Monday 31 January 2011

Tom Kha Gai and Pad Thai

It is cold and gloomy outside and I really need warming up inside and my spirits lifting. To me, no food in the world does that for me quite like Thai food. The combination of sweet, sour, fragrant and spicy is like nothing else. I have in mind a Tom Kha Gai (Thai coconut soup with lemon grass) for lunch and a Pad Thai for dinner. I have at least three Thai shops in my near vicinity and there really are loads scattered all London, so there is no excuse. I popped down to Amaranth in Garratt Lane in EarIsfield, which is a tiny shop but very well stocked. I bought coconut milk, Tamarind paste, thick wide Thai rice noodles, Nam Pla (fish sauce), palm sugar, dried shitake mushrooms, sweet chilli sauce and shrimp paste. All of these ingredients keep
really well so it is well worth the trip. Even the lime leaves and galangal freeze well. 

They also have a lovely array of fresh produce - baskets of limes, bunches of coriander, lovely little baby
spring onions which I hadn't seen before, bamboo shoots, lemon grass, shallots, ginger, Pak Choi, Bok Choi and beautiful pea aubergines which are delicious in a green Thai curry. Also look out for sweet basil which tastes really fresh, like a cross between normal basil and mint. It really gives an authentic Thai taste to your food. This Pad Thai recipe really works , is really easy and is so much better than you will find in most Thai restaurants.

Pad Thai

8 oz. Thai rice noodles either thick or medium width
4 oz raw chicken breast or thigh meat, sliced
6 oz large raw prawns. Please use ONLY Atlantic prawns. It is probably best to avoid any prawns from South-East Asia. If they are frozen, de-frost first and dry well with kitchen paper.

Marinade for chicken
1 tsp. cornstarch dissolved in 3 tbsp. soy sauce
2 cloves garlic, very finely chopped
1-2 fresh red chillies, finely chopped
3 spring onions, finely sliced
1 large handful of fresh coriander, chopped
4 oz crushed or roughly chopped peanuts (not salted)
vegetable oil for stir-frying, and wedges of lime

Pad Thai Sauce
2 tbsp. tamarind paste dissolved in 1/4 cup warm water
4 tbsp. fish sauce, + more to taste
1-3 tsp. flaked dried chilli
3 tbsp. palm sugar

Bring a large pot of pot to a boil and remove from heat. Dunk in your rice noodles. Allow noodles to soak while you prepare the other ingredients. You will be frying the noodles later, so you don't want to over-soften them now. Noodles are ready to be drained when they are soft enough to be eaten, but are still firm and a little crunchy. Drain and rinse with cold water. Set aside.

Place chicken slices in a small bowl. Pour over the marinade. Stir well and set aside. Make the Pad Thai Sauce by combining the sauce ingredients together in a cup. Stir well to dissolve the tamarind paste and brown sugar. Set aside. This may seem like a lot of sugar, but you need it to balance out the sourness of the tamarind - this balance is what makes Pad Thai taste so amazing.

Warm up a wok or large frying pan over medium-high heat. Add 1-2 tbsp. oil and fry the prawns until golden brown on both sides. Remove and set aside. Add garlic and chilli. Stir-fry until fragrant (30 seconds). Add chicken together with the marinade. Stir-fry until chicken is just cooked. Add a little water if necessary to make sure chicken is cooked. When wok becomes dry, add the noodles, and pour the Pad Thai sauce over. Using tongs, stir-fry the noodles. Use a gentle "lift and turn" method (like tossing a salad) to prevent noodles from breaking. Stir-fry in this way 1-2 minutes. Add the bean sprouts and put the prawns back in. Continue tossing 1 more minute, or until noodles are cooked. Noodles are done to perfection when they are no longer hard or crunchy, but chewy and sticky. 

Taste-test for seasoning, adding more fish sauce until desired flavour is reached (I usually add at least 1 more tbsp. fish sauce). Toss well to incorporate.
Lift noodles onto a serving plate. Top with generous amounts of fresh chopped coriander, spring onion, and chopped nuts. Serve with fresh lime wedges.

(Tom Kha Gai) Thai Soup with Coconut and LemongrassPlease use ONLY Atlantic prawns. It is probably best to avoid any prawns from South-East Asia. If they are frozen, de-frost first and dry well with kitchen paper. 

6 oz raw prawns pealed, de-veined, tails on if possible. 
2 sticks lemongrass
4 kaffir limes leaves (fresh or frozen)
1 large handful fresh coriander leaves finely chopped
1 small handful fresh Thai basil leaves
2 oz dried shiitake mushrooms
3 spring onions, finely sliced
1 thumb-size piece galangal
1-2 fresh red chillies, finely chopped
1 can good-quality coconut milk
1 - 2 limes squeezed
2 tbsp fish sauce ( Nam Pla)

With a hand blender make a paste of the lemongrass, lime leaves, galangal, chillis, the Thai basil and most of the coriander. If necessary add a little water to make a smooth paste.

Heat a wok or frying pan until very hot. Add a little oil and fry the prawns until golden brown. Add the lemongrass and coriander paste and fry for a few minutes. Add the chicken broth and the mushrooms and spring onions and cook for a few minutes. Finally add the coconut milk, the fish sauce and fresh lime juice to taste. Remove from the heat. Try not to cook after you have added the lime and coconut milk as it alters the fresh taste. Look for a balance between spicy, sour, salty, and sweet flavours. Start with salty, adding more fish sauce if not salty or flavourful enough. If too sour, add a little palm sugar, If not spicy enough, add more chilli. Ladle soup into serving bowls. Sprinkle with a little fresh coriander.

If adding noodles, I find it's best to cook them separately and rinse well before adding to the soup, otherwise the soup becomes starchy.

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