together, and the more you add the better! At some point the dish ceases to be a stir-fry and becomes a pad thai chicken noodle soup, but anything short of that and you’re good to go.
- In the wok, lightly fry the garlic and the rest of the chillies. Once “fragrant”, lower the heat of the wok and add the chicken and immediately add the noodles. Add the Pad Thai sauce in parts, mixing it in with the chicken and noodles (with salad forks if available). Once the noodles are thoroughly covered with sauce, add the bean sprouts and chives. After incorporating them, remove the wok from the heat and toss in as much cilantro and peanuts as you want
- Once on the plate, squeeze half a lime over the whole thing and enjoy!
So that’s it! I think Moni has covered our meal ranking system before*. I rate this one in the following way:
Taste – 4/4
Time – 3/4
Cost – 3/4
Originality – 4/4
Health – 3/4
The things you might do wrong the first few times is skimp on the Pad Thai sauce or overcook the noodles. Always use fresh ingredients of course, but I find that my tamarind pods never stay in the house long enough to get old because I regularly get inspired to make this dish. There’s no better feeling than coming home on a Friday and opening the fridge to realize you’ve got all you need in the house plus a few basic ingredients to make an amazing dish that will make your weekend or, in the case of a Lebron James fan, stave off depression for a few days more.
*coming soon – the search for the best way to rate our food, or “The 20 Point System”