I love Thai food so much that I often wonder if I was Thai in a past life. I often joke about this, but according to my DNA ancestry, my maternal haplogroup F, is predominantly found in Thailand, so this actually may not be that far from the truth. Can DNA really influence flavor preferences?
While I have different favorites for different moods, this is a lunchtime staple in my house. The name Pad Kee Mao (ผัดขี้เมา) literally translates to “Fried Drunkard”, but rest assured there were no alcoholics harmed in making this dish. Nor does it include any alcohol (though that may not be a bad idea). In all likelihood the name, refers to the random assortment of ingredients that looks like it was assembled by a boozer, or perhaps the fact that it goes so well with a beer. Whatever the case, the dish is pretty versatile and a great way to clean up odds and ends in your fridge.
As the name sounds it’s not the most elegant dish, but its lack of refinement is what makes it so viscerally good. The seemingly random assortment of vegetables all contribute something to the dish whether it’s the crisp sweetness of the onions, the crunch of the baby corn, or the tangy juiciness of the tomatoes. The green peppercorns add a satisfying heat, while contributing to the herbaceas perfume of the Thai basil. Last, but not least, the noodles have an addictively chewy texture, absorbing the intensely savory and pleasantly sweet sauce like a thirsty sponge.
I used chicken breast for this because that’s what I had on hand, but you could really make this with just about any protein including pork, beef, shrimp, tofu, or seitan. Regardless of what protein you choose, marinating it first with soy sauce and potato starch not only seasons it, it keeps the protein moist and tender by gelling the juices and preventing them from leaking out all over the pan.
The prep work does take a bit of time to get everything cut and ready, but this is important to do ahead of time. The stir-fry goes very fast and will burn if the next ingredient isn’t at the ready when you need it.
For Pad Kee Mao sauce
- Rehydrate the noodles in room temperature water for 2 hours. You can also rehydrate them with boiling water in about 10 minutes but you'll need to stir them gently to keep them from sticking together.
- Add the chicken breast (or your choice of protein) to a bowl along with the soy sauce and then stir to combine. Add the potato starch and mix well to combine. Let this marinate while you prepare the other ingredients.
- Make the sauce by stirring together the fish sauce, oyster sauce, sugar and rice vinegar until combined.
- Heat a frying pan or wok over medium-high heat until hot and then add 1 tablespoon of oil and swirl to coat the pan. Add the chicken and spread it out in a single layer to let it brown on one side. Stir-fry until the chicken is cooked through and then transfer it to a clean bowl, leaving as much oil in the pan as possible.
- Add the garlic and fry until fragrant.
- Add the eggs and then scramble.
- When the eggs are almost cooked, add another tablespoon of oil, along with the onion, baby corn, bell pepper, carrot and green peppercorns. Fry until the onions are translucent but still crisp.
- Add the rehydrated noodles and stir fry until the noodles take on some color.
- Add the sauce and stir-fry until the noodles are evenly coated and the liquid has been absorbed.
- Return the chicken to the pan and add the tomatoes and basil. Quickly stir-fry to reheat the chicken and wilt the basil.
- Serve immediately.
* It's worth noting that Pad Kee Mao is traditionally made with Holy Basil, which has a different fragrance from the purple Thai Basil I use, but Thai Basil is easier to find and I personally like the way it tastes better.