Cook This: Dale Talde’s Bacon Oyster Pad Thai is Proudly InauthenticJuly 7, 2017
Authenticity can be a highly a loaded term, especially in the context of food. In the midst of the food world’s obsession with ingesting only what’s “real”, you’ll find an increasing number of folks asking: what constitutes being authentic in the first place, especially when most everything today have themselves been brought about with a number of multicultural influences? What if veering from tradition and mixing elements from different cultures produces equally great (if not better) food? Instead of fearing change and evolution (which can only discourage other chefs from trying out other ways of cooking), some will argue that you may as well embrace it. Among them is Chef Dale Talde, former Top Chef contestant and eponymous owner of the restaurant Talde in Brooklyn, New York, who shares bits of his story, philosophy, and recipes in the 2015 book Asian-American: Proudly Inauthentic Recipes from the Philippines to New York.
Born in Chicago, Illinois but to a true-blue Filipino family, Talde would grow up a classic case of an immigrant child ultimately just searching for acceptance. Sure, he grew up eating Filipino fare (for the most part—though he admits his mom’s cooking was more a Filipino-American approximation of it with ingredients more readily available to them in the United States) and spent most of his time around fellow Asian Americans (who, like him, would partake of their native cuisine when at home). Deep inside though, as Talde shares in the book’s intro, he held a surprising fascination with—of all things—Western fast food, which he admits to looking forward to indulging in when not in the company of his mother’s prying eyes. “I grew up infatuated with burgers, pizza, fried chicken, and tacos because they had the thrill of the forbidden,” he writes. “It’s not that we didn’t want to be Filipino. We just badly wanted to be American, or at least find a way to fit in.”
As he made the decision to go the culinary route and enroll at the Culinary Institute of America, however, the Filipino side of him would emerge as he found himself missing one thing among the beurre blanc and velouté and blanquette de veau: rice. And while he did not deliberately set out to specialize in cooking Asian cuisine, he would constantly be assigned to take care of Asian dishes—dumplings, tempura, the works—in his first few jobs, being the one “Chino” (read: Asian) chef in the group. (Ah, stereotypes.) Though he didn’t necessarily know how to make the said dishes in the beginning, he took on the challenge and successfully impressed the head chefs. From there, he decided he may well embrace his Asian reputation and dive deeper into learning how to make them, moving to New York and working for the likes of other well-known Asian (or Asian-specializing) chefs, including Iron Chef Masaharu Morimoto and Asian-French fusion pundit Jean-Georges Vongerichten. Fortunately, he came at just the right time as Asian cuisine would become more popular than ever in New York and elsewhere in the world.
Here, Talde takes the classic Thai stir-fried noodle dish for a Western-leaning, brunch-inspired spin—the idea for which, like many good things in the world, came about while he was hungover. Talde acknowledges Americanized iterations of pad thai—the takeout-style stuff which are generally sweeter and saucier than the original—choosing to celebrate it as a delicious style in its own right. He not only includes a few ingredients easier to find in the West (paprika and sherry vinegar), he also throws in two proteins that help play up its American-ness: oysters fried to a crisp (inspired by the fried oysters of the American South), and bits of everybody’s favorite porky treat: bacon (because brunch—though it sure doesn’t hurt to know that it also draws on the way traditional versions use pork fat).
But run-off-the-mill, this is anything but. Talde has you create your own sauce from scratch, with fresh herbs and aromatics simmered in a vinegar-tamarind-fish sauce mix. Come stir-fry time, most of the work involves just chopping the veggies and soaking the noodles—past that, the dish comes together quick and you’ll have your mid-morning hangover helper (Talde sure knows his way around post-drinking munchies) on the table in less than 30 minutes.
As promised, this dish takes on a decidedly Americanized route, tasting more sweet-and-tart than the robust, aromatic-heavy pad thai we ourselves have been accustomed to. Still, you get the heat of chili, salty depth of fish sauce, and bitter edge of fresh cilantro and Thai basil to make for the flavor quintet characteristic of Thai cuisine (which, in any case, you’re free to season on the table, Southeast Asian style). With additional crunch from the oysters and smokiness from the bacon (be sure save some to garnish the top before serving), one bite of this texture- and flavor-filled treat will convince you food doesn’t need to be authentic to be—as we imagine Talde himself to put it—pretty f*cking dope, because at the end of the day, good food is universal.
Oyster and Bacon Pad Thai
Adapted from Asian-American: Proudly Inauthentic Recipes from the Philippines to Brooklyn by Dale Talde
Yield: 4 servings
Time: 30 minutes
Ingredients: Pad Thai Sauce
- 2 tbsp vegetable oil
- 2 shallots, sliced
- 2 lemongrass stalks, cut into several pieces
- 1 garlic clove, smashed and peeled
- 1 tsp paprika
- ¾ cup Thai or Vietnamese fish sauce
- ½ cup sherry vinegar
- ½ cup tamarind concentrate
- ½ lb. palm sugar, roughly chopped (or substitute 1¼ cups brown sugar, firmly packed)
- 2 tbsp Sriracha
- 2 kaffir lime leaves, optional
Ingredients: Pad Thai
- 2 tbsp vegetable oil
- ¼ lb. slab bacon, cut into 1-by ½-to ¼-inch batons)
- 4 eggs, beaten with 1 tsp oil
- ½ cup red onion, thinly sliced
- 1 cup Chinese chives, loosely packed and roughly chopped
- 2 tbsp Thai salted or preserved radish, finely chopped
- 6 Asian dried red chiles
- ½ lb. dried flat rice noodles, soaked in cold water for about 1 hour
- 1 cup carrots, cut into matchsticks
- 1 cup mung bean sprouts
- ½ cup cilantro, loosely packed and roughly chopped with
- ½ cup Thai basil leaves, loosely packed
- ½ cup roasted peanuts, roughly chopped
- ½ cup red cabbage, thinly sliced
- 1 lime, halved
Ingredients: Fried Oysters
- ½ cup rice flour
- 12 oysters, drained and shucked
- oil, for deep frying
Procedure: Pad thai sauce
- Combine oil, shallots, lemongrass, and garlic in a medium pot over medium-high heat. Cook, stirring frequently, until aromatic, about 3 minutes.
- Add the paprika and cook, stirring constantly, until aromatic, about 30 seconds.
- Add 1 cup water and the rest of the sauce ingredients.
- Bring the mixture to a gentle simmer and cook until the sugar has melted and the flavors have melded, about 15 minutes.
- Strain, discarding the solids. You’ll have about 3 cups of sauce; have about 1½ cups ready for the recipe.
Procedure: Pad thai
- Combine oil and bacon in a wide, heavy skillet or wok. Set it over medium-high heat and let it sizzle, stirring occasionally, until the bacon is crisp and golden, about 10 minutes. Transfer bacon to paper towels to drain. Pour out all but 1/4 cup of the fat from the pan.
- Turn on heat to very high. Add eggs to the pana nd let them cook without stirring until just set at the edges, about 15 seconds.
- Push the eggs to one side of the skillet and add onions, chives, salted radish, dried chiles, and bacon to the other side.
- Wait another 15 seconds and flip the egg onto the other ingredients. Push everything to one side.
- Add noodles to the other side. Spread them out and cook, without stirring, until they wilt just sightly, about 45 seconds. Then stir and flip the ingredients, breaking the eggs into bite-sized pieces. Cook without stirring until the bottoms of the eggs have browned slightly, about 1-2 minutes.
- Add half of the carrots and bean sprouts along with a pink of the cilantro and Thai basil. Stir well and evenly pour in about 1½ cups of the reserved pad thai sauce.
- Cook, without stirring, until the noodles have fully absorbed the sauce and are fully tender, about 2 minutes. Add half the peanuts and stir.
Procedure: Fried oysters
- Pour oil into a medium pot to reach a 2-inch depth and set it over high heat to reach 375 F.
- Dredge the oysters in the rice flour to coat them in a thin layer.
- Carefully add oysters to the oil and cook until crispy and light golden brown, 30 seconds to 1 minute.
Procedure: For serving
- Transfer the pad thai to a large plate.
- Top with cabbage and remaining carrots, bean sprouts, herbs, peanuts, and fried oysters.
- Serve with lime wedges.