Perfect Pad Thai
Pad thai is comfort food at its finest. There’s nothing like putting your feet up, making a quick call to your local Thai restaurant, and then digging into a dish of tangy, sweet noodles.
But if you crave this dish as often as I do, it becomes pretty budget-adverse to order it up day after day. That’s why it’s important to have a reliable pad thai recipe at the ready.
Something about this dish just attracts tons of misinformation. I, for one, have been personally victimized by a pad thai recipe that called for ketchup.
Even less outlandish substitutions like pasta noodles or soy sauce will muddy the waters and result in a dish that’s perfectly fine, but just isn’t pad thai.
(Soy sauce turns your recipe into pad thai’s salty cousin, pad see ew!) I’m all for easy substitutions,
and will even employ some below, but the recipe and method I’ve come up with results in a dish that’s in the same neighborhood as Thai takeout, even if it’s not quite as authentic as what you’d find at the street stalls of Bangkok.
Where to Find Ingredients
Start by making a trip to an Asian grocery store. You can find all of the ingredients you need there, but if you want to get in and out, here are the key items that you may not be able to find at your supermarket:
Palm sugar: One package will be enough to make several batches of pad thai sauce.
Tamarind concentrate or juice: This is arguably the most important ingredient for better-tasting pad thai, as it gives it that unique, tangy taste. No substitutions allowed here.
Duck egg: While this is the traditional type of egg used in pad thai, don’t be a hero if you can’t find it easily. A chicken egg will do just fine.
Dried shrimp: Check the refrigerated section of the Asian grocery. One package will be enough for many batches of pad thai to come. It’s not the most pleasant-smelling ingredient, so store it in the freezer to neutralize the smell.
Chinese chives: I had an “aha!” moment when I found out that the green garnishes in pad thai are Chinese chives rather than green onions (which are fine in a pinch, by the way).
Using this type of chive is the kind of small detail that inches your pad thai closer to the taste of restaurant-quality versions.
Chinese chives do have a strong smell, and come in large bunches so plan another Asian-inspired meal to use them up quickly.
The rest of the ingredients can be found at your local grocery store or supermarket:
- Chicken or Shrimp
- Rice noodles
- Fish sauce
- Extra-firm tofu
- Bean sprouts
- Red pepper flakes
For a simple dish, you’ll notice that the ingredient list is quite long! The cost is similar to your delivery Thai food, but the majority of these ingredients will set you up to make many batches of pad thai in the months to come.
Which brings me to my next point: pad thai is best eaten fresh, so don’t plan to make huge batches at once.
Making pad thai is almost like making two recipes in one – there’s the sauce, and then the dish itself. You can certainly take on both at once, or, “present you” can be good to “future you” and get the sauce out of the way ahead of time.
- 1 cup fish sauce
- 1 cup tamarind concentrate
- 1 cup palm sugar
- 1 cup white sugar
Chop up palm sugar lumps for easier measuring. Add palm sugar, fish sauce, tamarind, and ½ cup white sugar to saucepan, on medium-high heat. Stir often until the palm sugar begins to melt and the mixture becomes uniform.
When it starts to bubble, reduce to low heat and simmer for about ten minutes. Taste sauce and add more ingredients depending on the taste.
If it’s too sweet, add some more fish sauce or tamarind. If it’s not sweet enough, add more white sugar, up to ½ cup of the remaining white sugar.
Adapted from: RinS Cookbook
Prepping the Ingredients
Ingredient list by amount:
- 2 shallots
- 2 garlic cloves
- 2 eggs
- 1 tablespoon dried shrimp
- 8 oz rice noodles (about 2-3 large handfuls if you were to hold them)
- About 15 cubes of tofu
- About 15 shrimps
- 1 cup of bean sprouts, ½ cup chives
- 5 oz pad thai sauce
- Crushed peanuts, lime, red pepper flakes for garnish
*Makes two servings
It’s important to get your ingredients prepared and laid out before you begin cooking, otherwise you’ll be scrambling as the cooking process is relatively quick.
This is a concept known as Mise en place, which simply means having “everything in its place.”
First, prepare your noodles, as they’ll take the longest time. Soak noodles in a bowl of cold water for 40 minutes to an hour. The noodles will start out semitransparent, and turn an opaque white when they are ready.
They should be soft but have a little bit of bite to them. Resist the urge to boil your noodles to save time – this will result in soggy noodles in the finished dish.
Prep the rest of your ingredients:
- Dice shallots and garlic
- Chop tofu into square or rectangular pieces, roughly one cm in size
- Slice chives into pieces 1-2 inches in length. Reserve bottom part of chives for garnish.
- Crush roasted peanuts into small pieces
- Dice dried shrimp into smaller pieces for better distribution
Time to Cook
Heat oil in wok or skillet on medium heat. Add shallots and garlic, fry until fragrant. Then add tofu and dried shrimp.
Add shrimp and cook for about 2 minutes or until pink. Do not overcook shrimp at this stage as it will result in rubbery shrimp at the end. Shift contents of wok to one of the sides.
Add noodles and drizzle a splash of water over them. Then add about half of your pad thai sauce. Let the noodles cook for 2-3 minutes before beginning to flip them. When you first flip the noodles, you’ll see the difference in texture immediately.
Keep stir-frying them until all the noodles have gotten exposure to the heat. Continue adding sauce at this point until your noodles reach the desired consistency. Remove the shrimp and set aside.
Shift the noodles to the side of the wok, add a small amount of oil to the other side, and crack both eggs into the wok. Break the yolks and scramble them slightly.
Once the eggs begin to set, flip the noodles on top of them and let them fully cook for about 1 minute. Flip the noodles back over and continue stir-frying them to distribute the scrambled eggs evenly.
Add the bean sprouts and chives at this point, as well as the cooked shrimp. The bean sprouts and chives only need about a minute or so to wilt slightly. Turn off the heat.
Your pad thai is now ready to serve! Divide it onto two plates, and garnish with peanuts, lime, red pepper flakes, cilantro, and the remaining bean sprouts and chives.
Now that you’ve successfully made your first batch of pad thai, you can only improve from here.
Chances are, you’ll want to make a few tweaks to your own personal taste, based on how the first batch came out. But be careful, making Thai food becomes as addictive as ordering it!