Pork isn’t the most traditional meat item to put in a pad Thai — that would be chicken or shrimp. Sometimes it is just left at the tofu, and no chicken nor seafood — but be forewarned that even if you request vegetarian pad Thai at a restaurant, if you are vegetarian (and not just wanting to eat direct chicken, seafood or pork, and just wanting the tofu) — you may well get the fish sauce included in the dish, because that’s how they do it, culturally. They’re not trying to get something “past” you – it’s just a different cultural vibe when they talk about “vegetarian”.
But pork is no true stranger to Thai cooking, so here we are with a recipe I adapted from a couple of sources for a recent Thai-themed pot luck, which I made with pork. (Others were doing things with chicken or shrimp…)
Pork Pad Thai
My sources: (I’ve done some adaptations)
* Simple Thai Food, by Leela Punyaratabandhu
This dish takes about 10 – 12 minutes to cook; the devil is in the prepping. Get your mis en place in place ahead of turning on the heat, or you’ll have a real miss… Give yourself about 45-60 minutes of prep time — there’s always something you have to hunt down!
Ingredients: (Serves about six to maybe eight people as the main course.)
* 12 ounces dried rice sticks. I am going by Leela’s recommendation and using the 1/8th inch wide ones, Often, what you only find the ¼ inch ones (whatever works!). They may be sold as Pad Thai noodles or Banh Pho. (“Pho” means “noodle”; it may even be a more specific word meaning “rice noodle”.)
* 3 tablespoons packed grated palm sugar or 2 tablespoons packed dark brown sugar. I will be using less (one half of what the recipe calls for), as I really don’t care for this particular seasoning. If you make this at home, and you like sweet, double the amount posted here. Try it without the additional, first — no one seemed to miss it. (As far as I can tell…)
* 6 tablespoons tamarind pulp. Tamarind is sweet/tart – I bought a brand with no added sugar, AND no seeds to get (painfully) rid of. That’s a process in itself — don’t set yourself up for that!
* 6 tablespoons fish sauce. If going vegetarian, sub in your favorite soy or tamari sauce or coconut aminos. You’ll also want to pass on the meat/seafood aspects below — perhaps add mushrooms or bok choy or something…)
* 1/4 cup oil. I use refined sesame oil. Toasted sesame oil would be way too heavy. Unlike the above ingredients, this was NOT measured, and I think the total amount of oil used was well under the 1/4 cup. I would recommend going with minimal at the two stages where oil is called for.
* 3 large shallots, approx. 6 ounce total, fine sliced. Sub in onion or leek if shallots are unavailable.
* 4 large cloves garlic, minced/coarsely chopped, your preference.
* 1 package extra firm tofu, find the firmest possible, cut into 1/2 inch cubes. You are more likely to find a seriously firm tofu at an Asian market. For the potluck I used 1 inch by 1/4 inch matchstick cuts, as recommended in the book, but they fell apart more than they needed to. Cube them.
* 4 tablespoons small dried shrimp, OPTIONAL. (they are in the refrigerated section at the Asian market. Who-da thunk? I had to ask…) If using, do NOT add salt to this dish!
* 12-16 ounces pork, shrimp, or chicken. In this case, we are using pork, which I froze about a month ago (on sale), and sliced as thin as possible as it thawed. If you are using the pork fresh, freeze it for 30-40 minutes, then slice it as thin as possible with a good chef’s knife. Remove fat before weighing. If using shrimp, de-shell in advance; and personally I prefer to remove the tail portion of the shell, too.
* 5 large eggs, lightly beaten – just enough to combine whites and yellow.
* About 3-4 cups mung bean sprouts, go heavy if you wish.
Very very optional: 1/2 cup preserved radish, finely chopped (optional) ** (I could only find this mixed with red chili powder, so we played this one as an add-on condiment when serving!!!)
* Approx two inches peeled, shredded fresh ginger.
* Approx 1 cup / 10 ounces finely chopped or crushed roasted, unsalted peanuts. For those of you who do not use peanuts, substitute the same amount of cashews. Or if you can’t do tree nuts either, leave off, or set them on the side as an option for your guests.
* 6 green onions, one inch lengths, green part only. (in the school of waste-not, want-not, I tossed the white parts in with the shallot contingent)
* 2 limes, cut into small wedges, for garnish and flavor
* Optional red chili powder to taste (see above about the preserved radish)
* Fresh Cilantro, coarsely chopped.
** Being as this was a pot luck with 16 attendees, I didn’t want to emphasize heat. The preserved radish in red chili powder sauce actually turned out very interesting and not overly-hot; and I’d recommend in the above recipe, if you cannot find preserved radish alone, adding in 1/8 – 1/4 cup of this, where it says below to add in preserved radish.
Soak noodles in a large bowl of warm water until softened and pliable, 30-40 minutes. Drain well in a colander, and cut into about six inch long pieces with scissors, and cover with a dampened paper towel, or a lid to prevent the rice noodles drying back out again.. Set aside. While soaking, prep the rest of the ingredients…
Mix the sugar, tamarind and fish sauce in a small bowl until sugar dissolves. Set aside.
In a skillet or wok, heat about 5 tablespoons of oil, medium high heat. Add the noodles and stir until coated, about one minute. Add the sauce from above, stir for another three minutes, remove from pan into a second pan, and set aside, covered. (Preferably keep it on low heat, but we discovered this is not essential.)
Add a couple more tablespoons of the oil to the first pan, throw in the pork or chicken, and stir for two-three minutes until the pinkness is gone, then add the shallot (including the white part of your scallions), garlic, radish, tofu and dried shrimp, and continue to stir fry.
Move the food to the side, and scramble the eggs on the other side with a spatula in the same pan, about two minutes or until they appear congealed and scrambled. Mix back in at that point with the other food currently in the skillet/wok.
If you are using fresh shrimp, add them here, and stir fry for a minute. Don’t over cook!
Add back the noodles, and check for noodle done-ness . If needed add a little water, Add the ginger and at least 3/4 of the sprouts, and mix for another minute or so. Place in serving bowl
Sprinkle pad Thai on top with green onions/scallions, peanuts and any leftover sprouts, as well as the cilantro. Serve on the side with lime wedges, red chili powder (or that preserved radish mix in red chili, if you have it), so that people can add these things as they wish.
You are ready to serve!!!
Pad Thai allows a variety of veggies, if you so like. You can indeed skip the tofu; you can add in mushrooms – straw mushrooms, button mushrooms, shiitake mushrooms… etc. Baby corn is good. Bok choy… The mung bean sprouts and the tamarind and the peanuts (cashew if you can’t do peanut) seem to be a given. Personally, I limit the sugar, and if I hadn’t been making this for a Thai-specific pot luck with reasonable authenticity, I would have skipped the sugar entirely, and relied on the tamarind alone for sweetness. However, I didn’t find the recipe as given above to be too sweet for me.
If you do use pork, you want to find a really lean cut of pork. Tenderloin would work, but I ended up with a couple very very lean pieces of thick-cut boneless pork chops from Whole Foods, which being on sale made them about the price of regular supermarket pork chops, with a healthier profile. That this pork was pastured probably also increased the lean-ness factor in the meat I used. (There’s a place for pork fat, but this ain’t it…)
For my Paleo readers who don’t want to do peanuts — and for anyone at all remotely allergic or sensitive to peanuts, apparently the most common food allergen around: Several types of tree nuts rip my gut up. Peanuts (which are actually legumes) somehow leave me alone. I don’t like cashews enough to experiment with them in my body. Use cashews if they work for you, it is supposed to be a one to one substitution, and if you have a problem with peanuts and not tree nuts, think about cashews.
Then again, I’m not sure what I’m going to do with the leftover peanuts…
Note: WordPress spell-check balked at “Thai”, “choy”, and “wok”.