Sunday, January 25, 2009

Pad Thai Noodles and Sauce

Price: ~$3.00 (?)
Features: Dry rice noodles, packet of sauce. That's all you get.
Found in: Unrefrigerated prepared food aisle

I have had this box of Trader Joe's Pad Thai sitting in my pantry for at least a year and a half now. I remember being excited when I saw it for the first time at the store. I had just seen an episode of Good Eats in which Alton Brown makes Pad Thai, but unlike his usual recipes, he makes it look insanely complicated. Part of the episode shows him going through an Asian grocery store picking out all kinds of ingredients that, at the time, I had never seen and would not know how to seek out. He tries to convince the viewer that they should step out of their shell and give it a go, but the final product on the show didn't look great. Sorry Alton, I'm sure your recipe is delicious, but it looked flavorless on TV even though so many exotic ingredients went in.

So, back to the boxed version. I was looking for instant gratification, which a heat and eat product should provide. I wanted to have some Pad Thai I had a hand in making, but not cook all day. I planned to go home and make it for dinner the same day I bought it. Why has it taken me over a year to get to eating? Because I neglected to read the extensive list of additional ingredients not included in the box. I was expecting to need to add some chicken or tofu, stir-fry, and have dinner. Not so! Here is what the box suggests you add: Egg, chicken / prawns / tofu, bean sprouts, peanuts, lime wedges, and fresh chiles. Plus, you have to cook or soak the noodles too (I know, not that big a deal, but I was expecting to just add them to a hot pan with the sauce). That certainly took the fire out of my wok, it's like having to go through an additional grocery list just to get all the stuff to make the dish.

Over the past year and a half there have been multiple occassions on which I have considered saying screw it and just eating the noodles with sauce. Sometimes there is nothing else around to eat, ya know? However, several months after I purchased this boxed version, I learned to make my own Pad Thai from scratch. It requires about 3 more ingredients and I can control the flavor, and make a much bigger batch at a low cost. So TJ's Pad Thai sat lonely and unused on the back of the shelf.

Finally, the big day: Today brought a mix of hunger, lack of other food in the house, laziness, and a coincidence in which I happened to have peanuts, cilantro, limes, cabbage, and carrots that needed to be used up. The box and I had a brief stare-down in the pantry, after which I went to the store for 1/4 pound of frozen peeled prawns.

I soaked the noodles in hot water while I sauted the prawns. I should have soaked the noodles longer, because they were not soft enough after the prescribed 5 minutes. Oh well, I went ahead with the cabbage, carrots, and sauce packet. Then I finished it off with some peanuts and cilantro. Here is the finished product:

Sure, looking pretty good, but let's remember that everything but the noodles and sauce had to be purchased separately. I know that a full pound of rice noodles costs about a dollar at the Asian market, here you get about 150g of noodles and a sauce packet for $3+. Anyway, about that sauce packet. The sauce is acceptable, but too sweet for my tastes, and super salty. The box claims to have two servings, but I ate the entire thing myself and I wasn't even that hungry. Mmm, 50% of my daily intake of sodium right there. As I mentioned before I would rather have more control over my sauce, especially since I know it can be made with about 4 ingredients, none of which are that hard to find.

Is Trader Joe's box of Pad Thai the worst thing ever? No. Is it worth the one and a half year wait to consume? Nope. If you want to make Pad Thai, I would suggest finding an easier recipe than Alton's and making it from scratch. You will come out with a better product and be able to take all the credit! And you will have to get to know your way around the Asian market, which opens a whole world of possibilities...just stay away from the strangest gelatenous ones...unless you are into that.

1 comment:

Benita said...

In general, I recommend staying away from any brand of pad thai in a box. As someone with no cooking skills, and a love of thai food, I thought this would be a great and easy solution for me to enjoy thai food on my own. However, after trying multiple brands, I've come to the conclusion that this food really isn't the right thing to be boxed up. It's not easy to put together and microwave. It'll NEVER look like the image on the box. Basically it's a waste of $2-3. If you're lazy, you might as well buy a lean cuisine instead.