Friday, October 28, 2016

Pad See Ew (ผัดซีอิ๊ว)

This dish is a favorite in Thai restaurants everywhere and the CC has spent plenty of money on it in increasingly dubious renditions. It was time to take the bull by the horns (or the wok by the handle) and get it right.

There is one massive hurdle that all home chefs are going to have to jump over. Your stove (and the CC's too!) simply don't generate enough heat. They don't pump out enough BTU's. There is no way to recover from this and compare your dish with the street food that it is. You'll get a very good approximation but you'll never match the street.

(If you happen to have one of those professional ranges, the CC is jealous as all hell.)

There is another thought that the CC has had on and off over the years.

The CC was near Chinatown for jury duty when he thought that he should he make this recipe. He did pick up one or two of the ingredients that he was missing. It would've been effortless to pick up the Chinese broccoli since it was plentiful and cheap. However, the CC knew that he had a ton of kale with splendid stalks in his fridge.

It's very easy to just duplicate a recipe but in order to get to the next level and understand its internal grammar, you must understand what makes it really tick.

This recipe is street food. Do you genuinely believe they care about anything more than what makes them a profit and what is locally available?

There is a secondary point. The first time the CC made it for himself (solo siempre solamente solo), he fucked up so spectacularly that it was embarrassing. What was interesting was that even though the noodles were absolutely inedible, the chicken, kale, eggs and sauce were absolutely delicious. Noodles got discarded and the rest was more amazing than any restaurant could make.

So the flavors had been nailed but the texture had some issues. No problem. Tried a few days later. Got there.

(On a related note, why don't food writers talk about their failures? Failures are vastly more instructive than success.)

The dish literally just means "stir-fried with soy sauce". Its name betrays its Chinese origins. You'll see the same dish as char kway teow in Singapore and Malaysia or lard na in Laos. However, just with a few tweaks, the dish has been made "Thai" and it's truly amazing how such small tweaks can make a dish "native". It also points out how immigrants have made cuisine richer through cross-pollination.

There's a massive difference between Chinese broccoli and anything else you could use. It's softer and eminently workable as a stir-fry.

Kale would work as would just regular broccoli. What would totally kill would be broccoli rabe. The trick for the home cook since they don't have the heat for the wok is to make sure the stalks and the florets have the right texture. French chefs have been dealing with this forever. It's called par-boiling. The CC will give you the general parameters but for once you will have to par-boil for yourself. Early winter kale is very different from later winter stalk-y kale. There is no way to standardize. Just par-boil until the stuff is "barely chewy" and then drain, dry completely before you stir-fry.

For the record, the kale slayed. The CC's intuition was absolutely on target. The darker slightly more bitter taste held up much more to the sweetness and umami of the stir-fry and made it vastly more interesting. The balance of flavors corresponds to the Thai ideal.

Lunch is served.


(serves 1 - read note about scaling)

rice noodles (sen yai)

1 cup Chinese broccoli (gai lan)

1-2 cloves garlic (minced)
1/4 cup chicken (sliced against the grain)
1 egg (beaten)

1 tbsp dark soy sauce
1/2 tbsp light soy sauce
1/2 tbsp fish sauce
1/2 tbsp oyster sauce
black pepper

peanut oil

Note 1: Make sure that the total "wet" sauce is no more than 2 1/2 tbsp per serving. You will never get your home wok hot enough to counter that. This is IMPORTANT.

Note 2: Because of the above, you may need to use salt to balance out the sugar. Normally, you'd just use more soy sauce or fish sauce but it's not going to work if you make the stuff wetter than necessary.

Note 3: This ain't no "health dish". You'll need to add some extra oil so that the stuff doesn't stick.

Note 4: The max "scaling" for a home cook is 2 portions. There is just no way to get the wok hotter and make it work. You'll have to clean the wok and start over for more.

Note 5: The original recipe calls for "white pepper". It's a Thai aesthetic thing except this particular sauce is black. Ain't no one that got time for such shenanigans. Just use black pepper finely ground.

Note 6: The rice noodles (unless fresh which are hard to get) must be par-boiled according to the instructions. They must be drained, dried and separated.

Note 7: They also add carrots sliced very thin (stir-fry, stir-fry!) steeply on the diagonal. Highly recommended not just for the color pop but also the taste and nutrition.

Note 8: This is a stir-fry. The drier you get your ingredients, the more success you will have. Invest in paper towels.

Note 9: Thank you, David Thompson.


The recipe is quite straightforward but do try and follow it. Make sure everything is diced and ready to in quickly.

Mix all the sauces in a container. Taste. Modify according to what you like.

Heat the wok. Just let it heat for at least 5-7 minutes.

Add 1-2 tbsp peanut oil. When it is shimmering, add the garlic and immediately add the chicken. Stir quickly. Add the egg and mix it up. Push it to the edge of the wok. Add the stalks first and fry for a bit. Then the leaves. Push everything to the edge.

Add the rice noodles which have been par-cooked. Stir and separate. You may need to use your hands and add an extra 1-2 tbsp of peanut oil.

Let the mixture stir for a while. Once the noodles have caramelized a bit, add the sauces and stir-fry for a minute or two. Serve at once.

This recipe has no shelf life.


Unknown said...

We've been doing a mee goreng dish basically the same way. Only two portions at a time and little sauce to keep it hot. I had trouble getting the noodles to fry properly. Ultimately decided to dump the stir fried vegetables onto a plate and fry the noodles by themselves for 1-2 minutes to coat them with oil and separate them. Then add the other pieces back in and mix it up. Worked well.

ShockingSchadenfreude said...

This is why I love the comments section.

This is a wonderful wonderful comment. Love it!!!

Will try and expand what he/she said.

You can stir-fry different parts and put them in separate vessels to cool off. Then at the last minute stir-fry them together and serve at once.

Yes, this will work. It takes a LOT more dishes and a lot more work but yes, the idea is fundamentally sound.