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Thursday, October 1, 2015

Shrimp Pad Thai with Notes

Pad Thai is the signature dish of Thai cuisine.  My friends at the Thai Gardens in Milpitas California taught me how to cook this fabulous dish. This recipe is chili, tamarind, cilantro, peanuts, rice stick noodles with chicken, shrimp and fried tofu, Thai style. This one is a ten!

When my friends of the Thai Gardens first started out, they had a postage sized shop on the corner in a large shopping center. Mom and dad took turns cooking. My friend, Rory Babb introduced me to Thai. He had lived in country for four years while serving in the Air Force. He ordered for us in Thai and we always got exceptional friendly service. When he ordered for me he would say “Pad Thai pet pet mac, mac” and the dish would arrive fragrant and incredible spicy. It was hotter, in fact, than anything I had ever eaten but was so delicious that I finished every bite. Fifteen minutes later, the heat has dissipated completely. They did not speak English and when they saw me show up alone, they would say “pet pet mac, mac” smile and ask me where Rory was. Achieving the American dream, their success lead to the launch of a full scale restaurant, then two restaurants. By now, I was welcome in the kitchen, where their Americanized son would translate ingredients into English. I first started out, the easiest place to get the ingredients is from the restaurant directly. Now, knowing my way around Asian markets, I can find most everything needed. The one exception is tamarind paste, which I always have on hand in 4 inch bricks cakes. The Thai Gardens original recipe used a Thai tamarind drink concentrate. Just for fun, once I used fresh tamarinds but that is more work.

If this is the first time you make Pad Thai, read the whole recipe first. There is nothing hard about it but there are many steps and quite a significant amount of preparation work. To use the French term, all should be “Mise en place”. You need to organize and arranging the ingredients and equipment that is required ahead of time. If not using fresh noodles, then start the noodles right away. Put the mung bean sprouts on ice water.  Make the Ajad Thai Cucumber Garnish ahead of time. Prepare garnish plates.

Garnish (Per Person)
(I prepare all the plates ½ hour ahead, cover with wrap, and place in cool spot in kitchen or back in the fridge.)

1/2 cup mung bean sprouts per person, soak in ice water, pat dry
1/2 cup finely julienne Napa Cabbage per person (I use the white stalk portions only)
2-4 Slices of cucumber, per person
2-3 tablespoons finely chopped unsalted roasted peanuts3 
2 Wedges of lime
1 Orange slice
Ajad Thai Cucumbers and Thai Chilies Garnish (See recipe below)


Banh pho1 - Thai Rice Noodles

If using dried “Rice stick noodles” soak noodles in a pot of warm water until are just firm, about 30-40 minutes. To hasten the process, pour in boiling water to raise the temperature to about the temperature of a hot bath (100 F). Taste the noodles periodically and remove to a strainer when they are still al dente, completely limp but not mushy. I usually use Chantaboon Rice Stick Noodle1, Size: M, 14 ounce pack  (3~4 persons) or the equivalent. These are also available fresh from the Asian Markets.


1/4 Cup bean sprouts
Topping 2 green onions, julienned
3-4 Ounces of diced Chicken Thigh meat per person (some chopped fine, some course)
6~8 Peeled tiger prawns per person
1 Clove crushed garlic per person
1/3- 1/2 Cup firm tofu diced (cut in 1/8 by 1/8 thick pieces) 
1 Tablespoons rice wine or Marin4
1 Teaspoon of fish sauce (Golden Boy or Tiparos)
1 1/2 to 2 Tablespoons sweet Paprika
1 Level tablespoons MSG
1 to 1 1/2 tablespoons Tamarind Sauce (see notes)
Crushed red pepper flakes to taste. (Use 1 teaspoon to start. I use 2 tablespoons in mine.)
Chopped cilantro
1 tablespoons of sugar (some places use orange honey)
Peanut Oil 
Salt - as required

Advanced Preparation:
Take a large brick of extra firm fried tofu. Cut away exterior surfaces and discard. Cut it into 1/8 layers and cut into stripes 1/4 wide and cross cut 1/4 inch long. Preheat frying pan with three tablespoons of peanut oil. Bring oil to high heat, fry tofu until firm and it has taken on some color. (7-12 minutes) Set to drain on paper towels. Prepare medium wide (1/16th~3/32nds inch) rice noodles - May be done hours ahead and refrigerated. (The noodles will take on the flavor of whatever they are cook with the hence rice noodle is superior for this purpose). There are so many ingredients, it may be a good idea to load up cups or small dishes with the: sugar, garlic, rice wine, tamarind sauce, red pepper, salt, fish sauce, paprika, MSG. Prepare the peanuts. (Take inventory against the recipe.) I have found that I inadvertently have left one or more ingredients out until I started doing this in a more methodical way.

In a very hot wok, add peanut oil, and when it smokes, quickly cook the chicken. Repeat the process until all meat is cooked. Set aside. This step may be done ahead

Individual Preparation of Each Batch of Noodles

Individually prepare each portion. In a very hot wok, add peanut oil, and, when it smokes, quickly cook the shrimp, garlic, and add in the chicken. Then add paprika, msg, tamarind sauce, crushed red pepper, sugar or some honey for sweetness. Add fried tofu. Add garlic, rice wine and a few handfuls of noodles. Add in green onions and bean sprouts. Quickly heat. Add chopped cilantro toss and turn out on a plate, top noodles with a pile of chopped peanuts, accompanied noodles with bean sprouts, very fine julienned Napa cabbage, and sliced cucumbers garnish. Serve with lime wedges and a few slices of orange.

The bright red coloring of this dish derives from the ample amount of paprika. The choice of this sweet paprika is one without a lot of flavor of its own less it over power the plate due to the quantity in which it is used.


1.        Tamarind Sauce- is a critical ingredient in many Thai foods, and will be found in many steak sauces including mine. If using a package of tamarind paste, combine with hot orange juice and blend with a spoon. Sieve the sauce to remove any hard or stringy bits.  When fully ripe, the shells are brittle and easily broken. The pulp dehydrates to a sticky paste enclosed by a few coarse stands of fiber. The pods may contain from 1 to 12 large, flat, glossy brown seeds embedded in the brown edible pulp. If using fresh pods, shell pods like a peanut, pull off fiber stems along fruited seed pods and place in orange juice over a slow simmer to soften. When softened, cool, then rub paste off seeds, Discard seeds. Sieve and blend until smooth. Alternatively, you can scrape seeds with fingernail to remove raisin colored paste. Combine with orange juice, If making a large batch, and storing is desired, use lime juice and orange juice. Sieve the sauce to remove and hard parts. Store the sauce in refrigerator until ready to use.

  1. Import foods, on line, shows a picture of the Bahn Pho package in case you get lost in the sea of noodles your oriental market shelves. See http://importfood.com/nogl4001.html
  2. Fish sauce is the single, most important flavoring ingredient in Thai cooking and is available in premium and standard editions - see http://importfood.com/gourmet_fish_sauce.html for premium varieties. The common brand for this is the Tiparos brand. All of these contain a bit of sugar and salt and are made from anchovies.
  3. Unless you chopped the roasted peanut by hand with a knife, you may get them too fine. I use both 1/3rd salted and 2/3rds unsalted peanuts, place them in a plastic zip lock bag and roll over them slowly with a wooden rolling pin. I then sieve the results. The fine powder falls through the sieve so it may be discarded.
  4. Marin is Japanese sweet cooking wine. Since it is effective in masking the smell of fish, Mirin is often used for cooking seafood. The highest quality Mirin, referred to as 'Ajino-haha' in Japan is made from rice. Well-known Japanese brands for Mirin are Takara and Mitsukan, and the Aji-Mirin is also marketed by Kikkoman and is found on most supermarket shelves.
  5. Calamansi juice which is Phillipine lime, may be added to this disk as well as chopped Kaffir Lime leaves to give increased flavor to the dish.
  6. When making your own tamarind using the fresh pods, I use orange juice to loosing the fruit.
  7. Notes on Noodles:

You can buy noodles fresh or dry, gluten flour, rice, or even buckwheat in large diameters, flat, vermicelli or round. The noodle isle at the Asian market I go to is 40 yards long - these are just the dry ones! If going “dry” not fresh, adjust cooking time according to package directions or cook ahead of time in water then drain and rinse in cold water when the noodles are “al dente” or a little under done. Wet your fingers with some oil and wipe the cooked noodles to prevent sticking. Fresh is much easier and less work.

Banh pho – Rice Sticks - Pad Thai Flat Shape Noodles

Ajad Thai Cucumber Garnish

Ajad Thai cucumber garnish is often served with Pad Thai and each guest should have their own serving.

1/3 cup cold water
1/3 cup white vinegar
¼ cup sugar
Salt to taste
1 peeled English cucumber, raked lengthwise with a fork, cored, then sliced thinly
4 shallots or red onion sliced
3-4 Thai Green and Red chili peppers, thinly sliced
1 tablespoon fish sauce
Combine the water, vinegar, sugar and salt to taste. The water should be sweet, a little sour, and just salty enough to balance the sweet sour. Soak cucumber and onions in a small bowl and refrigerate overnight. When ready to serve, in a small soy-sauce bowl, add fish sauce and a little water. Add sliced Thai Green and Red chili peppers per person. Place bowl on a slightly larger plate garnished with sweet and sour onions and cucumber slices drained.