Pad Thai

December 2, 2011 § Leave a comment

J: Pad Thai is absolutely one of my favorite dishes ever.  I have to make a ridiculous effort not to order it at every Thai restaurant I ever go to, since there are so many other delicious Thai dishes — but this one has a special place in my heart.  When Erik and I had some beansprouts left over from another dish, making Pad Thai popped into my head, and once the possibility of delicious homemade Pad Thai was within my reach, it was simply inevitable.

no words. oh god, no words.

This dish blew my mind.  I cannot even begin to communicate to you how absurdly delicious and shockingly easy it was to make something that will be, given one or two more go-rounds to tweak the sauce to perfection, the best Pad Thai I have ever had.  If you have access to a Whole Foods or similar type of store, you can find everything you need for this (and if you have access to an Asian market type of place, you can probably find everything you need for way less money), and it is so, so worth it.  We have posted over 100 recipes on this blog: this is easily, without question, in my top 3 highest-recommended recipes.  It is fun, it is easy, it is interesting, and it is almost definitely both cheaper and healthier than what you’d get at a restaurant (not saying this is outright “healthy,” because it isn’t — but we’re speaking in relative terms here).

I am on a little bit of a crusade to spread healthier eating and increased food self-reliance, among people I know and people I don’t.  If you’re skeptical about being able to make healthier yet still delicious restaurant-quality food, make this.  If you have little faith or confidence in your own cooking abilities, send us a message or comment — we’ll invite you over, and we’ll cook with you and show you how to do it.  This is a great dish to convince yourself that what you didn’t know was possible in home cooking is possible.

Okay, on to the recipe.  We got this from the delightful and inspiring Chez Pim.  I must comment that she did an absolutely beautiful job of communicating the flexibility and fun of this dish, and so I would recommend that you head over to her post (link to the actual Pad Thai post is below) and read through her suggestions.  But I will humbly do my best to tell you what we did and how it turned out!

Pad Thai
(original recipe here; these amounts made four football-player-sized servings)
For the sauce
1/4 c tamarind pulp/paste
1/4 c fish sauce (or Thai thin soy sauce if you want to be vegetarian)
1/6-1/4 c palm sugar (or regular sugar, which is what we used)
1-2 tsp paprika/Thai chili powder

For everything else, with our notes!
Peanut oil (or another oil of your preference)
3/4lb(ish) shrimp, chicken, or tofu

  • We used chicken so we will give the instructions for chicken here, but if you want to use something else, check the original recipe for more detailed instructions. If you do use chicken, slice it very, very thinly.

Chopped garlic (1/2-1 clove per portion)
16oz rice noodles

  • Before cooking these, bring a pot of water to a boil, remove from heat, and add the noodles.  Let them soak for approximately 8 minutes, then transfer to a colander to drain.  You want them to be still al dente when they are done soaking, so that they don’t overcook when you are actually putting the Pad Thai together.  Also, try to time this so that the noodles aren’t sitting in the colander drying out for ages before you throw them into your wok/pan, because the longer they sit there the more they stick together and the harder they are to work with!

Eggs (use 1 egg per portion)
Roughly-ground peanuts to taste (we did not use these but we should have!)
Beansprouts — adjust amounts to your own preference
Garlic chives (we used regular chives; use a small handful per portion)

Start off by making the sauce.  This is a very “guess-and-check” process, so be prepared to taste your sauce as you go and adjust it to your preferences.  Combine the tamarind, fish sauce, and sugar in a small pot, and bring to a high enough temperature (over medium/medium-high heat) that they start melting together.  Taste this and see how the balance is — adjust if necessary.  Add the paprika/chili powder a teaspoon at a time, tasting as you go, and continue to adjust amounts and flavors.  Turn down the heat once your sauce starts bubbling.


A note about the paprika: we wanted more heat in our sauce, and added too much paprika to try and compensate for this.  Paprika, turns out, is not spicy.  If you want heat, go to something like red chili flakes, cayenne, or sriracha; our sauce ended up being a bit overpoweringly paprika-y, though fortunately the cooking process tamed it a bit and it certainly tasted fine in the end product.

When you’ve finished adjusting your sauce, keep it on low heat so that it stays warm, but otherwise you can ignore it until it’s needed.

Now, before we move on, a couple notes on the cooking process.  First, if at any time things become too hot or start cooking too quickly, sprinkle a few droplets of cool water over the pan to slow things down a bit.  Second, the best way to do this, hands-down, is one portion at a time, and definitely use a wok if you have one.  As explained on Chez Pim, if you don’t do it in individual portions, the noodles kind of clump together and things generally become less appetizing.  This way, everything flash-cooks and it becomes delicious and wonderful.  Also, has lovely potential for a fun twist on a dinner party: have everyone cook their own portions!

Okay, so this is how it works.  Heat up your wok (or whatever pan you’re using) to a very very high heat, and add several tablespoons of oil.  If you’re using chicken, add enough for one portion now, stirring constantly so that the pieces get evenly cooked on all sides and don’t stick together.

chicken, partially cooked

When it’s about halfway cooked, add a couple spoonfuls of the sauce and however much garlic you want (again, keep thinking in single-servings).  Continue cooking until the chicken is cooked through.

chicken, fully cooked

Add one serving of noodles along with about 1/4 c of sauce.  Stir vigorously to keep the noodles from sticking together.

step by step

Cook, continuing to stir, until the noodles are soft and fully edible.  Push everything to the side of your wok or pan, and crack an egg into the cleared space.  Leave this undisturbed for 10-15 seconds so that it starts to set, and once it does, you can poke it around a bit to try and get all parts of it thoroughly cooked.

egg, mostly set

When it’s totally set, stir everything together, and then add your peanuts and beansprouts.  Continue stirring and add more sauce if needed.  When everything is evenly distributed and heated through, stir in the chives, transfer to a plate, and serve up your first portion!  Wipe down any food bits that got stuck on the pan, start heating it up with more oil, and do the next portion exactly the same way.

I really hope you enjoy this.  It is absolutely among the most fun I’ve ever had cooking dinner, and my wish is for you to love it just as much, regardless of whether you are a novice or have years of experience in the kitchen.

a work of edible art


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