Monday, February 20, 2012

No Recipe Cookin' - Mamma's Phad Thai!

Let me just start right off and tell you that in my kitchen, when cooking an ethnic dish, authenticity is rarely a big priority. I have other concerns that are more important to me personally - the cost of ingredients, the time spent making the dish and the preference of taste for my family, including the three children.

For instance, I love both Thai food and Indian food, but couldn't really tell you the difference between the two different types of curry. I think maybe it's that Indian curries are thicker and use more cream. My curry dishes are probably a blend of the two. Then again, maybe I'm completely wrong! But for me, they make a decent, less expensive and healthier version of what we get for take-out.

So today, as promised in my Introduction to Mamma's No-Recipe Cookin', I will take you through Mamma's No-Recipe Phad Thai . . .

Right off the bat, I know I'm probably going to offend some authentic Thai chefs, because I know there are so many of them reading my blog :) I do not soak my rice noodles. I know that's what you're supposed to do. I know that's what the instructions say. But I just don't have the time or forethought for that kind of thing. I did actually soak them the first time. But then one day I forgot to. So it was either wait an additional 30-40 minutes for dinner or try boiling them. I chose boiling, it worked and I've been doing it ever since.

For no-recipe meals, I have a list of  essential ingredients and a list of would-be-nice ingredients. For phad thai, my essentials are the rice sticks, garlic, eggs, peanuts, soy sauce, salt and some type of oil. I have a lot of would-be-nice ingredients. This night, I had fresh basil, rice vinegar, ketchup, sugar, lime juice, frozen peas, chopped bell pepper, shredded carrot and green onions. None of these are necessary, but each adds a lot to the dish. Other possible would-be-nice ingredients include Italian flat-leaf parsley, fresh cilantro, fresh ginger, chopped spinach, bean sprouts, sesame oil, tofu, fish, prawns, pork, edamame (I would only add eggs, peanuts and one other protein) and any other assortment of Asian type vegetables that you would like to add.

So, heat a big pot of water to boil for your rice sticks. Where do you get rice sticks? Well, I can find them in the Asian section of most grocery stores.

While the water is heating, make your sauce. Put some water in a bowl. How much? I don't know! I don't measure things! I guess probably about 1 1/2 to 2 cups.

To that water, add a few squirts of ketchup, a couple splashes of rice vinegar, a couple of large, minced garlic cloves, a bunch of paprika, several splashes of soy sauce, a couple of spoons of sugar, a drizzle of oil (I used olive oil), the juice of a lime and some salt. Don't have one or two of these things? Then don't add it! Don't like one of these things? Then don't add it! Allergic to one of these things? Then don't add it! Love one of these things? Then add lots!!! :) Whisk all of this together. Taste your sauce. Always, always, always taste all of the cooked components of a dish to see if they need more of anything. They probably do. I believe that one of the largest, most common mistakes of at-home cooks is not enough seasoning. So, what does your sauce need? Add it!

Beat your eggs and scramble them in a large skillet. When the eggs are just about done, add the cooked, chopped chicken (or the third protein of your choice) to warm in the pan with the eggs. This night, I chopped up two chicken thighs that I had left over from the night before. Leftover chicken is perfect for this dish and a little goes a long way.

Chop or food process your peanuts into small pieces. 

When the water is boiling, add the rice sticks. Rice sticks are a delicate noodle, so they don't take very long to cook. Cook them about three minutes. Add any raw vegetable you would like cooked to the pot with the noodles. Cook about three minutes more. Fish out a noodle and taste it. Is it crunchy? Cook another minute or two. Is it mushy? Oops! Too long. If you overcook your noodles, strain them immediately and rinse them with cold water to stop the cooking process. Then reheat them in the pan with the chicken and eggs. Hopefully, you'll find the perfect cooking time somewhere around sixish minutes.

Add the rice sticks and the cooked vegetables to the skillet with the chicken and eggs. Mix it all up. Add the sauce. Mix it up more. Add the chopped peanuts. Mix it up some more!

Now, taste it! Seriously, if I didn't taste all my food, I'd be about ten pounds thinner, but my food would suck. I choose yummy food.

Most likely, your phad thai needs more salt. Let's talk about salt. Let me preface this conversation by saying that both Jason and I visit our doctors annually, have our blood pressure checked and we both have healthy, low blood pressure. When and if our blood pressure begins to rise, we will adjust our eating habits. But for now, we use a lot of salt.  Guess what? So do professional chefs in restaurants. Have you ever seen the sodium levels of restaurant dishes? Very, very high. Salt brings out all of the other flavors in your food. Get familiar with salt and add it. If you've over-salted, you'll know it. If you have high blood pressure or are avoiding sodium for other reasons, you can add more citrus juice, vinegar, garlic or other seasonings to boost the flavor. This is what we'll do later on if we need to. But for now, we use salt because it works the best.

So taste your food and season it. Dish yourself up a bowl and garnish it. Garnishes make your food look prettier and add another pop of flavor. I used green onions and basil chiffonade, which is just a fancy way of saying basil leaves rolled up and delicately sliced into thin ribbons.

Lastly, if you like some heat, I highly recommend adding a few drops (or ten) of Sriracha Hot Chili Sauce.

Bon appetit!


  1. Rebecca, I am inspired and want to try this! Thanks for posting and I love the pictures!

    1. Thanks Erin! It's super easy and our boys love it.

  2. Love it! I've made two very bad Pad Thai's... time to try again I guess!

    1. You could definitely make it, Kerry. And it's so nice to be able to whip up some phad thai when you've got the craving :)

  3. Just made this for the 2nd time and it was a winner all around, which is a tall order for our family!
    Merry Christmas!


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