Almost perfect Pad Thai

Ask me about the best thing I’ve eaten abroad, and I’ll tell you: it’s Pad Thai from a street cart at a night market in Bangkok. And I’m not even trying to be trendy with the whole food truck thing. This was ten-plus years ago.

The noodles were fresh. The flavors were simple yet amazing: briny shrimp and tart tamarind, lightly sweetened and caramelized together to make a brown sauce so delectable you wanted to lick every last egg bit from your plate. (But you restrained, because you were eating at a table full of locals and you didn’t want to give scrubby American backpackers a bad name.) The whole thing was served piping hot, cooled down with a squeeze of lime wedge so that it wouldn’t scorch your tongue.

Good Pad Thai isn’t easy to re-create at home. It’s the fresh-noodle factor. And the heat factor. (Well, maybe your kitchen has a big-ass open-flame burner large enough to accommodate an enormous wok, but I have a crappy electric range.)

But it’s one of my favorite foods, so I try.

I’ve been tweaking this recipe, derived from a booklet I received as a souvenir for taking a tourist cooking class in Chiang Mai, on and off for a few years now, and I think I’m finally getting there.

To make good Pad Thai, you have to use a very hot pan: this prevents the noodles from getting overcooked and sticky. And when using a very hot pan, things happen quickly. When making a dish like this, I always measure and lay out each and every ingredient before I put anything in the pan. Even little things like spices and water.

More dishes, less stress.

So you get your pan piping hot and then add all of the above things in succession, while stirring constantly. My favorite part is the egg; I like to make a little cradle in the middle of the pan and scramble it there, in it’s own little space, before mixing it in with the noodles.

So, anyway. Try it and let me know how it goes for you?

Until then, I’ll keep tweaking….

Almost Perfect Pad Thai [Adapted from the Chiang Mai Thai Cookery School cookbook]

Serves 4.

1/2 lb dry flat rice noodles
2 tbsp vegetable oil
2 tsp jarred crushed garlic (or 2-3 fresh cloves, minced)
1/2 block extra firm tofu, pressed and cut in to 1/2″ cubes
1 lb shrimp, peeled and de-veined
1/2 C warm tap water
2 eggs, lightly beaten
3-4 scallions, sliced
1/4 C dry roasted peanuts, chopped
2 limes, cut in to wedges
1 C mung bean sprouts

1/4 C fish sauce
1/4 C brown sugar, lightly packed
2 tbsp soy sauce
2 tbsp fresh lime juice (1-2 limes)

  • Soak noodles in warm water for 20-25 min, or prepare according to package directions for stir-fry.
  • Heat oil over medium-high heat in a large high-sided pan or wok.
  • Whisk together sauce ingredients and set aside.
  • When pan is just smoking hot, add tofu and garlic. Stir until fragrant, about 45 seconds.
  • Add shrimp and stir until just barely opaque, about 45 seconds.
  • Add noodles and water and cook, stirring frequently, until water has absorbed, about 1 minute. Reduce heat to medium.
  • Add sauce and cook until absorbed, about 1 minute.
  • Push noodles and shrimp to the edges of the pan, creating a “cradle” in the center. Add egg and scramble. When egg is nearly cooked through, add half of scallions and combine with noodles. Toss thoroughly to distribute.
  • Transfer to a serving platter and top with bean sprouts and peanuts. Garnish with lime wedges. Serve immediately.

I had some Chardonnay with dinner:

This 14 Hands 2010 Chardonnay was a nice wine. Definitely on the fruitier side, but well-balanced by a hefty dose of vanilla and a very smooth apple-pie-like flavor.

Bottom line: A good value white, in my book! (Purchased at Harris Teeter, $12)

And that brings me to last week’s running recap:

I’m reasonably satisfied with my long-slow-distance (LSD) run and pretty happy that I got a track workout in, but I wish the overall mileage number were higher. I should be in the 50s. Perhaps I could have pushed today’s post-work run a bit to get there, but it just didn’t seem like it was worth it. My legs were tired from a long day at work, and really, I need to be logging that mileage in earlier in the week, not cramming it on on Sunday night on the heels of a long run.

I know I need to start doing doubles again, a couple of times a week, if I want to get my weekly number back up in to the fifties and sixties and beyond.

Let’s call that a goal for this coming week, eh?

22 responses to “Almost perfect Pad Thai

  1. Love pad thai but have yet to find a satisfactory recipe. Maybe I’ll give it a try. :)

  2. Thank you for using egg. I see a lot of recipes online for Pad Thai and they don’t use an egg (because OMG calories) and I want to smash the screen.

    • WTF? It’s not Pad Thai without the egg! People are taking that out to save calories and then chomping down on piles of noodles?

      People are dumb.

  3. I’ve never been able to get scrambled egg in Asian dishes right. I love it at restaurants, but mine always ends up more like breakfast scrambled eggs. Any suggestions?

    • I’m definitely no expert either, but I think it has to do with the temperature of the pan. Also, make sure you’re not overbeating the eggs…I just whisk mine a couple of times, so the whites and yolk are still somewhat separated. That, combined with a hot pan, gives the eggs that sort of bubbly-fried texture instead of smooth scrambled egg texture.

      Or so I believe. :)

  4. This is EXACTLY why a lot of fried noodle dishes make me nervous. You get a very small window to make it perfect. And I still need a learning curve when it comes to most dishes… Nicely done!

  5. Your recipe is kind of similar to the one that I’ve come up with. I think a lot of people’s downfall when they make pad thai at home is that they add way too much soy sauce. I like to add a little dash of sriracha sometimes, too, if I’m in the mood for something spicy. Which is pretty much always. :) Well done, friend. Looks awesome and very authentic!

    • I think most people probably add too much soy sauce and not enough fish sauce. I used to do this too!

  6. I am ridiculously excited to try your version. I’ve been looking for the perfect recipe and have yet to find one. I think I always try to add too many veggies to healthify it but really, it’s all about the carbs and I should just let it be.

    • Yeah, it won’t work with tons of veggies mixed in. You could always just toss them up with a little oil in a separate pan and then put them on the side/on top!

  7. Mmmm… love me some pad thai, well, except the pad thai I had on Friday night. It was actually pretty awful, but normally I’m a huge fan.

  8. I’ve never actually had Pad Thai, is it anything like pho? Because pho is my JAM. I will definitely have to try this though… although it seems like the odds I’m going to screw it up are pretty high.

  9. I can’t wait to try this!! I love Pad Thai!! I made it once and it was okay, but this recipe looks Awesome and I like the idea of getting everything set out and ready to go. I will keep you posted on how it goes :)

  10. I dream about the food cart Pad Thai in Bangkok constantly, and I’ve never come close to re-creating it. I think part of it is that I don’t have a large bottle of Chang and a bucket of ice to enjoy it with

  11. I think one thing is missing, and they sure use it in pad thai : monosodium glutamate. It’s what gives that kick we’re not able to reproduce.

  12. That’s weird – I just made pad thai for the first time last night. Unfortunately before I saw this post. I used Mark Bittman’s recipe:
    Not bad but not great; am looking forward to trying again with your recipe. Thanks.

  13. Ok so I’ve been following now for a few months and when I saw your pad thai, I just had to give it a go, cause it’s also my fav but I’ve been afraid to attempt at home, too. Turned out pretty good! Only question…you mentioned tamarind but don’t see it in the recipe and I’m convinced that’s the missing ingredient separating what I made from being ridiculously legit for homemade. Help a girl out and keep up the running! I’m training for some spring races and you’re giving me some good ideas for workouts – woot.

    • Yep, authentic pad thai would have tamarind juice or paste. But it’s difficult to find so I sub lime juice. I agree that it would probably make a big difference!

  14. I just made this recipe and I was really pleased with it! I noticed that above you said you’ve used too little fish sauce in the past, but I think I’d decrease it a bit next time I make this. Also, thanks for your instruction to set everything out in advance – that was really helpful. We have a great Asian market locally so my next plan is go to look for tamarind paste there and give this another whirl. Nicely done!

    • I have found that fish sauce can vary quite a bit as well. The stuff I have is the Taste Of Thai brand that’s nationally available at most decent supermarkets, and I don’t think it’s quite as pungent as the stuff you can get at Asian markets (which we don’t really have here). So if I’m a bit heavy-handed with it, that might be why. Anyway, I’m glad you enjoyed it and am SUPER jealous that you have a local Asian market. Better access to ethnic ingredients is one of the things that I’m very excited about when we move to Atlanta in March!