Not-so-modernist Modernist Cuisine: Pad Thai

I’ve never really cooked a lot of Thai food – that’s more my husband’s department – but I love the flavours. And who can resist the national noodle dish, Pad Thai? So naturally, when I stumbled on the Pad Thai recipe in Modernist Cuisine, I had to give it a try.

This might in fact be the least “modernist” recipe in the book, though. It’s included in the section on pasta, as an illustration of cooking rice noodles, but there were only two obvious differences between this and any other Pad Thai recipe I’ve ever seen: first, the tamarind paste is heated sous vide (presumably to hydrate it and make it easier to work through a strainer), and the ground peanuts used as a garnish are pressure-cooked dehydrated and then deep-fried.

Whenever I’m working with an unfamiliar cuisine or unfamiliar techniques, I follow the recipe as closely as I can, and that’s what I did in this case. I started a couple of days in advance, pressure-cooking the peanuts at high pressure for 25 minutes, then dehydrating them at 60°C for 12 hours and deep-frying them at 190°C for 1 minute. And after all that work… I ended up with, essentially, deeply roasted peanuts. I truly couldn’t see what all that effort was for! Of course, I’m open to the possibility that it was user error or ingredient problems. (Am I sure those peanuts from the grocery store were raw?) But by the same token, I doubt that I’d bother again, given that it was just for a ground peanut garnish.

Peanuts aside, the rest of the recipe was straightforward and went quite smoothly, with only one other hiccup – and it’s a hiccup that I’ve experienced before: stir-frying noodles. This is one more technique on the list of “things Matthew hasn’t mastered (yet).” It might be the fact that I’m trying to cook them in a wok on an underpowered stove, or it might be the volume of noodles relative to the size of the wok, but every time I try and stir-fry noodles, I end up with a solid, sticky clump of starch that looks (and handles) like a ball of yarn after a cat’s been at it for a few hours. Although they loosened up somewhat after I added the sauce, they were still tangled enough to make plating and serving difficult.

If nothing else, it’s a good reminder that I still need to read the stir-frying section in volume 2…

What cuisine do you love that you don’t generally cook at home?

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