Sunday, March 13, 2011

Pad Thai

How on earth does a low-carber manage to make Pad Thai? Well, I recently discovered kelp noodles. While I appreciate the nutritional profile of shirataki noodles, I'm not crazy about the slimy texture and thus I only like them in soup, such as Pho. On the other hand, I genuinely enjoy the kelp noodles for stir-fries, as they closely resemble rice vermicelli. They are stiff when they come out of the package, but they absorb liquid when you stir-fry them with a little bit of sauce and cook up to a nice al dente texture.

Kelp noodles are virtually zero-carb and zero-calorie, using sodium alginate (a seaweed extract) to form their shape. Sodium alginate is a staple of molecular gastronomy, used widely in spherification. Some well-known dishes which employ this technique include Ferran Adria's liquid olives and his molecular caviar. In the case of kelp noodles, this technique is used to mass-produce an extremely low-calorie and low-carb "pasta". They are a perfect candidate for Pad Thai.

Part of me hates giving a recipe with so many hard-to-find ingredients. Items like dried shrimp and Tianjin preserved vegetable are staples of most Asian markets, but if you do not live near an Asian market, you may be out of luck. Unfortunately I really have no idea what an adequate substitute would be. I think that if you leave them out, it will taste like something is missing. I would just make a different stir-fry if you do not have access to exotic ingredients; this one was quite good.

There seems to be some debate over the "correct" way to use dried shrimp: to soak or not to soak? Chop, grind, or leave whole? I decided not to soak, and to pulse them in my spice grinder until I had a coarse, fluffy powder. 

Serves 1-2

  • 1 boneless skinless chicken breast, cut into bite-sized slices
  • 1 package kelp noodles; rinsed, dried, and separated
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 Tbs rice or cider vinegar
  • 2 tsp fish sauce (I use Three Crabs brand)
  • 2 Tbs dried baby shrimp (choose a brand with no added sugar), ground or finely chopped
  • 3 Tbs salted cabbage, such as Tianjin preserved vegetable
  • 2 Tbs crushed roasted peanuts, plus extra for garnish (can substitute cashews if you are strict about avoiding legumes)
  • 1 tsp chili powder
  • Palm sugar, honey, Splenda, or other sweetener, to taste. I used 2 tsp. 2 Tbs would probably be closer to a traditional Thai flavor; 2 tsp was just enough to balance out the salty flavors. You could probably get away with using less if you are used to not-sweet food.
  • 1 cup bean sprouts, rinsed and dried well
  • 1 small bunch Chinese chives, cut into 2" lengths
  • 1 egg, beaten
  • Coconut oil or other fat of choice
  • Lime wedges and sriracha sauce for serving
  1. Ensure that all of your ingredients are prepped, measured, and ready to go; this is key to the success of the dish.
  2. Stir-fry the chicken in hot oil over medium-high until just cooked. Set aside.
  3. Heat more oil in the same wok or skillet that you used for the chicken. Add the noodles, tossing to detangle.
  4. Add the garlic, vinegar, fish sauce, dried shrimp, and cabbage. Stir-fry for about 2 minutes, tossing the whole time.
  5. Add the crushed peanuts, chili powder, and sweetener. Continue tossing and stir-frying for another 2 minutes. 
  6. Quickly mix in the chives, chicken, and bean sprouts. Cook until the bean sprouts are slightly soft. 
  7. Push the noodles to the sides of the wok or skillet, leaving a hole in the middle. Add a bit of extra oil. Add the beaten egg and scramble until just done. 
  8. Push the noodles back on top of the egg and invert onto a serving bowl so that the egg is on top.
  9. Sprinkle with extra crushed peanuts and serve with lime wedges and sriracha sauce.


    Joob said...

    OMG I am buying kelp noodles on amazon right now. Seriously... I am in awe. They taste ok? I have been missing noodles desperately.

    Erica said...

    I can only vouch for the brand that I linked, but they honestly had no taste or smell! They absorb some of whatever sauce you stir-fry them with and take on that flavor. My husband had no idea that they were low-carb. I think they'd be a lot better with Asian-y stir-fries rather than Italian pasta, since they're really similar to rice noodles.

    christina said...

    That olive video was really cool!! And i WISH i could find those noodles at my local asian market..they don't carry them, doh.

    Leah said...

    I couldn't find the noodles, either, so I substituted julienned zucchini cooked al dente. It was delicious.

    Erica said...

    @christina: I found them at a local health food store actually!

    @Leah: Glad to hear it worked out for you! I love veggie "noodles". I might try it sometime just using lots of bean sprouts instead of kelp noodles.

    Anonymous said...

    I finally found these in the refrigerated case at Roots Market, and I am so glad I did. They do have a funny smell right out of the package - very strong iodine smell - but after they are rinsed, they lose some of that, and once they are cooked and absorb some of the flavorings in the recipe, they taste TERRIFIC! Thank you so much for alerting me to the existence of these noodles - I love Asian cuisine, so this is a fabulous find.

    Erica said...

    @Anon, so glad that it worked out for you!

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