Pad Thai

Makes 2 LARGE servings or 3 servings

1/3 cup (83mL) plain vegetable oil

8 ounces (230g) 2-3 millimeters wide dried rice noodles, prepared as instructed

2/3 cup (~166mL) Pad Thai sauce, prepared as instructed

1 tablespoon (14mL) shrimp paste in oil (มันกุ้งเสวย) (optional)

2 large cloves (8g) garlic, peeled and finely chopped

1 medium shallot (18g), peeled and finely chopped

1/4 cup (24g) finely-chopped preserved radishes

1/4 cup (8g) shell-on small dried shrimp -- the kind specified here

3/4 cup (100g) the firmest tofu you can find, prepared as instructed

220g (1/2 lb) large (31-35/lb) shrimp, peeled and deveined

2 large eggs, cracked into a bowl

6-7 stalks of Chinese chives

2 cups (110g) bean sprouts

Garnishes and extras:

Sugar, dried red pepper flakes, fish sauce, and fresh limes

Chopped dry-roasted peanuts

Extra bean sprouts, soaked in acidulated water (to keep them fresh and crunchy)

Chinese chive stalks

Banana blossom, prepared as instructed

Cut the chive blades into 1-inch pieces; reserve the bottom parts of the stalks to eat with the finished dish (see this post for explanation).

Set over medium-high heat a flat pan (preferably well-seasoned cast iron pan or nonstick paella pan), no smaller than 14 inches wide. Add half of the vegetable oil to the pan when it's hot.

Immediately add the noodles to the hot oil, followed by the sauce (if you want to add the shrimp in oil to the dish, add it to the pan now along with the sauce); stir constantly (this is much easier done with two spatulas). Keep the noodles moving all the time.

After about 30-40 seconds, with the tips of your spatulas, you should be able to feel that the noodles have softened up considerably. At this point, push them to one side and add the remaining vegetable oil to the empty side of the pan.

Add the garlic, shallot, dried shrimp, tofu, preserved radishes, and shrimp.

We have now reached the critical point of the process. Those who pray, pray hard. Those who don't, take a deep breath and focus. The task before you is do whatever you can to: 1. keep the noodles moving almost constantly to keep them from burning or forming excessive crust at the bottom, 2. get the shrimp to cook about 1/2 way through, and 3. keep all the small bits of stuff in the pan from burning (those around the perimeter tend to burn first). In other words, I'm asking you to focus your attention really hard and solely on the pan as a single unit while multitasking on all of its subsets. I'm sure that makes no sense. But oh, such is life.

Once the shrimp is turning a bit opaque on both sides and all the small bits are getting brown, make a well in the middle into which you add the eggs.

Break and scramble the eggs with the tip of your spatulas; let them cook undisturbed on one side before flipping and breaking them into smaller pieces, keeping an eye on the other members of the pan the whole time, especially the noodles.

By the time the eggs are cooked: 1. the shrimp should be fully, but not overly, cooked, 2. the noodles are soft and chewy, 3. the sauce has been entirely absorbed into the noodles, and the little bits have crisped up and caramelized.

Turn off the heat immediately.

Add two handfuls of chive-bean sprout mixture to the pan and give it all a quick but gentle stir. We want to wilt the bean sprouts and chives while getting all the little bits thoroughly interspersed into the noodles. Your Pad Thai is now done. You can serve it immediately, or you can let it cool for 8-10 minutes in the pan (which, in my opinion, is when Pad Thai is at its best).

Top with 2-3 tablespoons of chopped peanuts per serving. Place a wedge of banana blossom and chive stalks on the side. Season to taste off the pan with extra fish sauce, lime juice, sugar, and dried red pepper flakes as necessary.