Authentic Pad Thai is a flavour-packed fried noodle dish. Once you’ve collected the ingredients and mastered the simple technique for making this popular street food from Thailand, you’ll be whipping it up for a quick meal or for delighting your dinner guests. (Skip to recipe.)
If you follow my Instagram, you’ve probably seen several plates of hastily snapped Pad Thai noodles with my caption, I can’t wait to dig in. Yes, I’ve been Thai-ing up a storm, but too busy slurping the deliciously umami results to get the recipe down for you, so here it finally is.
Our youngest son came back last month from a three month trek through southeast Asia, and I’ve been living vicariously through the tales of his adventures. He and his twin cousins traveled through Thailand, Laos, Cambodia, and Vietnam. They had some crazy experiences, from scuba diving in Thailand and being lucky enough to have a close encounter with the elusive whale shark, hiking, caving, and having a home stay with a family in a dirt-floored hut, to buying used motorbikes to travel with (and the daily repair adventures that went along with them). And of course, a fair bit of partying (but those are stories they didn’t tell their mothers).
The boys took a cooking class in Thailand (I was pretty impressed) and Andreas brought back a cookbook from his class at the culinary school along with an eagerness to recreate some of the dishes at home.
Together we’ve cooked up a couple different curries (including a wickedly hot green curry) and this authentic Pad Thai. Pad or Phad means ‘to stir fry’, so this is basically a Thai stir-fry. Andreas ate Pad Thai many times in Thailand, where local cooks would whip up single servings of this deliciously savoury fried noodle dish in streetside stalls.
They’d cook it all up in the same wok, set over a searingly hot gas burner, pushing noodles and meat aside as they fried up the next bit, then tossing all the ingredients together at the end.
Andreas said the Pad Thai was usually served with a wedge or two of lime, and a little mound of crushed peanuts, one of white sugar, and one of dried crushed chilis. You’d get a little spoon so you could just add as much of each garnish to your noodles as you liked. The only alterations I’ve made are to use coconut palm sugar instead of the white sugar, reduced the amount of oil a bit, and doubled the amount of bean sprouts from the original recipe (because I love ’em).
The ingredients list looks long, but don’t be put off by it. This is a dish worth learning how to make. Once you’ve cooked it, the next time you make it seems easy!
So bring out those chopsticks, and take yourself on a little tableside trip to Asia.
(*travel photos courtesy of Clay Kiiskila, Simon Kiiskila, Andreas Johnson)
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Kitchen Frau Notes: Shrimp is the flavour base for this dish, and if you can find the small dried whole shrimp (with heads and shells still on) you will have the most authentic flavour. They are available in Asian markets. Buy a few bags when you find them, and store them in the freezer. However if you can’t find the dried shrimp, just use double the weight in whole shelled raw shrimp, coarsely chopped. The Pad Thai will still be delicious.
You can even use beef instead of the pork or chicken. Or use additional whole shrimp instead of the pork or chicken, to make a Shrimp Pad Thai. Or use leftover strips of cooked chicken or pork.
This recipe is very adaptable. You can omit the tofu, or use shredded napa cabbage instead of bean sprouts. I’ve provided a quick-pickle method to use if you can’t find pickled daikon radish, but you could even omit it, and add an additional teaspoon vinegar and an extra splash of soy sauce instead.
(Phat Thai Sai Kai – Fried Noodle Thai Style)
This recipe serves 2, but is easily doubled to serve 4.
- 4 tablespoons oil, divided
- 1 tablespoon chopped garlic
- 2 tablespoons chopped shallot or purple onion
- ½ of a 400 gram package wide rice noodles (200gm/7oz)
- 1 cup (240ml) chicken stock + 1 cup (240ml) water, or 2 cups (480ml) water
- 1 tablespoon black soy sauce (or gluten-free soy sauce)
- 1oo gm (3.5oz) minced pork or chicken, cut into long slivers (or use ground pork, chicken or beef, or whole shrimp)
- 100 grams (3.5oz) small dried shrimp or 200 gm (7oz.) fresh shrimp, chopped
- 1 tablespoon pickled sweet & salted Chinese radish (*see easy method below)
- ¼ cup firm tofu, cut into small cubes
- 2 eggs
- 2 tablespoons sugar (I use coconut sugar)
- 2 tablespoons fish sauce
- 2 tablespoons rice vinegar or tamarind paste
- 2 cups bean sprouts
- 100 gm sliced green onions/scallions (about 1 cup sliced / 6 to 8 onions)
- fresh cilantro leaves
- 2 tablespoons chopped roasted peanuts
- lime wedges
- Asian ground chili pepper
- additional sugar
*If you can’t find pickled sweet & salted Chinese radish, make your own by grating about 2 tablespoons of daikon radish, turnip, or carrot into a small bowl. Add ½ teaspoon salt, 1 teaspoon sugar, and 1 tablespoon vinegar. Let macerate for 15 minutes, stirring occasionally, then drain and squeeze out the liquid, and use the pickled grated vegetable in the recipe. Or see an even easier substitution for the pickled radish in the notes above the recipe.
Pour 2 tablespoons of the oil into a wok or large heavy bottomed saucepan over medium high heat. Add the minced garlic and shallots. Cook until some of the garlic just begins to brown. Add the noodles and the chicken stock and water (or just water). Cook, turning constantly with a spatula to prevent sticking, until the noodles are just soft, about 2 minutes. Stir in the soy sauce. Remove the noodles and any broth from the wok to a large bowl or pot and cover to keep warm.
Add a 1 tablespoon of the oil to the pan you cooked the noodles in. Add the pork and cook until the pork is no longer pink. Add the fresh or dried shrimp and cook another couple minutes until the raw shrimp are cooked or the dried shrimp are heated through. Add the pickled radish and tofu, and fry for another couple minutes. Scrape the meat and tofu from the pan on top of the noodles in the bowl. Cover again.
Add the remaining tablespoon of oil to the pan. When heated, break the eggs into the pan and scramble them with a spatula. When set, add the cooked noodles and meat mixture back into the eggs. Sprinkle on the sugar, fish sauce, vinegar or tamarind paste, half the bean sprouts, most of the sliced green onions (save a few for garnish), and mix it all gently together.
Spoon onto two plates, making sure each plate gets an equal amount of the meat and vegetables that tend to fall and remain at the bottom of the pot. Top with the remaining bean sprouts and a few cilantro leaves. At the side of the plate, place a lime wedge, and next to it make three separate small heaps in a row: one of them is 1 tablespoon of chopped peanuts, and the other two are a small heap of coarsely ground chili pepper and one of sugar. Serve with chopsticks and a small spoon so each person can add as much of the condiments on top of the Pad Thai as they like.
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