From what I hear, this recipe, simple though it is, may be even more authentic than some restaurants who serve it, some of which use… ketchup. There is no ingredient I can think of that is less Thai than ketchup. Ketchup is a condiment, something that should be actually used in very few recipes, primarily those of other condiments, such as barbecue sauce. But I digress.
Pad Thai is a fairly mild flavored, tangy, savory, sweet pasta dish, possibly one of the only Thai dishes most Americans are familiar with, its having come into vogue in the past few years. I tried it for the first time two years ago when I was living in Boston, and it became a monthly treat from the Asian delivery place down the street. I never could define what was in it to make it so delicious, and when I looked up various recipes, I was skeptical.
The sauce for Pad Thai is comprised entirely of three ingredients: fish sauce, tamarind paste, and palm sugar. I have only come across fish sauce once before, and if you ever have, you’ll never forget it. It smells rank – like rotten fish. Do yourself a favor and don’t look up how it’s traditionally made. Tamarind paste is extremely sour. Palm sugar I could not find, so I substituted brown.
Pad Thai (4 servings)
Yes, this recipe looks long and involved. It’s actually not! I cooked up three portions of Pad Thai, making each portion separately, in just over half an hour. Most of the things I cook take at least 45 minutes, so this is actually very quick, comparatively! Buying your veggies pre-shredded will help, as will cutting your protein into small pieces.
As to making the sauce, you’ll want to experiment a little. If you have tried Pad Thai before, it may be a little easier, but basically you want to have a well-balanced sauce: salty, sour, and sweet. You’ll know when you’ve got it to your taste. I had never before had Pad Thai that tasted sour at all, so if you haven’t either, don’t worry! It’s great. Bean sprouts are traditional as a vegetable, but I think you could add any shredded veggie you love. I would add mushrooms next time – yum!
- about 1/2 c. each: fish sauce, tamarind paste, palm (or brown) sugar, more or less to taste
- 1/2 tsp. or to taste of chile powder
- 8-12 oz. rice stick noodles
- 1/2 – 1 lb. protein of your choice – shrimp, chicken, tofu, or a mixture
- 2 c. bean sprouts
- 2 c. shredded carrots
- 1 medium onion, halved and then thinly sliced
- 4 eggs
- traditional Thai garnishes include: ground peanuts, minced pickled turnips, ground dried shrimps, lime wedges
- In a small saucepan, combine fish sauce, tamarind paste, sugar, and chile powder. Stir until smooth, and taste (yes, taste it! trust me. it will be strong, but if you have had Pad Thai before, there should be one of those “angels singing” moments where you suddenly realize how the sauce came to be composed. or, um, it did for me. anyway…). Adjust seasonings if necessary.
- Place rice stick noodles in a shallow dish. Follow directions for soaking, and soak until noodles are considerably softer than when they started, but not soft. They should be firmer than al dente pasta, as they will continue to cook in the pan. For my noodles, I had to soak them in hot (not warm) water for about 10 minutes. The last batch was perfect, the third a little too soft – although typically you do one batch at a time, for this reason I will next time try the entire dish in one pan.
- If you are using chicken, cut the chicken into bite-sized pieces, and quickly saute in a pan in hot oil until mostly cooked through. Remove to a bowl.
- Repeat with tofu.
- Heat oil over medium-high heat in a pan, and add onions. Cook for a moment or two, then add carrots. Cook another two or three minutes, and add bean sprouts. Cook another minute or two, and then remove to the same bowl as the chicken/tofu. Stir until equally distributed.
- When the noodles are softened, heat a tablespoon of oil in a large skillet or wok. Add noodles, and about 3-4 tbsp. of sauce for each serving, about 3/4-1 c. total. You don’t absolutely need to measure this – you’ll want the noodles to be well-covered, but neither too dark nor too light.
- Cook for a minute or two, until noodles reach al dente, not quite soft – this happens quickly! Taste for seasoning and add more sauce if necessary. Make some space in the pan for the eggs by pushing the noodles around. Crack eggs into the pasta, let cook a minute or so to set, and then toss with the noodles.
- Add shrimp, if using, and continue tossing until shrimps are cooked through – this also only takes a few moments.
- Add remaining ingredients and toss well in the pan, cooking just until everything is heated through.
- Plate up and serve with garnishes!