One key to a lot of Asian street food is the ability to work quickly. Many of these street vendors are competing with others, and that competition forces recipes that are both delicious and can be made incredibly quickly. This phenomenon also explains things like why you see such high quality pizza at such relatively affordable prices in a place like New York, but less so in other parts of the world. But I digress.
For a recipe like Pad Thai where you are working with such high heat, you have to work fast, or you will very quickly overcook or burn your ingredients. One way to do that is to do all of your prep work upfront. You will often see the Thai food masters able to whip up exactly what they need mostly by look and feel, though for us mere mortals, we need to measure things out in advance to know they will come out right when working this quickly.
I like to create a system where ingredients that I will put in together are near each other so I am ready to simply pick them up and drop them in, going down a line. The order I will be cooking things in is:
- Frying the tofu
- Frying the garlic
- Frying the onion
- Frying the chili flakes
- Frying the noodles
- Frying the eggs
- Mixing in the sauce
- Mixing in some bean sprouts, some peanuts, and the chopped stalks of green onions
- Mixing in remaining bean sprouts, peanuts, and green onion leaves
First, prep the tofu. Try placing some weight on your tofu and placing it between paper towels. You want to start with firm tofu, and remove any moisture possible from it before frying. Once as much moisture as you can get out has been removed, cube your tofu. Pick your desired shape, remembering that the thinner you go, the crisper it will be. I like rectangles that are about 1/2 inch by 1/4 inch by 1/8 inch.
Next mince your garlic. I use a healthy dose of about 1/3 head of garlic, or about 5 cloves. To remove the skin easily and to make chopping easier, press the side of your knife down against the garlic first. The skin will come right off after that, and the garlic will have a more flat surface for easier cutting.
To cut the onion, take the skin off, and cut off any stem that might be on the top. All you need to do is cut thin slices in one direction from pole to pole – the onion will then fall apart into tiny slices on its own. Here is a shot of the onion on top and minced garlic below:
Next, measure out 1 tbsp of chili flakes. I just keep it on a spoon so it is ready to go. I also crack 3 eggs in a cup so I can simply pour the cup in when necessary.
Normally to prepare the peanuts, I would put them in a food processor, or even put them in a ziplock bag and bang them with a hammer. Unfortunately these tools were not in my arsenal in the tiny kitchen – so I crushed them by hand. It is tedious, but simply apply pressure to the center of the unsalted peanut and it will crack into several pieces.
For the green onions, begin by chopping off the white root. Then chop the stalks off below the leaves. Cut the stalks into 1/4 inch segments and set aside, then cut the leaves in half.
This prep work is the time consuming aspect of making Pad Thai. Stay tuned for tomorrow where we put everything together, and see how having everything ready to go is so helpful!