Did you know that you can’t get chicken fingers in a Thai restaurant? Neither did I.
Back in 2008, I embarked on a 10-day road trip up the Californian coast with three of my best girlfriends. We swam in the crystal clear water of the Pacific, played it cool when we spotted a celeb or two, had our rental car towed, shat our pants as Rachel gunned it down the narrow and windy hills of the west coast with the confidence of a race car driver, enjoyed amazing meals and martinis, but mostly, we enjoyed our time together.
It’s not often you find friends that can get along for 10 days in cramped quarters, living out of one small suitcase suit case each. Um, or one Hugh Jass suitcase if you were me. (Sorry, guys!)
For the most party, we got along famously, although the always positive Rachel got a little cranky with us toward the end. (Admit it!)
I don’t blame her, though.
I would be cranky, too, if I had to spend 10 days in a car with me in the backseat, complaining about the wind ruining my hair, not being able to actually hear anything because of that damn wind, and me crying and yelling to “SLOW DOWN!” like the unadventurous grandma I am, as she weaved in and out of the streets at a speed meant only for space ships.
One thing’s for sure: we never stopped laughing. To this day, we still reminisce about this trip, vowing to do again someday. But next time, we will get our chicken fingers.
Chicken Pad Thai
Adapted from Brownies for Dinner
1/2 pound chicken, cut into small pieces
5 garlic cloves, minced and divided
1/4 C soy sauce, plus 3 tbsp
8 ounces dried, wife, flat, linguine-style noodles
2 tbsp brown sugar
2 tbsp fresh lime juice, plus wedges for serving
3 tbsp soy sauce
2 tsp vegetable oil
1 bunch scallions thinly sliced
2 large eggs, light beaten
1/2 cup fresh cilantro, chopped
1/4 cup chopped roasted, salted peanuts
Marinate chicken with 1/4 C soy sauce and 3 cloves of garlic overnight or at least four hours.
Cook chicken over medium heat until cooked through. Set aside.
Cook noodles according to package instructions. Drain.
In a small bowl, whisk together brown sugar, lime juice, and remaining soy sauce.
In a large nonstick skillet or wok, heat vegetable oil over medium-high heat.
Add remaining garlic and scallions, stirring constantly, until fragrant. Add eggs, stirring gently and constantly, until scrambled.
Add noodles and sauce to skillet, and toss until coated. Add chicken and continue to toss.
Remove from heat and garnish with cilantro, peanuts, and lime wedges.
Late one night after a few too many libations, we were walking back to our hotel. After a few pictures with our new homeless friends and $20 of charity later, we decided to grab some late night food. Naturally, we snuck into the nearest joint that was still serving food. It turned out to be a Chinese take out place that was just about shutting down for the night.
We looked at the menu, perplexed. We didn’t see any chicken fingers. We were even more perplexed when we asked for some, and we were told they didn’t serve them.
WHAT THE WHAT?!
Boisterous and hungry, we were sure they heard us wrong. Raising our voices to that decibel reserved for talking to people who speak a different language (Read: they aren’t deaf, but you act as if. You know what I’m talking about.) we demanded our chicken fingers over and over. And every time they told us “we no serve no chicken finga,” we asked again. All the while, paying no mind to Colleen explaining to us that we were in a Thai restaurant, not a Chinese restaurant. Col couldn’t be bothered by our obnoxious and unfilled requests for chicken fingers. Nothing was getting between her and her pad Thai.
Defeated, we went back to the hotel. I can’t remember if Rach and I got something in lieu of the chicken fingers, but I do remember Col quickly changing into her pajamas, and taking her pad thai to a corner. With her back to us, she told us she wanted to be alone with her meal. I do think I recall some noodle flinging that night before bed.
She has always taken her pad Thai very seriously and has always sang its praises. For whatever reason, I’d never even given it a chance. After all, we aren’t big on pasta or noodles in this house, and pad Thai is essentially a big plate of just that. Recently, I tried a bite of another friend’s pad Thai when we were in NYC. As soon as I tasted her dish, my pork wontons didn’t seem as appealing. I went back for multiple forkfuls of those luscious, garlicky, peanutty noodles.
I couldn’t stop thinking about pad Thai. I let Colleen know immediately that I totally understood her need to be alone in the corner three years ago with with her pad Thai. I had to have it again. And it had to be now. And did she have a recipe? She told me that she didn’t mess with pad Thai. The old, “if it ain’t broke don’t fix it” thing. She told me she doesn’t mess with perfection. She’s totally wise and stuff. But my craving was not to be squashed. I had to find a recipe.
After shuffling through many recipes I printed out, I settled on the one you see here, for it’s short, simple ingredient list and its ease. Baby steps, folks. I knew I couldn’t replicate exactly what I experienced when I popped my pad Thai cherry, but I got pretty close for my first attempt.
Although it’s certainly not authentic and maybe less traditional, it hit the spot. I loved the garlicky punch and the crunchy peanuts. I added the chicken to up the protein, but you could substitute shrimp, tofu, or just omit.
And now, if Colleen ever decides to make her own pad Thai, she has this recipe as a starting point.
Best served in California, in the corner of a hotel room, among intoxicated friends.