Last week, Mark Bittman posted a recipe at the New York Times for Pad Thai, called “Pad Thai Doesn’t Have to Be Takeout.” It was supposed to make a complex dish sound easy, and to some extent it succeeded — and it made me very, very hungry for Pad Thai. I love Pad Thai, and anything that would make it an easier meal at home would probably save me dozens of dollars.
So last night, C and I set out to make it. We bought all the necessary ingredients — the only thing I had on hand was rice vinegar, eggs, garlic, and peanut oil — between Trader Joe’s and Market of Choice: tamarind paste, fish sauce, honey, scallions, napa cabbage, tofu, and cilantro. I have a hatred of bean sprouts, so they didn’t make the cut; we also compromised on a half-head of napa cabbage, since C’s enthusiasm for it wasn’t high.
C was in charge of the sauce, while I worked on the noodles and generally making a mess of chopping things (scallions, for instance). When he got the 1/4 cup of tamarind paste from its little jar, we were both a little surprised at its thickness — sort of like boiled, dark honey. “I might add a little less,” he said, and I agreed that sounded like a good idea.
Skip to the end: The result was awful. C choked down about 2/3 of a dish; I gave up after three bites. It was terribly bitter and tangy — just overwhelmed by the tamarind. The sauce wasn’t the pretty light brown in the Bittman picture, but instead a thick, dark brown, like you might see in Chinese dishes — except, of course, Chinese dishes taste good.
At first, we thought the culprit was our tamarind paste — the container said “tamarind paste concentrate” on the front, so we thought, OK, maybe we shouldn’t have bought the concentrate, or should have used less. On further investigation, though, the Internet says that “Tamarind concentrate, also called tamarind paste, is a pure concentrate of tamarind,” so I don’t think it was us.
I think it was Bittman. Here’s my proof:
New York Times recipe from last week contains:
4 ounces fettuccine-width rice stick noodles
1/4 cup peanut oil
1/4 cup tamarind paste
1/4 cup fish sauce (nam pla)
1/3 cup honey
2 tablespoons rice vinegar
1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes, or to taste
1/4 cup chopped scallions
1 garlic clove, minced
1 small head Napa cabbage, shredded (about 4 cups)
1 cup mung bean sprouts
1/2 pound peeled shrimp, pressed tofu or a combination
1/2 cup roasted peanuts, chopped
1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro
2 limes, quartered.
Bittman’s original recipe in How to Cook Everything:
12 ounces dried flat rice noodles, 1/4 inch thick
5 tablespoons peanut or neutral oil, like grapeseed or corn
3 eggs, lightly beaten
4 garlic cloves, minced
4 ounces small shrimp, peeled
4 ounces pressed tofu, or extra-firm tofu, blotted dry, sliced
2 scallions, cut into 1-inch lengths
1 cup bean sprouts, rinsed and trimmed
2 tablespoons nam pla (Thai fish sauce)
2 teaspoons tamarind paste or ketchup
2 teaspoons sugar
1/4 cup chopped peanuts
1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro leaves
2 small fresh green chiles, preferably Thai, seeded and sliced (optional)
1 lime, cut into wedges
The tamarind has more than doubled for a recipe using 1/3 as many noodles! Either something has happened to break Mark Bittman’s tastebuds, or there’s a serious typo in the new recipe that’s gone uncorrected despite being one of the top ten most e-mailed articles for the last four days. Or, alternate to all of that, we messed up the recipe in some secret way that I have yet to discover.
We saved the leftovers, and will experiment with diluting it tonight or tomorrow. I would like to make Pad Thai at home. Just — not this Pad Thai.