Ingredients: rice noodles, shrimp, bean sprouts, egg, tofu, red bell pepper, green bell pepper, button mushrooms, red onion, scallions, peanuts, cilantro, nam pla (fish sauce), sriracha (hot sauce), palm sugar, tamarind, lime
I got a new wok last week, and here we have the outcome of its maiden voyage: sweet, salty, sour, delicious Pad Thai. It was truly awesome. There are leftovers in the fridge right now, but slightly less every time I walk through the kitchen.
Pad Thai is stir fried rice noodles, crispy tofu, scrambled egg, bean sprouts and other veggies, flavored with tamarind and nam pla (fermented fish sauce – smells terrible in the bottle but transforms in the wok). I also added tiger shrimp to the Pad Thai, and finished it off with chopped scallions, peanuts, and cilantro.
I’ve made Pad Thai several times before, but until now, it has never turned out that well. I end up with something edible but not particularly reminiscent of what one gets at a Thai restaurant. The important thing, though, is the post-game analysis. What didn’t taste right? What DID taste right? How do I avoid the same problems next time? Google is your friend; someone else probably asked the exact same question in a forum somewhere.
In the spirit of sharing, here are some of my former mistakes and how I’ve corrected them:
- Do not cook rice noodles before stir frying, or else they will become mushy. Just soak them first.
- Never let the wok get less than searing hot. Otherwise you get stew instead of stir fry.
- Balance sour and sweet equally, but salty should be prominent. For me, that has meant more sugar and more fish sauce than expected. Tamarind is very sour.
- Resist the urge to add soy sauce or sesame oil. Wrong flavor profile.
- Do not add fresh herbs (cilantro, basil, scallions) until you are ready to serve. Their flavors chemically break down with heat in a few seconds.
- Get everything prepped and ready before the wokking starts.
This last point even has an official name, mise en place, which is French for “put [everything] in place.” It’s important for a ton of reasons:
- You are less likely to over/undercook what’s on the stove.
- You are less likely to forget an ingredient.
- You are less likely to cut or burn yourself, or spill anything.
- You won’t panic if something is missing.
- Cleanup is easier.
- When the whole ordeal is over, who feels like chopping up garnishes? It’s time to eat!