Saturday, February 2, 2008

Dear Pim,

Imagine my surprise, after browsing your excellent food blog, Chez Pim, to find that we share some friends. Charming couple, adorable child, live in Oakland. She a good cook herself. You know—those guys. Shortly after I began my blog, my friend remarked, "Oh, you should look at my friend Pim's site." Pim? As in Chez Pim? I already had and was in serious awe. My friends insisted that you are as charming, smart, and kind as one might think. And so I am hoping you will help me.

You see, after reading your blog for a while I finally decided to cook something from it. What better to start with than pad thai for beginners? I was delighted that your recipe did not include ingredients like catsup, and I was able to find tamarind pulp containing nothing else but tamarind and water (although I was suspicious of the thai market I shopped at because it had something called hot crab paste in three different places in the store).

I had all my ingredients prepped and in a row and thought I was in business.

I cooked the chicken, in a little oil, with a little of the sauce. Smelled heavenly. I added the drained rice noodles, which I had soaked in hot water for about ten minutes. I moved them deftly about the wok, as instructed. And kept moving them. And moving them.

And . . . Houston, we've got a problem.

The noodles stayed tough—like half-cooked spaghetti. Which put me into damage control mode. I poured cup after cup of water into the wok in effort to soften up the noodles.

I realized that this was no longer pad thai, but I was trying to rescue something I could serve for dinner.

This did soften the noodels but not before turning the entire concoction into a big gloppy mess. Soldiering on (there were no other alternatives available for dinner, and my family kept remarking from the other room "Smells good! We're hungry!"), I added the other ingredients and served the glop.

Husband and Sophie were good sports, and we all agreed the flavors were right on. But the texture was just . . . well, you can see for yourself. Husband used the work gluey.

So Pim, I really want to make this again and will truly try to find fresh noodles (this being the bay area, I should be able to find anything, right?), but I really want to know what went wrong? In case it helps, here are the noodles I bought.

I appreciate any advice you can offer.


p.s. Our mutual friend and I were all set to try your quince caramels, but alas we waited too long and the quinces are gone. Can you recommend another fruit to try this with?


Anonymous said...

I've found that most dried pad thai noodles taste the best when they have soaked for a longer time--like an hour--in room temperature water. If you don't soak them long enough, you end up with chewy noodles, and it's usually better not to use boiling hot water.

AKR said...

Oh Cindy, I can understand the panic of a dish that looks to be a disaster but you're trying to save so heartily. Your noodles still look good to me though! If not for my mom, I would never know that you have to soak these rice noodles in water (separate from your main dish) for quite a while. Anonymous said 1 hour. I would give it about that. The noodles should already feel soft by the time you're ready to cook with the rest of the ingredients, and you shouldn't have to cook it very long then. Give it a try again!

Cindy said...

Thanks for the advice! I've got another package of these noodles, so I'll try giving them a longer soak.

Pim said...

What you think we "famous bloggess" google our own name so often we'd come across a post like this without you telling us? ...oh, wait a minute....

Ha. Kidding. Though I did technorati myself, and found this post.

Poor you! In defense of my recipe, though, I must point out you used the wrong kind of noodle. I know the packet did say Rice Noodle....welcome to the confusing world of Asian food packaging and labeling! Your noodle is vietnamese rice sticks, which are closer in shape to spaghetti than the Sen Lek noodle commonly referred to as Pad Thai noodle, which looks more like fettuccine, as in flattish instead of roundish.

I suggest going to Berkeley Bowl, they have Pad Thai noodle for sure. It's hard to say how long to soak exactly, as different brands of noodle will react differently - owing to the lack of standardization in Asian ingredients. The key is to soak them until they are soft but not mushy, until you can almost eat it uncooked, but not really.

If you run into the same problem again, instead of adding cups and cups of water which will ultimately turn it into soup, try adding a smaller amount of water, just enough to wet everything, and then cover the wok and let it steam. The steam will do a better job cooking and softening the noodle than the water.

By the way, our common friends are not just regular friends, you know, they are some of the dearest friends I have in the world, so, of course, they'd be a little biased when it comes to me. ;-)

Here's to better luck next time!


pim said...

Oh, and for the caramels, try making it with any fruit syrup you have. Anything very fragrant that stands up to long cooking. Perhaps some sort of citrus?

Another blogger just made a Sichuan peppercorn and Kamquat caramels based loosely on my recipe. Sounds fab, no?

Cindy said...

Oh, thank you, Pim!! I was suspicious of those noodles and am relieved to know they were the cause of my catastrophe. I'm looking forward to trying your recipe (and others on Chez Pim) soon.

Those mutual friends are indeed wonderful people. Lucky us!