Noodling Around the Kitchen
Auntie Rairat works in the kitchen at my family’s restaurant Julia’s Indonesian Kitchen. During meal breaks, she whips up some simple Thai dishes for the staff like this, pad see ew, a standard at Thai restaurants in North America. Auntie Rairat was kind enough to show me how to make it one day. So here it is!
Sweet and Savory Wide Rice Noodles (Pad See Ew)
Churairat Huyakorn used to own a Thai restaurant in Bremerton, WA, and this was one of her most popular dishes. She developed a system for standardizing every order: Per order, she would add 2 dashes fish sauce, 2 drops vinegar, etc. It was a fun task interpreting these amounts, and once that was done I realized this dish is easy to make and tastes fabulous–anyone can give it a whirl. Ideally, purchase fresh rice sheets available at Asian markets so you can cut them to the desired width. If not, the precut ones will do (they tend to be about 1/2-inch wide), and as a last resort, dried rice sticks work as well. Have all the sauces ready before you start cooking as things move very quickly once you get going.
Time: 30 minutes
Makes: 2 servings
1 pound fresh rice sheets, or 7 ounces dried wide rice noodles (it will say XL on the package)
8 ounces meat (chicken, beef, pork, or shrimp) cut into very thin 2- by 1-inch slices (1/2 cup)
1/2 pound Chinese broccoli
1/4 cup canola or other neutral oil
2 teaspoons minced garlic (2 large cloves)
1 1/2 tablespoons fish sauce
2 tablespoons sweet soy sauce
1 tablespoon oyster sauce
1 tablespoon sugar
1 1/2 tablespoons white distilled or rice vinegar
White pepper to taste
Auntie Rairat separating rice noodles in the kitchen of Julia’s Indonesian Kitchen.
Cut rice sheets into 2-inch wide strands and separate them. If using dried noodles, soak them in boiling water for 6 to 8 minutes. You want them soft and pliable but not falling apart. Rinse in cold running water, drain and set aside.
Separate Chinese broccoli into leaf and stem pieces. Cut stems into 2-inch pieces and halve the thicker stems lengthwise as they take longer to cook. In a heatproof bowl, soak vegetables in boiling water for 30 seconds until wilted but not fully cooked. Rinse under cold running water and drain.
Preheat a 14-inch wok or 12-inch skillet over very high heat for about 30 seconds. Swirl in oil to coat the bottom of the wok and heat until smoking. Add the meat followed by garlic. Add 1/2 tablespoon fish sauce to flavor the meat. Stir and cook until meat is no longer pink, about 1 minute. Push meat to one side and crack the eggs in. Let eggs cook undisturbed for about 15 seconds until the whites start to turn opaque then stir to mix with the meat.
Here, the eggs went in after the meat. But if the wok is searing hot, Auntie Rairat prefers to throw in the eggs first. Somehow that day she couldn’t get the wok to heat up to her satisfaction.
Throw in noodles and stir to break them up. Toss to mix noodles with the meat and eggs. Try to spread the noodles around the bottom of the wok to make as much contact with the hot surface as possible. That’s how you get the nice charred noodle bits and the unmistakable “burnt flavor” peculiar to frying in a searing hot wok. Add more oil if noodles start to stick to the wok.
Add remaining fish sauce, sweet soy sauce, oyster sauce, and sugar and use your spatula to spread seasonings over the noodles. Toss quickly to distribute evenly.
Add Chinese broccoli and vinegar, and toss with a couple more flourishes until well mixed and vegetables are cooked through but the stems are still crunchy, about 1 to 2 minutes. Taste and adjust seasonings if necessary. Turn off the heat.
Divide noodles between 2 dinner plates and sprinkle with white pepper. Serve with fish sauce, vinegar, and crushed dried chilies.
To make more servings, rinse wok with hot water (no detergent required) and give it a quick scrub just to remove all the brown bits stuck at the bottom. Give it a quick wipe and set the wok back on the heat to dry completely before carrying on.
For a vegetarian version, skip the meat and add firm tofu, or just have it with egg. One difference: Add the eggs first, then the garlic to prevent it from getting burnt in the ultra-hot wok.
Dark sweet soy sauce gives the noodles color while fish sauce and oyster sauce season the dish. If you can’t find sweet soy sauce, substitute with a mixture of 3 parts soy sauce plus one part brown sugar.
Noodles will get broken if they’re not big enough and if you have a strong fire, the noodles don’t break.