So apparently, there is this RIFT in the pad thai world. Purists who say NO KETCHUP at any cost. And impurists like me who are excited to have discovered an interesting shortcut to an interesting sauce.
I found this vegan pad thai recipe through a facebook friend but decided, on learning of the Ketchup Controversy, that it needed doctoring and authenticity – a tough thing given that my love for pad thai began after my love for eating kosher, meaning that unlike real Chinese food, I’ve never had it prepared authentically in a Thai restaurant.
I’ve made many rice-noodle-based stir fries in my time, but this sauce is a first for me and I wanted to do it right, or at least, kind of yummy.
So apparently, there are four things in REAL pad thai sauce, and two are unavailable to me:
- fish sauce
- soy sauce
- tamarind juice
There is also, occasionally, sriracha chili sauce and – lo and behold! – I found this brand with a hechsher! It only came in a JUMBO bottle, so jumbo bottle it is!
This sauce is a delight, by the way. It’s not just chili – though I’d be happy enough about that (I’ve been more and more adventurous with the Tabasco lately), but chili PLUS garlic PLUS a bit of sugar and vinegar. It’s hot, but also extremely flavourful. Weird that I’ve been so chicken about spicy food up until now…
So my special secret sauce consisted of an unspecified (because unmeasured – I’ll measure next time) mixture of the following five ingredients (note: I have not checked Amazon links for kashrus; please do so yourself before you purchase… links are just to similar products so folks will know what I’m talking about):
- ketchup (gasp!)
- soy sauce (organic Tamari)
- soy sauce (regular Kikkoman)
- kitchen bouquet (for depth and savouriness)
- realime lime juice
- brown sugar (a touch)
- sriracha sauce (a touch)
- water, added separately while frying the pad thai to thin the flavours down and spread them around
I think that’s everything! If I’d had it, I would have used Worcestershire sauce for the “fish” note… but I didn’t. (they do make a fish-free worcestershire that can be used with meat, but since the main seasoning “note” is fish, I’d say skip it and go with kitchen bouquet if you’re using meat. I also used jarred garlic (“jarlic”) and the frozen Israeli ginger cubes, because we can’t seem to keep a ginger root in the house without it shrivelling, but these were mixed in with the veg. Anyway, for the sauce, I just mixed it all together and stored it in the fridge ‘till I needed it.
So here, from my research, is the OTHER secret of pad thai: Cook it FAST. Very hot wok, have tofu & vegetables prepped and ready to go… and don’t let it steam by overloading the wok. Well, unfortunately, overloading is the rule here when the wok is in use, because otherwise, I’d either need to stir-fry in batches or invest in one of those restaurant-sized woks. However… I did prep the vegetables well ahead of time and cooked everything super-fast. I even toasted up some peanut pieces to toss on top when it was done.
Here’s a step-by-step pad thai photo-pictorial you might find helpful.
Final secret: don’t overcook the noodles. Apparently, too many people’s experience with ketchupy pad thai is topped off by a mess of sticky, unpalatably mushy rice noodles.
I use medium “rice stick” (banh pho) noodles, and I buy the Thai ones with no hechsher (can I hear a collective gasp???). Years ago, before the expensive Israeli ones were available here, I emailed a far-east kashrus service. They said the ones from Thailand made out of pure rice flour and water were fine (same with rice-paper wrappers, by the way). I could ask another poseik now that the Israeli ones are here (at about seven times the price), but haven’t bothered. In the meantime, these noodles are about 99 cents for MORE than enough to feed a family of 6 (I wonder why they’re so popular in poor Asian countries).
So what do you do once you have your rice stick noodles? Well, what I don’t do is cook them before adding them to the stir-fry.
Instead, I put them into a strainer, set the strainer in a bowl, and pour hot, hot water over the whole thing. I use hot tap water, but don’t tell Ted – he thinks there are terrible things in hot tap water, and he may be right, but he’s never here when I’m in a real hurry. Put a plate on top (to press the noodles into the water) and leave the whole apparatus to sit. Five-ten minutes later (when the noodles wiggle nicely, with no snap left), remove the strainer from the hot water and let the noodles drain. You can stir in a bit of canola or toasted-sesame oil while you’re waiting to cook them if you’re worried about sticking, but if you use them right away, sticking is not a problem.
When I’m not using them in pad thai, these noodles are also fabulous all on their own alongside any other variety of stir-fry. In this case, stir a little soy sauce and oil into them. Toss HALF the noodles onto a well-heated cast-iron skillet just below medium, and fry 4-5 minutes until bottom side begins to brown. Turn over entire “cake” of noodles and repeat for 4-5 minutes on the other side. Remove to plate and repeat for remaining noodles. Slice like a pie and place wedge of noodle-cake on plate. Top with any stir-fry that has a lot of yummy sauce…Speaking of kosher, here's one to watch after Tisha b'Av...
B’tayavon, as we say in Israel. (as opposed to here, where we just bellow, “get away from the cat, wash your hands and come eat!!!”)
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