Pad Thai is one of those dishes that is ubiquitous at most asian restaurants, regardless of whether they’re Thai or not, and is relatively decent everywhere you go. I’ve found that it’s hard to ruin Pad Thai, but it’s also not that common to have really good Pad Thai. To me that means fresh noodles, a tangy sauce with a hint of spice and a protein that doesn’t overwhelm the dish.
For me, part of making healthier food choices is satisfying cravings for food I’d usually go out for by making it at home. Most of those are simple, homemade pizzas, burgers, sweet potato fries, brownies, to name a few. But the other day I really wanted some Pad Thai, the good stuff. There’s a lot of different recipes out there, some simpler than others, some even add peanut butter (huh?) but in honor of NYT Cooking moving behind a paywall I decided to try their version of foolproof Pad Thai. It is important to note that, as with many NYT cooking recipes, I did not have an easy way to access every ingredient, there’s always one or two things I leave out either because I can’t find it or because it’s too expensive when I do. In this instance, I left out the tamarind paste because I couldn’t find it and I didn’t have time to go to every asian supermarket on the block. I also left out the cabbage because I didn’t have any at the time and didn’t want to make a special trip to the grocery store. I also switched up the shrimp for chicken because shrimp is pretty expensive in Central Florida. With all that said, this turned out to be the best version of Pad Thai I’ve ever made! Definitely better than the “decent” stuff from asian fusion places, although not as good as the best ones I’ve had.
If you’ve never made Vietnamese or Southeast Asian dishes before, there will definitely be some ingredients on the list that won’t necessarily be at the local Publix. I used the Squid brand fish sauce because that’s what my Vietnamese boyfriend grew up using and his family says it’s their go-to. We’ve used other brands when we couldn’t find the Squid one and they do smell/taste differently. If you can’t find the tamarind paste, fish sauce is key. It has a very pungent smell/taste that adds great tang, so do a little research before picking up the first bottle you see.
There are a few distinct steps that go into making the dish, individually they’re pretty simple, but once every burner is going things might feel a little complicated. The key is to be organized. We like to chop and to have all the ingredients needed out and ready to go first, before even turning on the heat. It just makes the whole thing less stressful. Follow the instructions for cooking your rice noodles, I like to buy them wet but if you can only find dry, it works as well. I started sautéing my chicken in the biggest skillet I own and while that cooked, worked on getting the sauce together and simmering. This sauce is the key to the dish. Even without the tamarind paste, it comes out tangy, with a hint of sweet and a slight kick from the red pepper flakes. I’m a wimp when it comes to spicy but the boyfriend added some more red pepper and Sriracha to his finished dish for added heat.
Once the chicken was done, I put it aside on a plate and used the same skillet to cook the garlic and scallions in peanut oil, scramble the eggs and then heat up the bean sprouts (and cabbage too, if you have it). Once those were wilted and shimmering, I added the cooked chicken and the noodles with the peanut oil, giving it all a big stir to combine. At the very end, I turned off the heat and added the warm sauce, using chopsticks to combine everything; two forks would’ve worked well, too.
I topped the finished result with some lime juice and lots of chopped peanuts. It was delicious. I even went back for a second serving, eating up what was meant to be lunch the next day. All in all, it’s slightly more elaborate than what I would usually tackle on a weeknight but when the craving hits again, this is the recipe I’ll use. Who knows? I might even find tamarind paste next time and have the full experience! I can’t wait.
TL;DR: Tackled an elaborate-looking Pad Thai recipe and, even without all the ingredients, it was a hit! Try it next time you’re feeling more ambitious than delivery or take-out.
Recipe courtesy of NYT Cooking: https://cooking.nytimes.com/recipes/1013121-pad-thai
- 4 ounces fettuccine-width rice stick noodles
- ¼ cup peanut oil
- 1 to 4 tablespoons tamarind paste
- ¼ cup fish sauce (nam pla)
- ⅓ cup honey
- 2 tablespoons rice vinegar
- ½ teaspoon red pepper flakes, or to taste
- ¼ cup chopped scallions
- 1 garlic clove, minced
- 2 eggs
- 1 small head Napa cabbage, shredded (about 4 cups)
- 1 cup mung bean sprouts
- ½ pound peeled shrimp, pressed tofu or a combination
- ½ cup roasted peanuts, chopped
- ¼ cup chopped fresh cilantro
- 2 limes, quartered
- Put noodles in a large bowl and add boiling water to cover. Let sit until noodles are just tender; check every 5 minutes or so to make sure they do not get too soft. Drain, drizzle with one tablespoon peanut oil to keep from sticking and set aside. Meanwhile, put 1 tablespoon tamarind paste, fish sauce, honey and vinegar in a small saucepan over medium-low heat and bring just to a simmer. Taste and add more tamarind paste if desired. It should be piquant, but not unpleasantly sour. Stir in red pepper flakes and set aside.
- Put remaining 3 tablespoons oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat; when oil shimmers, add scallions and garlic and cook for about a minute. Add eggs to pan; once they begin to set, scramble them until just done. Add cabbage and bean sprouts and continue to cook until cabbage begins to wilt, then add shrimp or tofu (or both).
- When shrimp begin to turn pink and tofu begins to brown, add drained noodles to pan along with sauce. Toss everything together to coat with tamarind sauce and combine well. When noodles are warmed through, serve, sprinkling each dish with peanuts and garnishing with cilantro and lime wedges.