With this recipe, making Pad Thai from home cannot get any simpler than this. This has a nice sweet, salty, sour and spicy taste all in one dish. It is super flavorful and one of the dish that is truly worth making at home. I would say this recipe is better than take-out
What is Pad Thai?
Pad Thai is a classic and traditional Thai noodle dish. It has wonderful flavor from sweet, sour, salty and spicy in other variations. Pad Thai can be made with chicken, shrimp or tofu for a vegetarian option. It could be mildly hot, super hot or just regular with no heat at all.
Challenge in Making Pad Thai
The challenge with making Pad Thai is not in the process, because the process itself is really simple. It is as simple as stir-frying the ingredients and cooking the noodles. The challenge lies in the ingredients, especially if you do not cook much Asian dish often. As expected, Pad Thai calls for Asian staple ingredients like fish sauce, tamarind paste, rice vinegar something that you might not have on hand in your pantry. The good news is that they are easy to find in an Asian grocery or international section of the grocery, and they are not that expensive. Although sometimes they don’t come in small sizes, so you will definitely end up with a lot of left over ingredients. Again, not to worry. That means you can make Pad Thai more often because you already have the basic ingredients on hand, or you can further explore Asian cooking to make use of it.
Pad Thai Sauce
The most important thing in making Pad Thai is the sauce. This is what brings the flavor together. You have to have the balance of sweet, sour, salty and spicy (optional) taste. This is where the fish sauce (salty), sugar (sweet) and rice wine vinegar (sour), Sriracha (spicy) comes in.
What are the Ingredients for Pad Thai Sauce?
- Fish Sauce – You can easily find fish sauce in an Asian stores, but if you do not want to buy any, you can substitute it with a mixture of soy sauce + white vinegar or soy sauce + lime juice. However, I recommend you use fish sauce to at least get close to the taste of restaurant Pad Thai. You can use it for some other Asian recipes, or for making more Pad Thai in the future and it is really cheap anyway.
- Brown Sugar – This provides the sweet component of Pad Thai. Use the dark brown sugar for a moist sticky texture, or you can use the raw brown sugar that comes in bar, like the one shown in the photo.
- Tamarind Paste or Tamarind Concentrate – This provides the sweet and sour component of Pad Thai. You can find this in Asian store of the international section of the grocery
- Lime Juice – This gives the sour component of the Pad Thai so try to find one. Although it can be substituted with Lemon, Lime has a stronger flavor which makes it better for making Pad Thai sauce
- Rice Wine Vinegar – This provides the sour component of Pad Thai. This kind of vinegar is less acidic, and it has a milder, sweeter taste compared to regular distilled white vinegar. If you use a regular white vinegar, you might want to decrease the amount as it is more sour and acidic. Start with 2 tablespoon and adjust as needed.
- Paprika – This provides the spicy component of Pad Thai. There are different variation of Paprika. Make sure to taste the paprika to gauge how spicy it is. Some paprika in pouch or if you are buying it in bulk section do not specify if it is sweet, smoke or hot. The one that I used is mild, so adding 1 tablespoon gave a nice heat and color but not extra spicy.
- Hot Sauce or Sriracha – This provides the spicy component of Pad Thai.This is optional only if you can stand spicy Pad Thai.
Options to Sweeten the Sauce
There are several options that you can use to sweeten the sauce. Traditional Pad Thai uses cane sugar, but regular granulated sugar will work too. I used Taikoo brown sugar which comes in bar. It is a good alternative to white sugar and are best for marinating and making sauce. If you are using a bar sugar like this, chop or shred it using a knife so that it dissolves easily when cooking the sauce.
Pad Thai Noodles – Rice Noodles
Buy the correct noodles, it makes a huge difference. For me, if it doesn’t use the correct noodles, even if it taste great, it just doesn’t give the complete experience of eating Pad Thai. I used to eat at a restaurant that serves Pad Thai, for some reason, they changed the noodles to a thin egg noodles and for me that completely ruin the Pad Thai experience because of expectation. When we visualize something and get something else, we loose the satisfaction of enjoying the dish. Imagine a Pad Thai that uses spaghetti noodles, does that even make sense? Use rice noodles, they look like this. It is flat, white and almost transparent.
Tip: When it comes to cooking the noodles, do not boil it. This is a common mistake of some people which makes the noodles soggy. Simply soak it in warm water to loosen it, the cooking part will happen when you stir-fry it
What are the Ingredients for Pad Thai?
- Pad Thai Sauce – You can make this ahead of time just keep it refrigerated. I have provided the Pad Thai ingredients above and in the ingredients section below
- Rice Sticks/Rice Noodles – You can buy this in Asian store or international section of the grocery. This is a thin flat almost transparent noodles like in the photo above. Do not use any other kind like egg or vermicelli noodles.
- Vegetable Oil – This is just for stir frying, you can use any flavorless oil here.
- Garlic – for flavor, if you want more feel free to add more or less
- firm Tofu – It is very important to use firm tofu, read the label before buying it. Soft tofu will break easily when you stir-fry it. You can also skip this and add more shrimp or even chicken.
- spicy Shrimp – optional, this adds nice heat. I used Sriracha dried shrimp.
- 1 Egg – You can add 1 more if you want more egg. I find that 1 is enough for this amount of serving
- 10 Shrimp, peeled and cleaned – Use large shrimp as shrimp shrinks when they cook
- 1/2 cup Bean Sprouts – Divide the bean sprouts in 2 portion, reserving the other half for garnishing. You can add more if you like
- dry-roasted unsalted Peanuts – optional but it certainly adds crunch, and gives a good presentation and makes it look more like restaurant style
- Garlic Chives or Scallions – Whichever you can find. I used green onions here because I cannot find chives in the grocery
- Lime – this provides the sour component of the Pad Thai. Although you can substitute this with Lemon, I strongly suggest using Lime if you can find it as it has a stronger citrus acidic flavor that works well with the rest of the ingredients here
- Basil – optional but I really like adding Basil for more freshness. This is not usual to a traditional Pad Thai but I really like it
How to Make Pad Thai
Prepare the Noodles: Start by soaking the noodles in warm water. Set it aside while you make sauce.
Make the Pad Thai Sauce: make the sauce by mixing all the ingredients in a pan. Bring it to a boil just to dissolve the sugar. It is as easy as that. Have it on the side while you stir fry the rest of the ingredients. You can make this ahead of time, even 2 days in advance. Simply keep it refrigerated.
Stir-Fry the Ingredients: When stir-frying, it is suggested to have a hot pan, this will give the nice browning to the ingredients. If you are using chicken or tofu, you can stir-dry that at the beginning. When using Shrimp, I like doing it at the end so as not to over cook the shrimp Shrimp has a tendency to be gummy when cook for a long time. Stir-fry the tofu and garlic then push it aside in the pan and crack the egg. Stir after 30 second to mix with the rest of ingredients in the pan. Add the noodles, mix and pour the sauce and mix again. Push everything on the side of the pan to make room for cooking the shrimp. Add the shrimp and 1 tablespoon of the Pad Thai sauce and once cooked, turn the heat off and add the chives or green onion and bean sprouts. Mix just to cook the chives. At this point, try to taste it so you can adjust to your preference. That’s about it. Serve and garnish with chopped peanuts, remaining bean sprouts and lime wedges.
Making the Variations
Pad Thai can be made using chicken, shrimp or tofu for vegetarian option. You can even have it plain, if you do not want to add anything. Chicken is the most popular version, but since I am a seafood lover, I often make the shrimp variation with tofu. When I feel like being vegetarian, I go for tofu. Chicken thigh is a good part to use because it is more juicy plus it is cheaper than chicken breast, but by all means use chicken breast if you like. When using tofu, use the extra firm tofu so that it doesn’t break apart when you stir-fry it. For shrimp, I would recommend getting the big one as shrimp shrinks as it cooks. You want the shrimp to be standout so buy a good quality one
Pad Thai can be made spicy or mild, the decision is up to you. I personally like mine hot so I added quite a lot of paprika in this recipe. I used sweet paprika which have the spicy and sweet taste. Make sure to check the type of paprika that you use, do not use the smoke hot paprika as it could get really hot. You can certainly decrease the spice level, or even remove the paprika for no heat at all. You can use hot sauce or sriracha sauce in place of paprika or mix them both. Again, if you want to control the spice level, ass the paprika or any hot sauce you are using gradually and adjust as needed.
Tips in Making Pad Thai
- Use rice noodles, not egg noodles or anything else.
- Soak the rice noodles, do NOT boil it in hot water as this will make it too soggy. Take note that you will stir-fry the noodles and that will cook it even more.
- Drain (do not rinse) the noodles and let sit to dry out. Not rinsing the noodles will keep the starch intact and will make the sauce stick easier. If the noodles is too wet, the sauce will not stick to the noodles.
- Keep the Pad Thai moist, but not too wet. If you pick-up the noodles and you can see the sauce dripping, that means you added too much sauce. If this happen, you can add more noodles.
- Use large for easy stir-frying and to have enough room to mix everything.
Pad Thai Sauce
- 3 tablespoons Fish Sauce
- 5 tablespoons Brown Sugar
- 3 tablespoons Tamarind Paste or Tamarind Concentrate
- 2 teaspoon fresh Lime Juice
- 1 tablespoon Rice Wine Vinegar
- 1 tablespoon sweet Paprika for color (optional)
- 1 teaspoon Hot Sauce or Sriracha
- 1 tablespoon Cornstarch
- 1 teaspoon Water
For the Noodles
- 3 to 4 cups medium-width Rice Sticks/Rice Noodles, soaked
- 1 1/2 tablespoons Vegetable Oil ( Canola, grapeseed, or peanut oil will work too)
- 2 cloves Garlic, minced
- 1/4 cup firm Tofu, sliced
- 1 teaspoon dried spicy Shrimp – optional
- 1 Egg
- 10 Shrimp, peeled and cleaned
- 1/2 cup Bean Sprouts
- 2 tablespoon dry-roasted unsalted Peanuts, crushed
- 2 Garlic Chives (or Scallions), cut into 2-inch bias strips
- 1/2 Lime, cut for garnish
- 2 tablespoon fresh Basil – optional
- For the Pad Thai Sauce: Dilute the cornstarch in 1 teaspoon water. In a small pan, stir together the cornstarch mixture, fish sauce, sugar, tamarind paste, lime juice, vinegar, paprika and sriracha or hot sauce (if using). Simmer in low heat for 5 minutes until the sugar is dissolved. Taste and adjust sweetness as desired.
- For the Noodles: Soak the noodles in enough warm water and cover for 15 minutes. Warm water means you can dip your hands for at least 30 seconds without feeling your hands it getting burnt. Rinse and drain. Set aside for use later.
- For the Pad Thai: Heat the pan in high heat. Add the oil and coat the pan completely. Add the garlic and stir for 5 seconds. Add the tofu and dried shrimp and stir-fry for about 3 to 4 minutes. Push ingredients in the pan to one side and let the oil settle in the center of pan. Crack the egg into the empty side of the pan. Allow to set until half-cooked, about 30 seconds, then lightly mix. Combine with the remaining cooked ingredients in pan, scraping the bits from the pan before they burn. Add the drained noodles and cook until softened, 2 to 3 minutes. Do not overcook as the noodles will get soggy. Add 5 tablespoon of Pad Thai sauce mixture and fold together until all the liquid is absorbed, about 2 minutes. If you want it to be more moist and wet, you can add 1 tablespoon more but do NOT use all the sauce as the Pad Thai will be too wet. Place 1/4 cup of the bean sprouts, 1 tablespoon crushed peanuts and the garlic chives (or green onions) in the center of noodles, and then spoon some noodles over them to cover and let steam for 30 seconds. If the pan seems dry, add a small amount of the noodle soaking water or more sauce.
- Serve: Transfer to a serving plate garnish with the remaining bean sprouts, peanuts and lime wedge
Serves 1 – 2
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