Sunday, July 17, 2011

Pad Thai

Behold, my first attempt on the glorious takeout classic. We love pad Thai - whenever we order from our amazing neighborhood place, we inevitably get one pad Thai and one something else (gai pad gra pow or green curry, usually) and go halfsies. I shouldn't have waited this long to try making it at home, it wasn't nearly as scary as I feared.

Unless it's a dish that I recognize will taste a certain way by just the ingredients, I read a lot of reviews before I try a recipe. I really recommend it, often there are suggestions for improvements posted by the folks that have already tried the recipe and found it lacking in something or other. However, I actually had a hard time finding a pad Thai recipe that had 5-star reviews, so I was even more nervous.

But the reviews are well-deserved. Some of these ingredients may be foreign to you, and a well-stocked grocery store ought to have most of them, but you will probably need to find your local Asian grocer for at least the tamarind paste and palm sugar. You really need to know where your local Asian grocer is, anyway, so consider this the kick in the pants you needed to find it. The tamarind paste renders a distinctive sourness to the dish, balanced out by the sweetness of palm sugar and saltiness of fish sauce. I modified only slightly based on what I had on hand.

The reviewers of this recipe also mentioned that preparing the sauce will cause some serious fish sauce funk to linger in your house. I just ran the vent while it reduced, and no fish sauce funk lingers here. Great success! [/Borat] The sauce takes about an hour to reduce, but since you only have to attend it to stir every once in a while there is plenty of hands-off time to get everything else together.

4 oz medium-width dry Thai rice noodles

3/4 cup water from a recently boiled kettle
2 tbsp chunk of tamarind paste
1/2 cup palm sugar (this comes in big hockey-puck looking blocks - just shave off what you need with a knife)
1/4 cup fish sauce (do not fear the fish sauce, it doesn't taste the way it smells)
1 tsp kosher salt

couple tablespoons vegetable oil
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 pork chops, sliced thinly
~ 12 large shrimp, peeled and deveined, tails left on
3 large eggs
pinch of red chili flakes
1/3 cup dry roasted peanuts, chopped (we like a lot of peanuts)
2 bunches scallions, sliced (we also like a lot of scallion)
few handfuls bean sprouts
1 lime, cut into wedges

In a large bowl, cover your rice noodles with cold water and allow to soften for an hour, or until nice and pliable but still a little too tough to eat. They need to retain some firmness or they'll turn to mush when you actually cook them.

Pour the hot-ish water over your tamarind paste and let sit for about 20 minutes. Strain into a small pot or saucepan, pressing the pulp to squeeze all the juice out. Combine the rest of the sauce ingredients with the tamarind juice and allow to reduce over low heat, stirring occasionally, until syrupy and reduced by about half. Set aside.

Prep your pork and shrimp by seasoning with a little kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper and get the rest of the ingredients ready to go. Once the noodles are soft and the sauce has reduced, the actual assembly happens pretty quickly.

So! When everything is ready, heat a couple of tablespoons of vegetable oil in a really big non-stick skillet. You'll need room to toss. Over high heat, fry up the pork slices for a minute, then add the shrimp and allow to just cook through. Remove them all to a bowl. Add more vegetable oil if the pan is dry and begin to fry the garlic. Now add the noodles with a little splash of water and stir quickly to keep them from sticking. Pour the reduced sauce over them and toss with tongs to coat them evenly. Scoot the noodles to one side of the pan and crack the eggs into the other, then spread the noodles back over on top of the eggs. Let them sit just like that for a minute or two to set the eggs, then break them up by stirring them through. Add the chili flakes, peanuts, scallions, and bean sprouts as well as the cooked pork and shrimp and toss through, letting them cook with the noodles just another minute or two more.

Top with a squeeze of lime, a few bean sprouts and a sprinkle of peanuts. Aroy dee!

Serves 4, takes an hour and a half with plenty of breaks.


  1. Tamarind paste can also be found in most Mexican markets and sometimes in the Hispanic section of a your local stores, I assume its the same product, sounds like a good excuse to visit both places and taste the difference.

  2. I didn't know that! What's a dish they use it for? I need to become better acquainted with my Latin grocery. There are so many of them near me.

  3. I had a similar experience with pad kee mao...totally worth the hand-wringing/recipe-searching/asian-market-finding though! Love your writing! :) Jennifer