Thursday, February 08, 2007

Real Pad Thai from Your Kitchen

If you have been lucky enough to find a very good Thai restaurant, then you have probably already fallen hard for pad thai, the light rice noodle dish that plays on your tastebuds with sweet and umami flavors until you have eaten greater quantities of it than you thought possible. If you have wished you could reproduce the exotic flavors of this deceptively simple dish at home, read on because I have a very manageable recipe for you. If, instead, you're wondering what all the fuss is about, you've probably had the misfortune of tasting, a gooey, sticky-sweet americanized version made with a thick pre-packaged, corn-starch laden "pad thai sauce." In that case, read on and discover an authentic dish that is completely different than what you're used to.

I love pad thai because for years I lived in the delivery radius of the best thai restaurant I have ever found. I could call them at 7:00pm on a Friday night and have a made-to-order steaming hot dish of pad thai in front of me in under 15 minutes. That goes to show how efficient these folks were, but also how quickly this meal comes together once your ingredients are prepped.

I was spoiled rotten with this pad thai. When I moved away from Boston, I tried other thai restaurants, and have never had anything that comes close. I'm sure there are other respectable chefs turning out authentic pad thai, but in my experience, they are a rarity.

It takes a little practice to get the technique just right for this recipe. What you make will still be tasty, but the timing really is everything, and you'll learn just how you like to do it after a couple attempts. Nothing may hold up to Bangkok Bistro in my estimation, but this satisfies me and captures those flavors that made me crazy for this dish from the first bite.

Pad Thai
Adapted from Williams-Sonoma Savoring Southeast Asia by Joyce Jue

The most important thing you can do is have all your ingredients prepped and ready to add to the skillet in quick succession. I have tried to lay out the steps below. Once you begin to cook the shallots, you will have a finished dish in under 7 minutes.
Serves 4-6

3 tbs. vegetable or peanut oil, divided
salt and pepper
¾ lb. chicken breast meat, pounded very thin and cut into 1-inch pieces
3/4 lb. shrimp, peeled and deveined
10 oz. flat rice noodles
2 ½ tsp. tamarind concentrate plus 3 tbs. water (or the equivalent of another tamarind product)
2 tbs. sugar
3 tbs. fish sauce
3 tbs. lime juice (about 1 lime)
¼ to ½ tsp. dried red chile flakes
2 tbs. chopped shallot
1 ½ tbs. chopped garlic
3 large eggs, beaten
2 c. fresh bean sprouts, divided
6 green onions, white and light green parts, chopped
½ c. roasted peanuts, coarsely chopped
¼ c. cilantro, chopped
lime wedges, for serving

Heat 1 tbs. of the oil in a large nonstick skillet or wok over medium-high heat. Season the chicken with salt and pepper and stir-fry until cooked through, about 4-5 minutes. Remove to a bowl. Lower the heat to medium and add 1 tbs. of oil to the skillet. Add the shrimp, season and cook until opaque, about 1 minute. Add to the bowl of chicken and set aside.

Meanwhile cook the noodles according to package directions. In a bowl or large glass liquid measuring cup, whisk together the tamarind and water, sugar, fish sauce, lime juice and chile flakes. Set aside.

Assemble everything you need to put together the pad thai: shallots and garlic, beaten eggs, chicken and shrimp, green onions, noodles, tamarind mixture, bean sprouts and peanuts.

Heat the last tbs. of oil over medium-low heat, add the shallot and cook for 1 minute, then add the garlic and cook for an additional minute. Add the beaten eggs, swirling the pan to coat the entire surface. Let the eggs set for a few seconds, then move them around the pan with a spatula, breaking them up. Immediately add the chicken and shrimp and toss quickly with the eggs. Add the noodles and toss them with the egg mixture for a minute or so, until you have cooked pieces of egg throughout. Pour the tamarind mixture all over the noodles in the skillet and toss to coat thoroughly. Immediately add the green onions, half of the bean sprouts and half of the peanuts and toss to combine. Remove from heat. Serve the pad thai with the remaining bean sprouts and peanuts; the cilantro; and the lime wedges.

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MyKitchenInHalfCups said...

Julie, you do make this sound like I should be able to manage this. I have a lovely wok that I have not mastered yet.
And I do like Pad Thai.

Rachel said...

I love pad thai! This looks fabulous!

Phil said...

I had many failed attempts, with prepackaged sauce that tasted like ketchup to worse from scratch. The key is having the mis-en-place ready. Like you say in your recipe, you have to have everything ready, you can't prepare it while cooking like with curry or tomato sauce. Two years ago, I got all of the mis ready, did a half decent pad thai, and gave it up for good. For $5 or $7 bucks, I'll never be able to do it nearly as well as a good Thai place.

Patricia Scarpin said...

I'm such an ignorant about Asian food - it's been a great joy to learn so much from my favorite blogs - yours included, Julie.

I have never had pad thai but I'm sure I would - all the ingredients are delicious!

Rena said...

I'm new to your blog, but came across it when I was looking for recipes/food blogs. What a coincidence - I'm from Ft. Lauderdale and live in Boston b/c I'm going to school here. Alas, that Thai restaurant is not close enough for delivery. I look forward to trying this recipe, though.

nikkipolani said...


Kristen said...

This looks really good!

Christine said...

This is one of the best written recipes for Pad Thai that I've seen. Thanks for posting it Julie!

Julie said...

Tanna: Use that wok, sister! I wouldn't lie to you; it's totally do-able.
Rachel: thanks!
Phil: Yes, it's all about mis-en-place. But I totally understand your devotion to the take-out place; I would not be cooking this myself if I lived near my dear Bangkok Bistro.
Patricia: I feel the same way about some of the new foods I find on your blog!
Rena: Thanks for reading and welcome! That is a coincidence...I really miss Boston sometimes.
Nikki: Thank You!
Kristen: Thank you too!
Christine: I appreciate that a lot! I have tried this so many times with different recipes before I got down to this version, so I tried to write it as clearly and realistically as possible.

Mikey said...

Nice recipe. My personal recipe is a mixture of various ones online, primarily Chez Pim's and Cooks Illustrated.

One suggestion I would make is adding 1T of dried shrimp per portion. Adds to that elusive Thai flavor.