Gai Pad Pak: Sesame Chicken & Vegetables

I adapted this recipe from Pojanee Vatanapan's Thai Cookbook. She grew up in south central Thailand, the youngest daughter of a Thai family of ten, and says she began helping her mother in cooking and shopping at a very young age. After growing up she moved to New York City where she now owns and operates two very popular restaurants on Manhattan's Upper West Side. Her book is one of my favorite Thai cookbooks.

Pad pak is Thai for stir fried (pad) vegetables (pak). Gai means chicken, but like most Asian recipes you can instead use shrimp (kung or goong), pork (moo) or beef (neua or nuea) if you prefer. I often switch the meat in Asian recipes for variety or because that's what I have on hand.

I love the unique aroma and distinctive flavor that sesame oil gives to this dish. It has a reputation of having a very strong taste and is often used only a few drops at a time as a seasoning added near the end of cooking. I was surprised that the sesame oil didn't overpower this recipe, and in fact I intend to use more the next time I cook gai pad pak. You should use the dark sesame oil made from toasted sesame seeds, the kind most often used in Asian cooking. I used Kadoya brand (Japanese) but probably any Asian sesame oil should be fine. If you're not sure you'll like it you should probably use a bit less the first time you cook this recipe.

These amounts are suitable for 4 servings.

½ C. Shitake mushrooms (or white/button mushrooms)
½ C. all-purpose flour
2 t. salt
2 t. ground pepper
1½ lbs. boneless skinless chicken, cut into bite sized strips
½ C. sesame oil
1 C. Napa cabbage (celery cabbage), cut into bite sized chuncks
1 C. bok choy, stems and leaves cut into 1½" pieces
1 medium red bell pepper, julienned
¾ C. canned baby corn, 30 count size (or use 20 count size cut in half lengthwise)
1 C. fresh snow peas
¾ C. chicken stock
2 T. fish sauce (nam pla)
1 T. sugar
2 T. cornstarch
cilantro leaves for garnish

1. Combine flour, salt and pepper in a mixing bowl, then toss the chicken pieces in the mixture until they are evenly coated.

2. Using a wok or large frying pan warm the sesame oil over medium to medium-high heat until the oil just begins to smoke. Be careful to not let it get any hotter or you'll burn the oil. Add the chicken pieces and stir fry them several minutes until the pieces are lightly browned on all sides.

3. Add mushrooms, Napa cabbage, bok choy and bell peppers. Stir the mixture until all the pieces are evenly coated with pan juices.

4. Add corn and snow peas, then continue stir frying for another 2 to 3 minutes.

5. Add fish sauce, sugar and chicken stock, then stir until everything is evenly mixed. Reduce the heat to medium and simmer for a few minutes.

6. While the food is simmering mix the cornstarch with about ¼ C. warm water until it is evenly blended. Add part of the cornstarch mixture to the pan and continue simmering until the sauce begins to thicken, using more cornstarch mixture if necessary.

7. Continue simmering another 5-6 minutes until chicken is tender, but stop before the vegetables are overcooked.

8. Transfer to a warm serving dish and sprinkle cilantro leaves over the top.

Suggestion: As usual, serve over steamed Thai jasmine rice or other white rice.

Credit: Adapted from Pojanee Vatanapan's Thai Cookbook.

Filed under Poultry   Tagged Thai, chicken, stir fried, dinner