Thai Stir-fried Mixed Vegetables with Prawns: Phad Phak Kung

Phad Pak, fried vegetables, is a common dish in canteens, food courts, and markets all across Thailand. One of the most common protein additions to this is seafood, shrimp and squid usually. Phad Pak Kung (add shrimp) is not only a safe bet if you’re stuck for what to order, it’s also a relatively simple dish that you can easily prepare at home, wherever that happens to be.

Phad Phak KungAfter a few conversations with friends and a brief search of a few engines I realized that there is not a standardized recipe that people recognize, but rather a pretty basic template with some flexible boundaries. Here are the basics – vegetables (we’ll elaborate on that), garlic, shallots, chilies, sauce (again, lots of variability), and shrimp; galangal is another very common ingredient, but not a constant.

The Pak in Phad Pak Lung is usually a combination of kale, sliced carrot, mushrooms of some kind and broccoli. But morning glory and cauliflower are also quite common, as are various sorts of green beans, and other green Thai vegetables might be included or substituted for something else.

As for the sauce..where to start. Some will use soy sauce(s), some will use something like Maggi “cooking sauce” which is basically soy sauce, sometimes you will see oyster sauce or mushroom sauce, and of course fish sauce might be thrown in for a bit of saltiness. I am personally a huge fan of all things fried in oyster sauce. I’ve never tested it, but a part of me believes if handled properly oyster sauce could turn strips of old shoe leather into filets.

It is also important to note the kind of chili used is the phrik khee fah. This is the red (sometimes green) chili pepper that is roughly the size of your smallest finger. When I was in Thailand for the first time many years ago I tried to prepare a gumbo for some Thai friends using local chilies. The result was horrifying. It was in this way that I truly came to appreciate the subtle and not so subtle differences in the flavors of chilies, not just their levels of heat. Put the wrong phrik in you Phad Pak Kung and you may find yourself ordering out. The same can be true of garlics, but we’ll have to cover that in another piece.

Here is a basic recipe you can adapt to your tastes (and your pantry):

  • 3-5 cloves of garlic, chopped coarsely
  • 1 piece of galangal (about thumb sized), julienned
  • 3-5 Phrik Khee Fah Thai chili peppers, break in half as you toss into the oil for extra heat; add more if you want but don’t get carried away before you’ve tried it with just a few chilies
  • 2-3 shallots, sliced thinly
  • 4 or 5 chestnut mushrooms, halved or quartered
  • 1 cup of broccoli florets (about 1 average broccoli head)
  • 1 cup kale, chopped but not hacked to death
  • 1 medium carrot, sliced thinly
  • ½ – 1 cup prawns – if you want the full Thai experience you should cook them with their legs and shells on
  • sauce – here you can use about 6 tbsp soy sauce (half light-half dark if you want to get fancy), or you could do what I do and give it a good shot of oyster sauce, and a quick shot of either soy sauce or fish sauce depending on whether I’m feeling a bit sweeter (soy sauce) or bit more toward the savory (fish sauce)
  • cooking oil – I use rice bran oil, but in Thailand most vendors and restaurants aren’t getting down with expensive peanut oils and stuff, too many other flavors going on anyway. Rice bran, olive, vegetable, whatever you use should be fine.

Preparation is simple, heat your oil up and work the chili and shallots into it for a few seconds/minute (until the shallots get a little sweaty) then add the garlic and galangal and work them into the oil for a few more seconds/minute. Add the vegetables and the sauce(s) you’ve decided to go with and work the ingredients in together. As the broccoli and kale begin to soften add the prawns or shrimp and cook until they color. If you’ve got a sharp knife, a hot fire, and a sure hand you can be sitting down to eat in 15-20 minutes. Serve with boiled rice; Aroi Deeee!

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