Pad thai, which means “Thai-style frying,” is one of my favorite fried noodle dishes. The noodles are softened and then stir-fried along with eggs, bean sprouts, shrimp and peanuts. You can find the cellophane noodles at your local Asian market or any supermarket with an Asian section.
What distinguish these noodles are the garnishes that make the dish colorful as well as delicious. Use as little or as much of the crushed red chili pepper as your guests will like, since it’s very potent. You can substitute tofu for shrimp for a vegetarian version.
Stir-frying is an easy method for fast cooking. The trick is to make sure you have everything possible done in advance, from chopping the vegetables to having the final cooking sauce ready to go and close at hand.
Look for a wok that is heavy aluminum, stainless steel or traditional cast-iron. Make sure it is not too thick, though, or it will take too long to heat up. A 14-inch diameter wok is probably the best all-around size, since it can be used to cook a whole fish or a simple sampling of your favorite vegetables. A cover is important when you want to stir-fry something and then have it finish braising in the wok. You may need to use a wok ring if the bottom of the wok is rounded.
Here are some basic tips for stir-frying:
• Use a high-heat resistant oil like peanut oil.
• Think about the sizes of the meat and vegetables so that you add them in the logical order for even cooking. For example, add carrots before zucchini or red peppers and asparagus before corn kernels.
• Make sure the wok is very hot and almost smoking to achieve the desired effect of browning to seal in the juices.
• If you still need to finish cooking the stir-fried dish, add a bit of broth, cover the wok and reduce the heat.
PAD THAI (THAI NOODLES)
6 oz. rice noodles, also called rice sticks or Banh Pho
¼ cup peanut oil
½ lb. medium shrimp, peeled and deveined and cut into 1-inch pieces, or ½ lb. firm tofu, cut into 1-inch pieces for a vegetarian version
3 medium cloves garlic, coarsely chopped
2 eggs, lightly beaten
1 tbsp. sugar
2 tbsp. fish sauce (nam pla)
1 cup fresh bean sprouts
2 tbsp. coarsely chopped roasted peanuts
½ tsp. dried red chili flakes or to taste
1 scallion, coarsely chopped
2 limes, cut into thin slices
In a large bowl, soak the noodles in warm water for 15 minutes. Drain and spread out to dry. Meanwhile, in a wok over high heat, add 1 tablespoon of oil, swirling around to coat the sides. When the oil is hot but not smoking, add the shrimp, tossing every 10-15 seconds for 1 minute or until the shrimp turns pink and is firm. Add the garlic and toss for 30 seconds or until it gives off its characteristic aroma. Set aside.
Add a tablespoon of oil on medium-high heat; when the wok is hot, add the eggs, stirring continuously until soft curds form, about 1 minute, and set aside with the shrimp.
Add the remaining 2 tablespoons of oil and make sure the wok has time to become very hot, and then add the noodles. Spread them around and up the sides of the pan so that most of them come into contact with the heat. Let them cook 2 to 3 minutes; scrape them up and flip to the other side. Cook for 2 to 3 more minutes on the other side, stirring the noodles every 30 seconds. Move the noodles to the side and add the sugar and fish sauce, and heat to dissolve the sugar.
Toss the noodles to coat with the sauce with tongs or 2 forks. Add ½ cup bean sprouts, 1 tablespoon of chopped peanuts and the reserved shrimp and egg mixture, tossing to mix well. Turn the mixture out onto a serving platter. To garnish, sprinkle the noodles with the reserved bean sprouts, chopped peanuts, chili flakes and scallions. Surround the noodles with lime slices and serve immediately.