Last week I posted a pic on Instagram of some drunken noodles I made for dinner. This prompted a request from a friend of mine for a good recipe for Pad Thai. And boy howdy, was I happy to oblige.
Here’s the deal. There’s essentially a three-way tie for my favorite type of food between Japanese (sushi, specifically), barbecue, and Thai food. There are so many flavors going on and each dish is so well balanced between sweet, sour, salty, spicy, and savory. I think the tricky thing with Thai food is getting over the mental barrier that lots of flavor means lots of difficulty. It really is not difficult at all – just takes some prep.
*DISCLAIMER – I live in Idaho, and the grocery stores here are a bit behind the times. Some of the classic ingredients for Pad Thai, I just can’t find here. So I make do with what I have. I’ll list the ingredients that should be used, as well as the substitutions I made, when applicable.
The secret to Pad Thai is the sauce. Three ingredients, and that’s it. And sometimes you’ll see red Pad Thai sauce. From what I’ve read, red Pad Thai is very Americanized. I take some liberties in my cooking, but I try not to stray too far with Thai food. They’ve already got it pretty perfected. The three things you need for the sauce are tamarind paste, palm sugar, and fish sauce. In these three ingredients you get sour, sweet, salty, and hints of bitter and savory. It’s really quite incredible.
Cooking Pad Thai is a quick process once you get going. What takes the most time is the prep. Here’s the thing – when you do a proper, Thai stir-fry, you need to cook on really high heat or else your food just simmers in the liquid from your ingredients. Since the heat is so high, you don’t have time to throw something in the pan, turn your back to cut something else, and then add it after a minute or two. If you turn your back on the pan, everything will burn. So you need to make sure you do all of your prep first and have everything ready to go. This recipe is enough for 4 adults. Here’s what you need:
First, make the sauce:
• 3 Tbsp Tamarind Paste (our store only had pods, so I made my own using 1 ½ cups apple cider vinegar, ½ cup of brown sugar, and 1 package of tamarind pods. I removed the shells, boiled the pods in the cider and sugar for 15 minutes, then passed everything through a fine mesh sieve, removed the seeds and stringy things. It was really tedious, but well worth it)
• 4 ½ Tbsp Palm Sugar (I used brown sugar)
• 5- 5 ½ Tbsp Fish Sauce
Mix that stuff together, starting with 5 Tbsp of fish sauce. If it isn’t salty enough, add the extra ½ Tbsp.
Second, soak your wide rice noodles in hot water for 20 minutes. You’ll want about half a large package. While that’s soaking, get everything else ready, as follows (put each ingredient in its own bowl):
• 3 large cloves of garlic – finely chopped
• 2 medium shallots – finely chopped
• ½ of 1 large carrot – finely shredded
• 2 pieces of chicken breast – cut into small, thin pieces
• pinch of dried shrimp – just put it in a bowl
• ½ cup unsalted peanuts – crushed
• 2 cups of bean sprouts – put in a bowl
• 6 green onions – just chop down to the end of the green part (don’t include the white)
• 2 eggs – cracked into a bowl, NOT whisked, just left whole
• 1 lime – cut into wedges
Another ingredient people use commonly is pressed, marinated tofu. Can’t find that here and didn’t want to take the time to make it (takes a couple days).
Once everything is prepped, drain your noodles and have them ready as well. I decided that trying to explain how easy making Pad Thai is wouldn’t work, because there are so many little steps. Reading them in text would just be overwhelming. So, I made a video to show you exactly how easy it really is. Check it:
If you want a text version to follow, here you go:
– Add 3 Tbsp canola oil to your hot pan
– Immediately add garlic and shallots, stir for 5-10 seconds
– Add egg and cook for a few seconds
– Add a pinch of dried shrimp and stir
– Add chicken (and tofu if using) and let cook for 30 seconds to 1 minute
– Add carrots and stir
– Add noodles and toss
– Add sauce and toss
– Add most of the bean sprouts, scallions and peanuts, and toss
– Plate, top with more sprouts and scallions and peanuts, serve with lime wedges.
One thing I will add, don’t neglect the lime wedges. They’re part of the dish – the fresh lime NEEDS to be added to round out the balance, and it makes a major difference. Photo of a single serving of the finished product in 3…2…
So there it is. Not intimidating at all, right? No, seriously, you can do it. So go out and pick up the stuff you need and give this a try. Your first bite will have you thinking, “Whoa dude, that tastes like real Pad Thai.” And you know what? That’s exactly right because it IS real Pad Thai. And you made it. Well done, friend. Well done.