One night in Bangkok
Don’t you all remember the old Murray Head tune? Or maybe some of the younger folk remember the sampling when the Vinylshakerz used it? However you heard it, we’re heading out to Thailand today and sampling the cuisine.
Growing up, I had been lead to believe that all Thai food was basically Chinese cuisine made incredibly spicy. It’s a shame one has to grow to adulthood to learn the real truth. Thai cuisine is focused on light dishes with strong aromatic components. The “spicy” stereotype is just that, as the levels of heat are more about personal taste than cultural tradition. Most of the cuisine is really a mixture of ideas from neighboring China and other countries in Southeast Asia. What’s the most interesting is how Thai cuisine is can either be a single dish served to the connoisseur, or just a dish of rice with a selection of smaller dishes that diners can then take servings of to have with their rice.
Even more fascinating is how Thai cuisine does not use chopsticks. In the past, much of the food was simply consumed with the bare right hand, like how Indians might. In later generations, spoons and forks were brought in, but never chopsticks. Even more similar to their Indian neighbors is the tradition of eating on the floor. I bring all this up mainly because of how much in America, Thai cuisine tends to be stereotyped as “spicy Chinese food”, when the cuisine seems to be more Southeastern Asian with many Indian influences.
My first real love of Thai food (and it’s still my favorite dish) is the traditional Chicken Pad Thai. Working late one night, my boss treated us all to dinner and bought Chicken Pad Thai from a local spot here in Chicago. I devoured and fell in love with the dish right there. I’ll still pass that restaurant and get cravings for the dish.
Preparing Chicken Pad Thai doesn’t require any exotic ingredients other than tamarind paste, but it is a process. I’ve found that you can go from fabulous to flop quite easily if you don’t do this right, and I want to give special credit to Darlene Schmidt for graciously illustrating in detail how to prepare it. I did not go by her recipe 100%, but I would suggest you look it over. If you’re curious about the tamarind paste, I would suggest you check out any Asian market you can find. If not, then substitute the paste for some orange juice or even boil down some pomegranate molasses or juice.
Chicken Pad Thai
Ingredients for Sauce
- 1 tbsp of tamarind paste
- 1/4 cup of warm water
- 2 tbsp of fish sauce
- 3 tsp of chili powder
- 2 tbsp of brown sugar
Ingredients for Pad Thai
- 2 tsp of cornstarch
- 2 tbsp of soy sauce
- 3 boneless/skinless chicken breasts, cut into small pieces
- 1 package (10-16 oz) of pad thai noodles or thin rice noodles
- 4 tbsp of canola, vegetable, or peanut oil
- 2 eggs
- 4 cloves of garlic, minced
- 1/2 cup of chicken stock
- 1 cups of fresh bean sprouts
- Salt and pepper to taste
- 3 green onions, sliced
- 1 cup of chopped peanuts
- 1 lime, sliced
- Fresh coriander, diced
- Combine the soy sauce with cornstarch and stir until well mixed.
- Place all the chicken into a food storage bag with the soy sauce/cornstarch mixture.
- Seal the bag and put into the refrigerator until you are ready to use.
- In a medium saucepan, fill halfway with water and set on the stove on high. Warm the water, but turn off the stove just before the water starts boiling.
- Place the noodles into the warmed water and leave to sit.
- In a bowl or container, combine the tamarind paste with 1/4 cup of warm water. Stir until the paste dissolves.
- Add in the fish sauce, chili powder, and brown sugar. Stir until well combined and set aside
- Place a skillet on the stove and heat up on medium with 2 tbsp of oil.
- Beat the two eggs well and add to the oil when it’s hot. Cook them scrambled until nearly done. Be sure to break them up into small bits as you cook them.
- Set the eggs aside and check the noodles. If the noodles are done, drain the pot and run cold water on the noodles to stop the cooking process. Set aside.
- In a large frying pan or wok, heat up 2 tbsp of oil on medium-high heat. Cook the garlic until fragrant.
- Pull the marinated chicken out of the refrigerator and dump the whole mixture (chicken and marinate) into the wok.
- Stir-fry the chicken until the pan becomes dry.
- Add in 1/3 of the chicken stock and continue cooking the chicken Slowly continue to add the stock in thirds until you have the chicken frying, but not boiling in liquid.
- Add in the cooked eggs and stir.
- If the chicken is done, add in the noodles.
- Pour the sauce over the whole mixture.
- Using two spatulas, toss the mixture like a salad, blending all ingredients together.
- Add in the bean sprouts along with salt and pepper to taste. Toss the mixture again like a salad.
- After a minute or two of tossing, serve the mixture with the garnish suggestions below.
This dish doesn’t involve a long marinate. You’re welcome to do a long marinate of the chicken, but it’s not required. The marinate here is more to coat the chicken a bit and infuse it with the flavor of the soy sauce.
Do not boil the water for the noodles. If you happen to have it end up boiling, turn off the heat and let the water sit for 10 minutes to let the heat go down. Your goal in the end is soft, but sticky noodles. Too much and you end up with mush.
You’re welcome to try cooking the eggs in the wok with the chicken as Darlene Schmidt did, but I preferred separately.
Be careful when adding the chicken stock. It will reduce as you cook and combine with the marinate to form a nice gravy-like sauce. If you add in too much broth too quickly, then you’ll end up boiling the chicken as opposed to stir-frying it.
You’re not obligated to use the eggs. I actually used half a small carton of egg substitute that I had.
Some will add tofu. I attempted to try this, but my tofu cooked badly. If you can fare better, then give it a shot and add it in. You can also substitute the chicken for vegetables or shrimp.
Serve this dish immediately. This is one dish that doesn’t do well if it’s left sitting, and it does horribly as leftovers. This is more a dish that’s best enjoyed freshly made.
You’re welcome to garnish the dish any way you like. I personally like to sprinkle some of the coriander on top with the green onions, chopped peanuts, and a squeeze of lime juice. Others will top this with peanut sauce or even the red Thai chili sauce you’ll find in the restaurants and Asian markets.