Monday, October 29, 2012

Time For Something New

When you're tired after a long day, it's so easy to stay in a food rut and eat the same thing you always do when you're exhausted.  In my case, that's either a bowl of chocolate chip cookie dough or take out from a Thai restaurant.  I've been trying to eat better since the beginning of October and I've actually been doing a pretty good job.  It was easy to stop ordering take out when I was tired, but a little more difficult to break the habit of eating something sweet.  Things are slowly progressing, for which my digestive system seems to be grateful.

But I really miss Thai food.  It is so good - spicy and savory and the tastes combine perfectly with the textures of the ingredients.  Although I can't eat the really spicy dishes anymore, like papaya salad, I can still have the savory ones.  Several weeks ago I decided it was time to try making my favorite at home: pad see ew.

Of course it turned out that pad see ew is one of those dishes that you really can't recreate exactly at home.  You need a well-seasoned wok with an industrial strength stove to get restaurant-style pad see ew.  Most of the Thai cooking blogs I looked at said that you can do a pretty good approximation at home if you're patient.  I was pretty nervous about trying to make pad see ew after reading all of this, and I figured that I'd give it a try and it would be terrible and that would be that.

Unexpectedly, pad see ew is really easy to make at home.  The blogs are right - the taste isn't exactly the same without the high heat but it's definitely edible and tastes similar to a restaurant's version. 

Restaurant-style pad see ew: my version got pretty close.
Pad see ew (ผัดซีอิ๊ว) should be romanized as Phat Si io, and is pronounced putt see ew in Thai; putt as in golfing, see as in see, and ew like cue but without the "c".  It means "stir-fried with soy sauce".  That's basically all that it is: meat, wide rice noodles, and Chinese broccoli stir-fried with thin and thick soy sauce.  Pad see ew is a street vendor's food in Thailand, where you can buy it made to order from street carts.

There are lots of different types of soy sauce.  Soy sauces from different countries may have the same name but they can be very different products: Chinese thick soy sauce and Japanese thick soy sauce are not the same thing.  Pad see ew uses Chinese thick and thin soy sauce, or dark soy sauce.  The thin soy sauce is basically what we think of as soy sauce in the US.  The thick soy sauce is literally thicker and has extra wheat added during the fermentation process, and sometimes also some sugar or molasses.  You don't want to eat thick soy sauce as a dipping sauce, but it's commonly used during cooking (like with pad see ew).  Of course, I don't have thick soy sauce in my kitchen, so I used thin soy sauce, fish sauce, and teriyaki sauce.  It sounds like a strange combination but it actually worked quite well.  Dark soy sauce is not the same thing as thick soy sauce.  The pad see ew recipes I found online were evenly split between using thick soy sauce and dark soy sauce.  Dark soy sauce is sweeter than thick soy sauce.

Although I love pad see ew, I hate Chinese broccoli due to my super-tasting tongue.  It is so incredibly bitter that it cuts through any other flavors and dominates the taste of whatever dish it's in.  I always order pad see ew with American broccoli instead.  I don't know why American broccoli tastes okay but Chinese broccoli doesn't.  I use American broccoli in this recipe but you can easily swap it out for Chinese broccoli instead.

The key to getting the "pad see ew flavor" when cooking at home is to let the noodles char or burn very slightly.  All of the cooking blogs agreed on this and it was really easy to do.  Just let the noodles sit in the pan without stirring for about 1-2 minutes more than you normally would.

So I didn't have the right noodles, the right soy sauces, or the right broccoli when I made pad see ew, and it turned out fine.  I'd say that this is a good introductory dish for somebody who's interested in cooking Thai food but wants to start with something simple.  Just make sure to do the prep work before you start putting things in the pan.

Tips: you don't need a wok to make pad see ew.  A larger non-stick pan will work fine.

You can use whatever meat you like.  Most people use chicken, beef, or pork. I used extra-firm tofu.  You can also use fried tofu.

All of the pad see ew recipes I saw have the same basic ingredients: Chinese broccoli, wide flat noodles, egg, and some kind of meat in a marinade.  The amounts of everything were different, and the ingredients for the marinade were all different.  However, most marinades included thin and thick soy sauce. I played around with the taste combinations when I was marinading the tofu, and the end result tasted like a cooked-down version of the marinade.

The order that the ingredients were added to the pan were different in the different recipes.  I added the tofu last because I wanted to stir fry it the least to try to keep it together.  If you're using real meat, you probably want to add it right after the broccoli.  The egg is usually added directly after the meat: broccoli, meat, egg, noodles.  Instead, I added: egg, noodles, broccoli, tofu.

I used very thin rice noodles (vermicelli) instead of the wide rice noodles.  You can buy the wide rice noodles at Asian supermarkets in the fresh noodles section.  Usually, they're not sold dried.  If you use dried noodles like I did, you need to cook them first.

You need to make sure to prep all of the ingredients before you start cooking.  The actual cooking time itself is less than 10 minutes (less than 5 minutes with thin noodles).  Chop up the broccoli, cut up the meat and put it in the marinade, and cook the noodles if needed first.  You can start heating up the oil when you're doing these steps.  Make sure the oil is hot when you add in the ingredients.

You should only make 1 to 2 servings at a time.  Pad see ew does not turn out well when you have too many noodles in the pan.  They won't cook evenly.  If you want to make more than 1 or 2 servings, just wipe out the pan between cooking each serving.

The pad see ew recipe that I started with comes from the shesimmers Thai cooking blog.  I really like this blog - the recipes are detailed but still easy to follow and she explains the reasons why you need to do certain things.  The original recipe has the correct ingredients for the marinade (thin soy sauce, white vinegar, dark sweet soy sauce).  She also has a video of a cook at a Thai restaurant making pad see ew so you can see how the professionals do it.

Pad See Ew, fake American style
makes 1 serving
1 large egg
1-2 cups broccoli, chopped or sliced into medium pieces (American or Chinese)
8 ounces flat wide rice noodles (or 8 ounces thin rice noodles)
4 ounces meat (I used extra-firm tofu)
vegetable oil
thin soy sauce
teriyaki sauce
fish sauce
2 garlic cloves *
fresh ginger *

* optional

If necessary, boil a pot of water and cook the noodles while preparing the meat and broccoli.

Cover the bottom of a wok or larger non-stick pan with vegetable oil and heat on high heat while preparing the meat and broccoli.

Chop the meat or tofu up into bite-sized pieces, and place it in a small bowl.  Chop the garlic cloves and fresh ginger and add to the meat.  Marinate the meat-ginger-garlic mix in several tablespoons of thin soy sauce and teriyaki sauce with a teaspoon of fish sauce.  Fish sauce is potent, so add a little at a time to taste.

Chop or slice up the broccoli.  You can use the upper (tender) part of the broccoli stems in pad see ew.

The order in which you add the ingredients depends on what meat you're using.  See the tip above for what order to use.  This recipe uses tofu.

Crack the egg into the pan and let it cook for 30 seconds to 1 minute.  Scramble the egg.  Add the broccoli and cook for 1 to 2 minutes, until it begins to darken in color.  Add the noodles and some soy sauce and teriyaki sauce.  Fry the noodles with the minimum amount of stirring for approximately 2 minutes, or until the noodles are visibly absorbing some of the soy sauce.  If you think that the noodles are sticking too much, add more oil.  Add the tofu and marinade and stir fry for several more minutes.  Let the pad see ew sit for 1 to 2 minutes to overcook slightly.

Marinating the tofu with soy sauce, teriyaki sauce, fish sauce, garlic, and ginger.

2 cups of broccoli is not as much as you'd think.

Scrambling the egg in the wok.  There's too much oil in this picture.

The noodles and broccoli added to the egg.
Patches decided that having a burning hot wok full of oil on the stove was the perfect time to drag his food bowl in front of the oven.

All of the ingredients cooking with the tofu and marinade.  The little bits of egg are just starting to become brown at the bottom on the wok.

The finished version.  Too many noodles but otherwise it tasted great.

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