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Chicken Pad Thai Recipe

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This Pad Thai recipe is an adaptation of a recipe [3] from a playgroup friend from Austin.  Jam has created a fabulous restaurant and Thai Market in Austin called Thai Fresh [4], if you’re in the area, I highly recommend you check it out.  Cory and I both love Pad Thai, so I decided to give this a whirl.  Cory would like me to note, if you don’t like to cook fish in your house due to the smell, the scents from the individual ingredients in this recipe are quite pungent.  Especially the fish sauce.  In other words, Mom – Don’t try this at home.  That said, once everything is all mixed together, it smells wonderful.

I think there are two keys in Thai food.  One, never read the list of ingredients.  Look at a finished dish and see if you like the presentation and aroma, or get a recommendation from a friend you trust.  Now clearly if you grew up in Southeast Asia, you may be comfortable with all of the ingredients central to Thai cooking, but if you grew up in the heart of the midwest, chances are you’ll need to broaden your horizons.  The second key to Thai food is to use real ingredients.  Minimize substitutions and seek out the ingredients you need.  The other day I was talking with some fellow food bloggers about how baking is still not intuitive to me.  Meaning, I can’t just whip together some dry ingredients with some wet and come up with a fabulous dessert without planning and prep work.  Thai food, along with all kinds of other food I’m sure, doesn’t use the traditional Italian or French cooking staple ingredients you’re used to, so minimize experimentation and seek out a great source for recipes and ingredients.

I love to shop for and use new ingredients.  Everything for this recipe can be found in Central Market in Dallas, but if that’s not an option seek out an Asian grocery in your locale.  Here’s an ingredient tour for this Pad Thai Recipe.

Starting in the front and working our way counter clockwise, the ginormous anemic carrot looking thing is a Daikon Radish.  Clearly, since barely any is gone you don’t need that much for the recipe.  I treated it like a carrot so I washed it and peeled it, then took to it with a microplane to grate about 2 teaspoons for my recipe.  It seems sort of like an onion, both in the way it grates, it’s high water content, and the fact that when eaten raw it is spicy, but becomes milder and sweeter with cooking.  Next is the palm sugar, which is super thick and sticky, kind of like the texture of a drier praline.  It is a sugar made from the sap of the coconut palm.  Normally I’m not big on anything coconut flavor and you couldn’t get me to touch a pina colada with a 10 foot pole, but like I said, Thai food is not the place for experimentation so I’m using what was recommended.  Palm sugar has a lower glycemic quality than regular sugar, hence, better for diabetics or pre-diabetics.  The next is tamarind concentrate.  Tamarinds pods are sometimes sold in the grocery store, I bought some once, but then threw them out as I had no idea what to do with them.  Central Market also sold a sticky black block of tamarind paste that looked like a block of homemade fruit rollup as well.  I took the easy route and went with the concentrate, which was paste mixed with water then strained.  This adds the sour component to your dish.  The flavor is also central to Pickapepper sauce from Jamaica.  And finally is the fish sauce – the salty component to the dish.  Something that comes from fermented fish, that has a very strong odor but is central to Southeast Asian cuisine.  It’s also said to contribute the umami element to dishes – *umami or savoriness – has been proposed to be added to the basic tastes of sweet, sour, bitter, and salty*.

If pad thai at home sounds like too much of an adventure to you, try it out at a restaurant!  The flavor is very unique and now something my family craves.  Be prepared to order a custom level of spiciness.  Thai chilies can be extremely hot!   But the dish can easily be prepared mildly.

Pad Thai Recipe – serves 6

adapted from thaicookingwithjam’s recipe

14 oz. dried rice noodles

10 oz. extra firm tofu

grapeseed oil

5 tbsp palm sugar

2 tbsp white sugar

2 and 1/2 tbsp tamarind concentrate

2 and 1/2 tbsp water

4 tbsp fish sauce

2 tbsp grapeseed oil

4 skinless boneless chicken breasts, rinsed and trimmed

2 shallots, minced

4 eggs

1 tsp diakon radish, grated

red pepper flakes

2 bunches chives, rinsed and chopped into 2 inch segments

1.5 c. bean sprouts, rinsed and drained

crushed roasted peanuts

In a 9 x 13 glass casserole, cover the dried rice noodles with water, then soak for one hour. Fill a small saucepan with about an inch and a half of grapeseed oil, then heat to 375 degrees.  Meanwhile, cube tofu into 1/2 inch dice, and dry with a paper towel.  Fry tofu in 375 degree oil in small batches, removing with a slotted spoon to a paper towel.  Repeat until all tofu is fried, then set aside to reserve.

In a medium sauce pan, combine palm sugar, white sugar, tamarind concentrate, water, and fish sauce.  Heat at medium heat on stove until bubbling, then stir to combine.  Remove from heat and reserve.  Split chicken breasts in half like just as if you were butterflying the breasts.  Then slice again into 1 inch strips.  Season with kosher salt and fresh ground pepper.  Place wok on stove over medium high heat for 3-4 minutes, add 2 tablespoons grapeseed oil and continue to heat for 1 minute.  Swirl wok to coat sides.  Place chicken strips in wok in a single layer, stirring occasionally with tongs until gently browned on all sides.  Remove chicken to a plate to rest.  Add one more tablespoon of grapeseed oil and the shallots.  Stir with a wooden spatula, heating for 1 more minute.  Add eggs, and scramble in wok.  Add radish, reserved chicken, reserved tofu, and 1 tsp red pepper flakes to stir fry.  Use wooden spatula to turn occasionally and cook until tofu is warm.  Drain noodles and add to wok.  Continue to stir occasionally.  Noodles will soften, shrink a little and begin to warm in color.  Pour sauce over top, stir, then cook for 1 minute.  Add chives and beansprouts, cook an additional minute.  Plate and top Pad Thai with a small bit of the crushed roasted peanuts.

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