Monday, September 30, 2013

Shrimp Pad Thai

Pad Thai is one of my all-time favorite Asian dishes. I find it hard to resist ordering nearly every time I dine at a Thai restaurant, and until recently I was unable to recreate it in my own kitchen to the standards that I would have liked. It never tasted quite right... until now.

In the past I tried a non-traditional version using more-readily-available lime juice in place of the tamarind. It was so not the same. You really need tamarind to replicate the true flavor of Pad Thai. It gives the noodles that tangy-sour bite that makes Pad Thai so unique compared to other noodle dishes.

I purchased my tamarind paste concentrate at Whole Foods, so even if you don't have Asian markets in your area, you should be able to track it down either there or even online. It won't be the same without it.

This Pad Thai comes together very quickly. Once you've prepped only a few ingredients, the stir-frying portion of the dish takes less than 10 minutes. It's a perfect weeknight meal, and can easily fulfill your Thai craving faster than getting delivery.

Keep in mind that mung bean sprouts go from fresh to not fresh pretty quickly. Don't purchase them too far in advance or they will turn before you even get a chance to use them. Happy cooking!

Shrimp Pad Thai
Serves 2 to 3

Pad Thai Sauce:
2 tablespoons tamarind paste concentrate
2 tablespoons packed light brown sugar
1 1/2 tablespoons fish sauce

6 ounces dried rice stick noodles (medium or large width)
1 to 2 tablespoons vegetable oil, or as needed
4 cloves garlic, minced
12 to 14 large shrimp, thawed if frozen, peeled and deveined
2 eggs, beaten
2 cups mung bean sprouts
2 scallions, light and dark green parts only, thinly sliced
1/4 cup roughly chopped peanuts (pulsing in a small food processor/chopper works great)
Lime wedges, for serving

To make the sauce, whisk together the tamarind, brown sugar, and fish sauce until smooth.

Add the rice noodles to a pot of boiling water, lower the heat and boil for 4 to 5 minutes (err on the longer side if using wider noodles). The noodles should be softened but still firmer than al dente. They will continue to cook later. Drain and rinse well with cold water. Use kitchen shears to snip the noodles a couple times. This will make it a lot easier to fry and eat them.

Heat a wok over high heat and add about 1 to 2 tablespoons oil (if you're using a non-stick wok you won't need a lot). Once the oil begins to shimmer, add the garlic and stir-fry for no longer than a minute (as it tends to burn).

Add the drained noodles and stir for another minute. Add the sauce and keep stirring the noodles until they begin to absorb some of the sauce and continue to soften (I used a non-stick wok, but if yours starts to stick, you can add more oil as needed). Add the shrimp and keep stirring until they begin to turn pink, a couple more minutes.

Push the noodles and shrimp to one side (the shrimp will continue to cook so don't worry if they aren't completely pink yet) and pour the beaten eggs into the empty space in the wok. Allow the eggs to set for a minute and then stir to scramble it with the rest of the ingredients.

Add the bean sprouts and stir-fry for another minute or two until they are crisp-tender and the noodles have a nice chewy texture. Add half the scallions, toss one final time and remove from the heat.

Divide the Pad Thai evenly over two to three plates, distributing the shrimp evenly. Garnish with the remaining scallions, chopped peanuts, and slices of lime. Serve immediately.

*Note #1* I once made the mistake of doubling a Pad Thai recipe to make more servings. It was extremely difficult to properly stir-fry all the ingredients in the wok without yielding slightly mushy noodles and poorly distributed ingredients. If you intend to feed a larger group, stir-fry the Pad Thai in batches. You'll thank me.

*Note #2* You can easily made chicken Pad Thai by replacing the shrimp with a thinly sliced chicken breast. Cook the chicken breast first, then remove it from the wok, continue with the recipe as directed, and add the cooked chicken back when you would normally add the shrimp.


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