When will smackdown get better?*
It’s sad, really, because any dinner was bound to be a let down after last night’s tomatogasm. I’m still reeling a little, and I spent the whole day cornering co-workers and forcing them to listen to me monologue about tomatoes as they nodded politely (the co-workers, not the tomatoes). Still, this dinner, taken from The New Best Recipe, challenged another one of my food prejudices: pad Thai.
It also made most of my block smell like fermented shrimp because I had all the windows open while I cooked, and for that I’m truly sorry.
*I’m trying, people, I’m trying. Actually, because I’m feeling a little lazy tonight, all captions are brought to you courtesy of insane googlers.
I’m a tattoo person; I have several myself and am planning another one soon. But to this person I must say: please reconsider. I don’t know who you are or why you want a nutella tattoo, but I know you will regret it. Maybe not today, maybe not tomorrow, but…probably the day after. Seriously, just say no.
I’d been thinking about pad Thai for the past few days, ever since I was chatting with cook eat FRET and mentioned that I thought bad Thai food was the worst of all possible bad foods. Poorly executed Chinese, Italian or even Indian will just be dull and uninspiring. Poorly executed Thai food, however, is another story. There are so many assertive, pungent flavors requiring careful balance that when that shit goes wrong, it goes really fucking wrong.
Most of the pad Thai I’ve had has been Wrongity McWrong, which is why I now generally stay away from it; if it’s not puke-worthy, then it’s sickly sweet. But in theory, I should like it. Since the tomato experiment was such a rousing success and I have yet to be led astray by America’s Test Kitchen, I thought I’d see if we could keep the streak going and learn to embrace pad Thai (Brian doesn’t like it either).
I can only assume they meant “misogynistic.” Even sadder: three different people looked for this. Clearly, somewhere at least three children are being left behind.
Here’s the thing about pad Thai: It has a lot of ingredients. It requires an hour of prep for three and a half minutes of cooking. I usually only do a really thorough mis en place when I’m baking and ingredients need to be carefully measured, but there are so many moving parts to this dish that are added to the hot pan in such quick succession that I thought it only prudent.
When I was done with prep, I was so proud of myself that I almost didn’t want to start cooking. I mean, look at that. That’s some balls to the wall mis en place right there. And now I’ve guaranteed that someone will find me tomorrow searching for “balls to the wall mis en place.” You’re welcome, weary searcher!
Those of you who know from pad Thai may notice (1) that there are no little dried shrimp and (2) that there is a little dish of what appears to be baby poop in the bottom row. I couldn’t lay my hands on the dried suckers expediently, so I bought shrimp paste instead. This provoked several lamentations from Brian, who declared that the little crunchy shrimp are the only part of pad Thai he likes because they’re the “Jewiest” ingredient.
14-inch cook fucking a girl.
Adorable, a chef that’s only three apples high!
Once all the chopping and measuring was done, things started moving really fast. Brian took charge of the stir fry while I stood by with the camera. Shrimp were cooked…
My law degree sucks.*
…garlic and shallots were sauteed ’til golden…
*So does mine, friend, so does mine.
I heard Paula Deen was a drunk.
…eggs were added and quickly scrambled…
(In the time it took me to semi-focus the camera, the eggs had overcooked, bringing down shame upon my family and ancestors.)
Man and woman seeping together and night.
How long has this been going on? There are medications for stuff like this now, you know.
…and the noodles (which had been pre-softened in hot water) were added along with the cooked shrimp, chopped pickled daikon*, a pile of mung bean sprouts, scallions and chopped peanuts.
The sauce was a mix of tamarind concentrate – which looks either like molasses or black hair goo, depending on your perspective – fish sauce, rice wine vinegar, sugar, vegetable oil and cayenne pepper. Brian was a little scared of it and tried to stay as far from it as possible, and I fully admit that it smelled pretty…ripe. But as the heat kicked up and the sauce started to reduce and really coat the noodles, it began smelling gooood. Earthy and complex. As always, I was amazed at how fish sauce, which I will continue to publicly state smells like hot buttered ass on a shit platter, plays so well with other ingredients.
*Pickled daikon radishes look like giant slugs. I’m sorry if that’s offensive, but you know I’m right.
Side effects of pork?
TONGS! OF! FURY!
I tried to combine everything as thoroughly as I could without flinging too many bean sprouts around the kitchen; I’m still not sure how good a job I did.
By the way, the key side effects of pork include deliciousness and euphoria.
Things to do at 10:40 on a Thursday night.
I made a little nest of noodles and sprouts on my plate, added some shrimp and sprinkled more scallions, peanuts and some fresh cilantro o’er the top and spritzed the whole kit and kaboodle with lime.
The verdict: Not as profound an experience as the tomato tartlets, but damn good. I think I finally understand pad Thai. The sweet, salty, hot and pungent were in good balance. There was a nice mix of textures, from tender noodles to chewy shrimp to crunchy peanuts, so every bite was interesting. I still think I’ll avoid take-out pad Thai, but on nights when I don’t mind all the prep I could definitely see going the homemade route, especially since the cooking time is negligible in comparison.
Unfortunately that probably won’t happen, because Brian? Just does not like pad Thai. It’s not just a question of homemade v. take-out; there’s something about the fermented fish sauce flavor that jumps out at him and is inimical to his palate, a subtle musky sourness that he just can’t stand (he also tends to really dislike belgian beers, which I love and which also generally have a slight sour funk when fermented). So you can’t win ‘em all.
To close, can we help this errant searcher? What is there to do at 10:40 on a Thursday night where you are?