We LOVE Pad Thai in this house. Love it. Don’t get me wrong we love all kinds of Thai food NOT JUST the ever popular dish Westerners flock to. And we don’t love the kind made with ketchup. Yup. Some people/restaurants put ketchup in the sauce instead of tamarind to make it more appealing to, I suppose, more middle of the road palates. YUCK! We want ALMOST AUTHENTIC pad thai in this house. Why almost and not full-on authentic? Aren’t I supposed to be some sort of “Foodster”… yah well, the real rebels don’t follow anyones rules: cool, authentic, critically acclaimed or otherwise.
What I mean by that is, we use real tamarind in our sauce, but we leave out the tiny dried shrimp and the preserved radish. I will happily eat dishes containing those items but the kids don’t like the tiny shrimp and I don’t love the preserved/salted radish/turnip. Most of the turnip/radish I have come across in Asian markets contains preservatives and well I simply don’t use it often enough to warrant keeping it on hand in my pantry. So I know carrots are NOT AUTHENTIC at all but they have a similar texture. Plus, Pad Thai is already kind of a sweet dish, so the sweetness of carrots blends in rather well, while adding some extra veggie power (nutrients, fibre..) While many Thai restaurants throw a sprig of cilantro on to their Pad Thai dishes, apparently that isn’t authentic either, but I really like it.
If you want to learn more about what IS and ISN’T supposed to be in Pad Thai READ THIS
I followed her recipe (below as Authentic Pad Thai) my first time out and I must’ve done something wrong cause it just didn’t turn out that great for me. It was my first attempt in 15 years though – haha. So that could have something to do with it! That said, it taught me a lot about technique. However, I refuse to cook individual portions ever again! I just can’t make Pad Thai 4 or 5 times in a row. It drove me nuts. So I just learned to move REALLY, REALLY fast and have absolutely everything prepped and right beside the kitchen stove and use a very large pan.
Back to my previous thought….
I find most other vegetables (other than carrots) mess with the flavour too much. Whenever I have felt in the mood for a vegetarian pad thai and ordered it from a restaurant I have always regretted the decision when it turns up with broccoli and peppers and other veggies that work against, rather than with the flavours. So if you are a vegetarian, I would personally just add extra of everything veg friendly that is already in this recipe (tofu, carrots, mung bean sprouts etc.) Also note, I have never made a vegan pad thai sauce so you are kind of on your own there if you don’t do the fish sauce thing. I have seen some people make their own vegan faux-fish sauce. (Google it if you want to go with that option – and then proceed).
Pad Thai can be intimidating at first. But once you get the hang of it, it’s actually pretty easy. Many chefs (including the one in the link above) say you have to cook individual portions to avoid breaking your noodles. But I have worked around that ’cause frankly busy moms don’t have time to make individual portions for each person. As well some say you don’t have to pre-make your sauce. Well that is totally ludicrous in my opinion! You absolutely HAVE to make the sauce ahead of time. Or atleast while you are prepping the other ingredients. The sauce takes a long time to get thick and syrupy. And you want that. The sauce is slow. Pad Thai is fast. Just simple math really. I tried just mixing fish sauce, palm sugar and tamarind pulp once and not cooking it down and it was way too liquidy and my dish had almost no flavour and the noodles got completely overcooked and broke into small bite size pieces.
I researched a bunch of different recipes and found none of them were really everything I was looking for. So I sort of created my own version inspired by the following links and my personal preferences. The first link taught me a lot about the dish itself but the sauce wasn’t quite there for me. While the following link taught me how to make a good thick sauce. That said I ditched the salt. When I made it verbatim it was just too overpowering and I needed to drink a lot of water after! Fish sauce is already salty you don’t need anything else in my opinion!
- 1 cup tamarind pulp*** (see below for how to make this from scratch. I have used pre-made before and it didn’t taste as good)
- 1 cup coconut palm sugar plus 3 tablespoons
- 1 cup water
- 1/2 cup fish sauce plus a few extra dashes
***take 3 tablespoons of tamarind (the kind that comes like a giant brick of dried fruit wrapped in plastic) and soak in 1 1/2 cups of warm water for 20 minutes. Use your hands to pull and squeeze off all the pulp and to combine in the now tamarind-y (not a word) water. Do this over a colander so all the good goo goes into a bowl, leaving only the tough fibrous bits behind.
Put all ingredients in a pot to simmer. Check once in a while to make sure it is not burning on the bottom. I like to add a little extra fish sauce. Simmer on low until thick and syrupy. Takes about an hour and 15 minutes. The original says an hour but I like mine thicker!
NOTE: if making my full recipe of Pad Thai use about half the sauce for a flavourful recipe. You can save the rest in a glass jar or bottle in the fridge for a week or two or you can freeze.
PAD THAI: (amounts are approx depends how much you want to make and how many bits and pieces you want amidst your noodles) THIS FEEDS 4!
- Thai dry rice noodle stick (depends on size of package but I use half of a large package) ***** soaked in cold water for an hour and drained***** IMPORTANT DO NOT PRE COOK THE NOODLES PER THE PACKAGE!!! IGNORE THE INSTRUCTIONS!!!! ( I like the thinner noodles. Not vermicelli-thin. More like linguine as opposed to thicker like fettuccine)
- Olive oil or grapeseed oil for lighter flavour
- Garlic and/or shallot minced fine (a few cloves or one small shallot or a bit of both)
- Garlic chives or scallions cut into 1/2 – 1 inch pieces (Maybe 10 chives or 3-4 scallions)
- Optional: dry thai chili, red chile flakes or fresh red thai chili to taste
- 2 – 4 Carrots cut into matchsticks
- 1- 2 cups mung bean sprouts (soaked, drained, dried)
- 2 – 4 eggs – depending how eggy you want it (you can pre whisk or crack them in as is. Depending how many corners you want to cut)
- Firm tofu cut into bite size rectangles (one whole brick)
- Protein of choice: deveined prawns or thinly sliced chicken (breast or thigh) or pork or a combo! ( The kids like chicken, I like prawns. The second link uses prawns and pork which I would like to try sometime – of course if you are attempting a vegan or veggie version leave this out!)
NOTEY NOTE: I make this to feed kids as well so I leave out any hot thai chiles or red chili flakes in the pad thai itself and leave that for the side. If I was cooking for myself I would throw some torn dried thai chilies right in the mix along with the garlic/shallots!
NOTEY NOTE NOTE:
If you are making this for the first time or are feeling stressed you can pre-cook a few items before starting the actual Pad Thai. These steps make it easier for you because the cooking procedure happens so fast. The reason being, you don’t want anything to stick and you don’t want your noodles to overcook and break apart. But make sure the use the same pan for everything and then make the Pad Thai in that very same pan! That way you aren’t losing any of the wonderful flavours left behind by the previous ingredients, and it’s almost as if you cooked it all in consecutive order 😉 YAY YOU!
So the items you can pre-cook are: tofu (lightly sautee in garlic and olive oil, set aside); eggs (whisk eggs, cook omelette style with red chili flakes if desired and set aside and cut into strips); prawns or chicken (cooked in oil with red chili flakes and/or garlic, set aside)
As well make sure all your prep is put into separate bowls rather than stacked on one large chopping board. Of course any raw proteins should always be in a separate dish. But the reason for everything else to be separated is for ease of fast cooking during each different step. You don’t want to be fumbling with anything when you only have 30 seconds to 1 minute to work with each item before needing to move them around in the super hot pan again!
Cutting Corners Pad Thai: (I find it easier to do a full family size pad thai with this method but you definitely need a huge pan or wok)
Pre-cook your tofu, omelette and prawns or chicken individually but consecutively in the same pan with a little oil. You can add some garlic and/or red chili flakes if you like to season a bit. Set aside.
Heat oil in pan to medium high. Toss in carrots and garlic/shallots. Move about for a minute or so. Toss in pre-cooked tofu and garlic chive/scallions. Move about to combine with carrots.
Push aside and toss on the noodles. Pour a bunch of sauce over top. About half the sauce recipe if you want lots of the flavour. Move the noodles about and combine with the tofu/carrot mix. Moving fast to prevent sticking. You can always add a little more oil and a dash of water. I like to keep a cup of water handy.
Toss on the bean sprouts. Move about to mix into the noodles. Toss in your pre-cooked chicken or prawns and cut up egg strips. Move around til warmed through and mixed throughout the dish. By this point the noodles should be cooked but still chewy and elastic.
Or if you are feeling confident go for the authentic super speedy full meal deal!
Real Deal Pad Thai: Chicken (more challenging to cook a large batch but I have managed it. If in doubt do half the recipe twice consecutively. Draw straws for who gets the first two portions!)
Heat oil in pan to medium high. Toss in chicken and garlic/shallots, cook til almost done before proceeding to next step.
Push chicken to side of pan. Toss in your tofu into the middle of the pan let it get a golden sear. Push tofu aside with chicken. Toss in carrots. Cook for a minute or so. Mix chicken and tofu around with the carrots (chicken should be cooked by now).
Throw the noodles on top. Pour on about half of the pad thai sauce. Mix noodles in with everything. Add some water if too dry. Push to the side of the pan.
Dash in a little more oil. Crack a couple eggs into the oil. Let the eggs start to cook, stir them about and then toss the noodle mix around and in the egg mixture to combine. Then toss in the garlic chives/scallions and bean sprouts. Keep moving the noodle mix around for another minute or so.
Then plate and top with cilantro, peanuts and any other accoutrements you like!
Real Deal Pad Thai: Prawns (almost the same as the chicken version. But you cook the prawns later in the line up so they don’t overcook!)
Heat oil in pan to medium high. Toss tofu into the middle of the pan let it get a golden sear. Toss in carrots, garlic/shallots. Move about with the tofu. Push aside.
Throw in the noodles. Pour on about half of the pad thai sauce. Mix noodles in with the tofu/carrot mix. Add some water if too dry. Push to the side of the pan. Add some extra oil. Toss in your prawns cook for a minute or so. Throw noodles on top of prawns to prevent sticking. Push prawn/noodle mix to the side.
Crack a couple eggs into some more oil. Let the eggs start to cook and toss the noodle/prawn mix about to mix the egg around. Then toss in the garlic chive/scallion and bean sprouts. Keep moving the noodle mix around for another minute or so.
Then plate and top with cilantro, peanuts and any other accoutrements you like!
Because Pad Thai happens so fast make sure all of your accoutrements are completely prepped and ready to go in little dishes as well. Pad Thai is best eaten fresh and hot (after a while it loses that chewy saucey texture and becomes more stodgey) so you really want to be able to serve everything quickly and adorn each plate. Or you can plate everyone and let them pick and choose what they would like from sharing dishes in the centre of the table!
- Lime wedges
- Roasted crushed peanuts (unsalted)
- Red pepper/chili flakes or thinly slice fresh red Thai chilies
- Additional coconut palm sugar (to make some bites sweeter)
- Fresh cilantro
- Optional: additional fresh mung bean sprouts (optional as there are already some in the hot dish)
- Optional: Chili paste (the kind that has garlic and shrimp paste in the ingredients list)