I loved pad thai the first time I tried it, and it took me years to get over my pad thai obsession enough to try any other dish. When I finally did, I realized I might never eat pad thai again- pad kee mao (often called drunken noodles) was so delicious, I couldn’t go back. To this day I’ve tried embarrassingly few Thai dishes, because I can never get over how great the ones I’ve had are, and how much I want to have them again.
Chicken of the woods is an orange or yellow polypore that grows in large clusters on dead or dying trees (if you find a large amount of this mushroom you could also try this recipe for vegan butter chicken). As they age they become tough and more woody, but the younger mushrooms have a soft and sort of stringy texture. They are a little tough to clean as they have no problem growing around and incorporating leaves, pine needles, dirt, twigs and other bits of the forest. They also might be infested by small, white worms- a few are okay to pick out, but if there are too many your mushroom is unlikely to taste good and you should probably leave them in the woods. Please remember caution when foraging, and use the golden rule- when in doubt, leave it out- in order to avoid misidentification incidents.
Chicken of the woods is named so because it tastes and smells remarkably like chicken- it also has a similar fibrous texture. This recipe uses a marinade for the chicken of the woods- because this mushroom does not contain the same amount of liquid and fats, it is extra important to give it time to soak before pan frying it. Without the time resting in fat and water, it is easy for the mushrooms to get dry and unpleasant to eat.
One thing I didn’t know about Thai food when I first started eating it was that most Thai dishes contain fish sauce- a rich, salty, umami flavor that makes Thai food really taste like Thai food. After I learned of its presence in most Thai dishes, I learned to ask for it to be left out- but the food really didn’t taste the same. As I began to adventure into cooking my own Thai noodle dishes, I remedied that by developing my own vegan fish sauce to keep on hand, and substitute in as needed. If you’d rather not make your own, some brands of vegan fish sauce do exist, but I have never seen one in a store near me.
Although many recipes for pad kee mao recommend using rice noodles, I decided to shake things up a little. I came across a wide, frozen fresh noodle in the store called shan xi pulled noodles. The flat, broad shape adds a lot of surface area to get crispy and cover in sauce, which is one of the best elements of this dish. One last note before we get to the recipe- I don’t own a wok, so I made my drunken noodles in a large skillet- if you have a wok, please use it. I ended up with so much mushroom, tofu, vegetables and noodles in my pan it was spilling out onto the stove!
Vegan Chicken of the Woods Pad Kee Mao
- ½ lb of Chicken of the Woods mushrooms, cleaned
- 1 lb of flat, broad noodles, such as shan xi fresh pulled noodles
- 1 lb of firm tofu
- 5 cloves of garlic
- ½ piece of fresh ginger
- 2 Serrano (or other) hot peppers
- 2 bell peppers
- 1 large onion
- 1 large tomato
- 2 green onions
- 1 cup of loosely packed fresh basil (thai basil is best)
- A small amount of vegetable oil for cooking
- 3 TBSP water
- 1 TBSP soy sauce
- 1 TBSP sesame oil
Pad Kee Mao Sauce
- 3 TBSP vegan fish sauce
- 1 tsp. sesame oil
- 2 TBSP brown sugar
- 1 TBSP white wine
- 2 tsp. garlic chile oil
1. Chop the cleaned chicken of the woods into squares, between ½-1 inch in size. Pour the marinade over the mushrooms and gently massage onto the surface. Put aside and allow to marinate for around 30 minutes.
2. While you are waiting, prep the other elements of the dish. Using a cutting board and a weight, press the moisture out of the tofu for around 10 minutes before chopping into half inch cubes. Put on a pot of water to boil, and cook the noodles as directed on the package. When they are done, drain and set aside. Cut the peppers into squares, similarly sized to the chicken of the woods. Cut the onion and tomato similarly, by cutting in half around the middle before cutting into 6ths vertically. Mince the garlic and the ginger, and cut the Serrano peppers into thin discs. Lastly, whisk all of the ingredients for the sauce together and set aside.
3. Heat some vegetable oil in a large skillet or wok. Once it is hot add the tofu and the chicken of the woods, including any marinade that is left in the bowl. Cook for 5 minutes, until the chicken and tofu begin to get crispy. Add the garlic, ginger and Serrano peppers, and continue to cook on high for three minutes, stirring often so as not to let anything burn.
4. Next add the green peppers, onions and noodles. Cook for another 5 minutes before adding the tomato, scallion, basil and sauce. Cook again for 3 minutes, stirring well to make sure the sauce covers the entire dish. Remove from the heat, serve and enjoy.