Not very far from my new house, there is the sort of Thai restaurant that is known to all of you. It’s not very good, I’d go as far to say mediocre: point of fact, it serves sushi at happy hour. But we often stop by, largely because it is there. The incipient pescatarian also likes their pad thai, her first real introduction to the dish, and gets it with tofu, which pleases me since I find her diet too often short on protein.
This got me thinking: could I make a weeknight version of the dish itself? I sought the answer through mtlabor's Shrimp Pad Thai. I came at this dish not knowing if I could cobble together the ingredients on the fly, and was pleasantly surprised.
First, I printed the recipe out at work, discovered by a colleague who found it trapped between pages of a lengthy redacted security document he had been printing, and who handed my recipe to me with a mild sneer, and asked if I had used the Freedom of Information Act to acquire it. Never mind him.
I stopped off at Whole Foods on the way home, which had tofu, of course, which I would be using instead of shrimp and to my delight, tamarind concentrate, and the thick rice noodles. Then it was a race home to beat the kids, who were coming from soccer practice, to get the whole thing going.
Let me reorder the directions of the recipe a bit for you, just to get the full blast of weeknight simplicity. First, get those noodles soaking right away, before you kick your shoes off, and maybe (unless you’ve spent your day having long conversations with your superiors/clients/stove repair company/random office crazy person) before you open your beer. Next, get your oil going, and toss on your protein of choice. While that is cooking up, mix up your sauce. You can crack that egg and get it scrambled at some point, but if you want to do it right into the pan I’m not going to make a stink.
Pretty soon, 20 minutes will have passed, your family may or may not be home and it will be time to toss those noodles on and polish this baby off. I skipped the peanuts, because my children don’t like them, and put the cilantro only on the adult dishes, at their request. I should mention that Amanda tasted the photographed version of this dish and thought the fish sauce should be brought down a tablespoon -- I think this depends a little on your taste, as the amount called for worked fine for me. She recommends a squeeze of lime to finish it, which I agree with.
“Wow mom, this is actually really good,” the incipient pescatarian declared, in the way that kids who can’t believe restaurant food can actually be recreated at home sometimes do. Really the whole thing took 30 minutes, which is faster than just about anything else besides pasta for a weeknight meal.
I will close by acknowledging that this is certainly not the most authentic pad thai recipe around, and it skips on some ingredients I have seen listed in other recipes. But mtlabor seems to understand that, while you might be short on radishes or banana flowers or bean sprouts, that should not prevent you from enjoying a great weeknight version of a dish you love, hot off your stove, not from that restaurant you could take or leave.
1-2 tablespoon tamarind concentrate 3 tablespoons fish sauce 1 tablespoon rice vinegar 3 tablespoons sugar 4 tablespoons vegetable oil 8 ounces thick rice noodles 2 eggs salt and pepper to taste 1 pound medium shrimp, peeled and deveined 3 garlic cloves, minced 1 shallot, minced 1 jalapeno, seeded and minced small handful honey roasted peanuts, chopped small handful cilantro, chopped
1. In a small bowl, combine the fish sauce, rice vinegar, sugar, 2 tablespoons oil, and tamarind concentrate. Stir until sugar is dissolved and set aside.
2. Soak the rice noodles in hot tap water for about 20 minutes, or until they start to soften but not fully tender. Drain and set aside.
3. Beat the eggs with a pinch of salt in a small bowl and set aside. (There's lots of things to set aside, aren't there? Makes it easier in the end because the cooking of this dish is fairly quick)
4. In a large skillet or wok, heat 1 tablespoon of the oil under high heat for about 2 minutes. Add the shrimp and season with salt and pepper. Cook for about 2 to 3 minutes, or until the shrimp start to turn pink with browned edges. Remove shrimp and set aside.
5. Add remaining 1 tablespoon of oil to skillet. Add garlic, shallot, and jalapeno. Cook over medium heat and stir continuously for about 1 minute. Add eggs to skillet and stir vigorously with a wooden spoon until scrambled, about 30 seconds. Add the egg noodles and toss with tongs to combine. Pour the tamarind/fish sauce mixture over the noodles and increase the heat to high, continuing to toss the ingredients with the sauce.
6. Add 1/2 of the chopped peanuts and cooked shrimp. Toss noodles for about 2 more minutes.
7. Dish out onto hot plates and top with remaining peanuts and garnish with cilantro.
By day, Jennifer Steinhauer, aka Jenny, covers Congress for The New York Times. By night, she is an obsessive cook.
A New Way to Dinner, co-authored by Food52's founders Amanda Hesser and Merrill Stubbs, is an indispensable playbook for stress-free meal-planning (hint: cook foundational dishes on the weekend and mix and match ‘em through the week).