Saturday, July 10, 2010

Kitchen Klutz: Stinky pad thai!

Photo by Joe Maniscalco

Story by Michèle De Meglio

It’s time to put my amateur cooking skills to the test.

This week, I attempted my most difficult dish yet — Pad Thai. The traditional treat requires more than a dozen ingredients and nearly an hour of prep work.

I knew this would be quite complicated but I was still taken aback by some of the kooky ingredients. Isn’t dried shrimp meant for fish food?

But nothing topped the fish sauce. Have you ever smelled this stuff? Jeez, it turned my stomach! I was pretty concerned about how the pungent odor would affect the dish but hey, the Food Network recipe called for it so maybe it airs out during cooking. We’ll see.

Once all the ingredients were chopped and in their own bowls, it was time for the main event — sautéing everything in a wok.

As soon as I poured in peanut oil and tossed in tofu, hot oil soared out of the wok and headed straight for my uncovered forearms. I really have to stop wearing short sleeve T-shirts when cooking.

As I combined the ingredients, the steam grew higher. It didn’t quit until the final step when I added rice stick noodles.

By this point, a thick brown liquid formed at the bottom of the wok and everything looked cooked to death. Gosh, I hope this tastes good.

Verdict: Fish sauce is nasty! The recipe I used recommends two tablespoons of the stuff but take my word for it, that’s way too much. The stinky smell stayed strong, making the dish taste like an old shoe.

It was quite a shame since the noodles were cooked well and the bean sprouts and peanuts added a nice crunch. This could have been a great meal.

If you’re going to attempt this dish, one tiny teaspoon of fish sauce should do the trick. With this minor change, your Pad Thai will be terrific!

Pad Thai
(Recipe courtesy Alton Brown, Food Network)
1 ounce tamarind paste
3/4 cup boiling water
2 tablespoons fish sauce
2 tablespoons palm sugar
1 tablespoon rice wine vinegar
4 ounces rice stick noodles
6 ounces Marinated Tofu, recipe follows
1 to 2 tablespoons peanut oil
1 cup chopped scallions, divided
2 teaspoons minced garlic
2 whole eggs, beaten
2 teaspoons salted cabbage
1 tablespoon dried shrimp
3 ounces bean sprouts, divided
1/2 cup roasted salted peanuts, chopped, divided
Freshly ground dried red chile peppers, to taste
1 lime, cut into wedges

Place the tamarind paste in the boiling water and set aside while preparing the other ingredients.

Combine the fish sauce, palm sugar, and rice wine vinegar in a small bowl and set aside.

Place the rice stick noodles in a mixing bowl and cover with hot water. Set aside while you prepare the remaining ingredients. Once the other ingredients are measured out into separate bowls, drain the water from the noodles and set them aside. Cut the tofu into half-inch wide strips, similar to French fries.

Press the tamarind paste through a fine mesh strainer and add to the sauce. Stir to combine.

Place a wok over high heat. Once hot, add one tablespoon of the peanut oil. Heat until it shimmers, then add the tofu. Cook the tofu until golden brown, moving constantly, for no longer than one minute. Remove the tofu from the pan to a small bowl and set aside.

If necessary, add some more peanut oil to the pan and heat until shimmering. Add two-thirds of the scallions and then the garlic, cook for 10 to 15 seconds. Add the eggs to the pan; once the eggs begin to set up, about 15 to 20 seconds, stir to scramble. Add the remaining ingredients in the following order and toss after each addition: noodles, sauce, cabbage, shrimp, and two-thirds of the bean sprouts and peanuts. Toss everything until heated through, but no longer than one to two minutes total. Transfer to a serving dish. Garnish with the remaining scallions, bean sprouts, and peanuts. Serve immediately with the ground chile peppers and lime wedges.

Marinated Tofu
6 ounces extra-firm tofu, not silken
1-1/2 cups soy sauce
1 teaspoon Chinese five-spice powder

Wrap the tofu firmly in a tea towel. Place the wrapped tofu into an eight-inch cake pan. Top with another cake pan and weigh down with a five-pound weight. (Bags of dried beans or grains work well.) Place in refrigerator and press for 12 to 15 hours.

Place pressed tofu in a two-cup container. Combine soy sauce and five-spice powder and pour over tofu. Cover and refrigerate for 30 minutes, turning once. Remove the tofu from the marinade and use immediately or store in the refrigerator for up to two to three days.

Kitchen Klutz follows 20-something Michèle De Meglio as she burns casseroles and her fingers, all in hope of trading frozen dinners for home cooking.


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