This afternoon at work, pad thai noodles seemed like a good dinner idea. I had most of the ingredients, I’d only have to stop by the store for cilantro, bean sprouts and tofu. But as five o’clock neared, drinks took precedence. I rarely go out with coworkers, and never in midtown, but what the heck, I had the next day off.
But being midtown–we were checking out the newly opened Chemist Club around the block (this was formerly Britney Spears’s short lived Nyla, if you recall)–I could really only swing two drinks. And that’s the weird part. $22 and two pinot noirs (Willamette Valley, of course) later, I was drunk. Whenever I set out on a night of serious drinking I can down 5-6 cocktails before feeling properly punchy. There’s something about weeknights, imbibing when it’s still light out, being in the company of work mates instead of friend friends, I don’t know, that seems to accelerate the effects of alcohol.
Shopping for even three ingredients had lost its appeal on the way home. I walked in the door, starving and a little loopy, and it was only 7:30pm. More drinks seemed in order, so I dug up some hard cider left over from my birthday party a few weekends before. Now food seemed dire, but pad thai wasn’t going to work right anymore.
However, I did have most of the ingredients for pad kee mao, a.k.a. drunken noodles. Perfect. I would do a bastardized hybrid that might bother me any other night because I’m a rule follower, but when you’re hungry, desperate, and well, drunk, rules can be bent. I threw together the following in an attempt to approximate something mildly authentic while using up leftovers.
And besides, drunken noodles are named as such, not because they contain any alcohol, but because they are crazy spicy and a good companion for beer. What could be better on an unexpectedly tipsy Thursday night?
1/2 lb. rice noodles (thick is better, but any will do)
1/2 lb. large shrimp (luckily they were already shelled, I didn’t bother to devein, but did slice them in half)
15 thai chiles, chopped
1 head of garlic, chopped
2 tbs. peanut oil
1/2 cup red onion (should’ve used shallots, and did have some, but they’re a pain to peel and all my energy had already done to prepping the garlic)
2 tbs. oyster sauce
1 tsp. sugar
2 tbs. fish sauce
1 tbs. green peppercorns (if they’re in brine like mine, rinse well and drain)
2 big handfuls of spinach (this is very wrong, but I didn’t have basil like you should for drunken noodles or cilantro like for pad thai. I did have a bunch of spinach that was going to go bad if I didn’t use it pronto, and who couldn’t use more iron in their diet?)
1 tbs. chile radish (for pad thai you can use salted radish, which I didn’t have on hand, but chile radish is awesome if you love that hot preserved flavor that isn’t really Thai at all. I put chile radish in places it doesn’t belong all the time)
Soak rice noodles in warm water for 30 minutes or so.
While noodles soak, pound garlic and chiles in mortar and pestle to a nice pulp. Cilantro stems should also be in this mix, but I didn’t have any.
Heat wok on high, add oil, then the garlic-chile puree. Toss in the red onions/shallots too. Cook for a little less than a minute.
Add shrimp (you can use all sorts of seafood, but I happened to have frozen shrimp). Cook until shrimp turns pink, then sprinkle the oyster sauce, fish sauce and sugar.
Mix in noodles. Cook for about a minute. Try to get out the clumps.
Add green peppercorns, chile radish and spinach, and try not to be annoyed that the nice holy basil and scent and flavor is lacking.
Makes about four servings, less if you are very hungry.
Very roughly adapted from Dancing Shrimp, by Kasma Loha-Unchit. Simon & Schuster (2000)