Caroline Cooks

A modest documentation of my culinary exploits.

Location: Alexandria, Virginia, United States

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Pad Thai Sauce

Everyone has their comfort foods, and mine is a big bowl of freshly made Pad Thai. Coming from someone with no Asian background or upbringing, who didn't even know what Thai food was until high school, this might seem like a strange dish to seek solace in. But I've always been a bit strange.

Pad Thai appeals to me because it's simple, satisfying, and fairly light. The peanuts, tofu, shrimp and eggs provide lots of protein. Meanwhile, the rice noodles are filling, but not in the bloat-inducing manner of wheat-based noodles. The sauce brings it all together, and the lime juice and crunchy bean sprouts provide a fresh, clean finish. Unfortunately, Giant did not have bean sprouts the last time I made Pad Thai, so they're not pictured here.

I admit with some shame that, until recently, I had never made Pad Thai from scratch. Despite my aversion to cooking with kits, the Thai Kitchen products are just so convenient. The ingredients of the sauce packet are all natural, and since I have to scramble the eggs, saute the tofu, cook the noodles, crush the peanuts, and slice the lime anyway, it still feels like I'm cooking from scratch.

My eventual desire to make my own Pad Thai sauce stemmed primarily from curiosity. Wondering what the hell Pad Thai sauce was made of, exactly, prompted a flurry of internet research on the subject. As I delved deeper and deeper into the trove of recipes, I came across so many inconsistencies and variations that I couldn't tell what was authentic or "correct". Some recipes called for soy sauce, others for fish sauce, still others for nothing of the sort. Some relied on the tartness of white vinegar and others, on lime juice. Some recipes involved ketchup ::shudder:: and others suggested tomato paste. There were recipes with tamarind paste, recipes without, some had red pepper flakes and others used sugar.

I finally decided to buy a melange of ingredients and mix together something, through tastings and adjustments at frequent intervals, that made sense. The one caveat was that I would not go out of my way to buy something from a specialty store, since I still haven't found an Asian supermarket in the area that I like. This ruled out tamarind paste, which I suspected was a key ingredient, but I figured a mixture of tamarind juice and tomato paste would work in a pinch.

The ingredients I ended up with were soy sauce, fish sauce, white vinegar, tomato paste, tamarind juice, red pepper flakes, and lime. With them I concocted a Pad Thai sauce that mimics the kind found in restaurants and Thai Kitchen packets. Would I make it again? Probably not. As I mentioned before, the pre-made sauce is made with natural ingredients. On the other hand, an analysis of the ingredients I'd used revealed that both the fish sauce and the tamarind juice contained my arch nemesis, high fructose corn syrup. Yuck. I'm sure I could find organic fish sauce and tamarind juice if I sought it out, but for what it's worth I'll continue using the pre-made stuff. Still, making my own Pad Thai sauce was an educational experience that I recommend everyone try at least once.

1 tbsp fish sauce
1 tbsp + 1 tsp soy sauce
2 tbsp tamarind juice
2 tbsp white vinegar
2 tsp tomato paste
1 tbsp white sugar
juice of 1 lime
red pepper flakes, to taste

Mix the ingredients until completely combined. This amount of sauce should be enough to cover one pound of rice noodles, plus any extras such as egg and tofu.


Anonymous David said...

Here in Brisbane, Australia, Asian ingredients are fairly common at the local supermarket.

We also don't use Corn Syrup(s) of any kind in our foodstuffs (although I noted in the import section the other day you can buy light and dark Karo brand corn syrup). Thus no fish sauce I know of contains corn syrup here and I'm sorry to hear you can't get a more authentic sauce there.

Tamarinds can be bought dried, fresh or as a paste. I've opted for the paste as it's easier to deal with than dried, and keeps better than fresh. I've made a reasonable Thai Green Curry and a semi-decent Mussaman Curry with it.

10:06 PM  
Blogger Caroline said...

They sneak corn syrup into everything here. It's appalling. Luckily it's usually not a problem for me, as I rarely buy processed foods. But I'm so unused to encountering corn syrup that I forgot to check for it when buying the fish sauce.

7:57 AM  
Blogger Courtney said...

Hey Caroline.
We at Naughty Curry have quoted a blurb of yours on our Random spice-Punx sideblog.

But I'm hungry for Pad Thai now...

2:12 PM  
Blogger Caroline said...

Thanks Courtney! It's exciting to see my words re-posted elsewhere.

12:42 PM  
Blogger EEP said...

Mmm...I should get around to making that. You're right though about how convenient it is to use those pre-made ones. By themselves, they're ok. The trick is to experiment. I like to do a bit of ninja-fusion and use an olive oil when cooking a pad thai. Combined with some paneer cheese and some sauted pita bread (done in a way so it is not crispy) it is really good!

11:19 AM  

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