January 02, 2011

Shrimp Pad Thai

A long, long time ago, I lived in Oklahoma City.  As culinary adventuring goes, OKC didn't really have a lot to offer, but there was one restaurant I really, really loved:  the Bangkok.  It was a family-run restaurant, launched by a Fred Evans and his lovely and charming wife, Lida.  Back when I ate there, they and their children were very involved in the day-to-day running of the restaurant, which featured the family's own recipes, most of them developed (and usually cooked) by Lida.  The food was truly delightful:  Authentic Thai cuisine done right.  It's still among the very best Thai restaurants I've ever found. 

From doing some online research, I've learned that the Bangkok is still around, but that Fred and Linda sold it.  Reviews suggest that while it's still pretty good, the quality has - predictably - slid somewhat.  Thankfully, I've got a copy of the cookbook the Evans family put out for their customers (a photocopy, actually; my first wife has the original).  This was the first Thai cookbook I've ever owned, and it is still probably the best.

I haven't made Pad Thai in a long time, but I used to make the version included in the Evans' cookbook.  That recipe is written for a single (albeit ample) serving, as follows:


1/4          pound rice noodles
5             shrimp, shelled and diced
1             egg, lightly beaten
1             cup bean sprouts
1             tablespoon ground peanuts, roasted
2             tablespoons vinegar
2             teaspoons sugar
2             tablespoons nampla (fish sauce)
4             tablespoons vegetable oil
1/4          cup green onions cut one inch long
1             teaspoon Dried Chili Peppers (optional)

Soak the rice noodles in warm water for about 20 minutes.  Drain.  In a hot fryng pan or wok put vegetable oil.  Then stir fry egg and shrimp until done.  Add noodles and fry until brown; then add nampla, vinegar, sugar and mix.  Add peanuts, bean sprouts, coriander leaves or green onions and stir fry until bean sprouts are cooked.  Put on serving plate and sprinkle Dried Chili on top, if you like it spicy.

(Source:  Oklahoma City's Bangkok Restaurant Cookbook, by the Evans Family, 1990)
(NoteThe mention of Dried Chili Peppers refers to roasted red chilis ground in a food processor, which the Bangkok included among its various garnishes)

That's an excellent Pad Thai recipe.  I've made it several times.  I've found from experience, though, that tryng to make up multiple servings at once is more than a matter of doubling (or quadrupling, or whatever) the ingredients.   Doing that results in soggy noodles and egg chunks, overcooked shrimp, mushy peanuts and limp bits of green onion, with the whole mess tasting unpleasantly fishy and vinegary.  So, I used the Evans' recipe as a starting point for making one of my own, capable of serving three or four people without sacrificing texture or flavor.

I knew from past experience that to do that, I'd have to vary the proportions of some ingredients and change the order in which some of them - most notably the shrimp - were added.   If you try to cook that many noodles after the shrimp is already cooked, the shrimp will end up with a texture resembling pencil erasers.  I'd need to use a lot less liquid to avoid making everything soggy as well, since lots of liquid doesn't absorb or cook down as quickly as smaller amounts.  So, after giving the matter some thought, I tossed together a recipe and gave it a try.

I'm pleased to report success.  My first try at this turned out a great pad thai, with firm noodles and lots of flavor.  Juli and I both liked it quite a bit.  Should the Evans family happen to hear about this, my hope is that they'd be pleased.   Their cooking certainly inspired me.

One of these days I'm going to have to give their homemade ice cream recipes - particularly the coconut and rum varieties - a try. 

Shrimp Pad Thai

yield = 3 generous or four modest servings

12             ounces rice noodles
5               tablespoons peanut oil
3               eggs, lightly beaten
10             ounces peeled, deveined shrimp
2               cups bean sprouts
8               green onions, white parts separated, with
                 white parts thinly-sliced, green parts sliced
                 in 1/2-inch pieces
1/4            cup unsalted, dry-roasted peanuts, coarsely
2               teaspoons Asian (dark) sesame oil
6               tablespoons fish sauce
3               tablespoons rice vinegar
6               teaspoons sugar
1               tablespoon chopped cilantro leaves
1               tablespoon crushed red pepper flakes, roasted (optional)

Soak the rice noodles in hot water for 20 minutes.  Drain, then set aside.

Heat the peanut and sesame oils in a large skillet at medium-high heat.  When the oil is shimmering, add and stir-fry the egg.  When the egg is done, add the rice noodles and stir-fry.   After about 3 minutes, add the shrimp, the bean sprouts, the white parts of the green onion, the peanuts and sesame oil.  Continue to cook, stirring often. 

When the noodles have started to brown, add the green parts of the green onions,  fish sauce, rice vinegar and sugar.  Cook until the shrimp is done and most of the liquid has boiled off. 

Transfer to a serving platter and sprinkle with the chopped cilantro (and the red pepper flakes, if desired).

Shrimp Pad Thai and Zucchini with Chili-Orange Glaze

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