Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Pad Thai

Go again and again.  I won't mind.  :)

This is my second time posting a Pad Thai recipe up in here.  But the thing is, the first one isn't that real.  I mean, it is good...but it is the kind of Pad Thai recipe that involves no special ingredients.  Which is nice.  Recipes like that have their place.  But, I have been searching for a more authentic Pad Thai recipe.  I have experimented quite a bit since then.  And I have finally come to a conclusion!

I thought I would give you a little tour of the ingredients.  I love going to the Asian Market in Boulder.  So, I don't mind the hassle of finding weird Asian ingredients like salted/pickled turnips.

However, my first experience buying them was...scary.  I always look around the hardly organized store to try to find stuff myself.  Almost every time, I end up asking the lady in charge where things are.  When I asked her for the turnips, she took me to the end aisle (the dark one), got down to the bottom shelf and started digging through these bags of random pickled veggies.  After trying to convince me that the "radishes" were the same as the "turnips", I somehow found the bag of salted turnips.  It was coated in some sticky substance.  Mangled.  Pretty sketchy.  But I can't be afraid.  I buy and use and go on with my life.

Upon bringing the bag home, thoroughly disinfecting the outside of the bag, I look at little closer at the bag only to find that the English on the bag hardly qualifies as English.  "Serving Instruction:  It's with fish or meat togeher boil or fried. It's the optimum delicius toop." Hmmm.  There are even errors in the Nutrition Facts.

I used them.  But something was wrong.  They tasted similar to what I would imagine a finger would taste like.  Raw.  Human Finger.

So, what did I do?  I went back and got another bag (different brand) and tried again.  The second bag (the first one pictured) was 1000% times better.  Still their presence in my Pad Thai wasn't anything to write home to mom about.  But, they add a nice salty interesting something something.  Definitely optional.

The next Asian ingredient is Palm sugar.  I liked it and it was fun to use.  I am sure I would not be able to tell the difference between Palm sugar and brown sugar.  But is a nice alternative to your regular old sugar.  Recommended but not mandatory.

Lastly, you'll need these three more common ingredients.  The rice noodles you can definitely find at a regular grocery store.  The fish sauce probably too.  The tamarind concentrate will probably call for a trip to the Asian market.  And all are absolutely necessary.

The rest of the ingredients are pretty normal.  Eggs, limes, cilantro, green onions, bean sprouts, garlic, chile powder, peanuts and shrimp.

The trick to making good Pad Thai is to prep everything and then make in small batches (1-2 servings).  Don't overcook the rice noodles before stir-frying them.  They can still have quite a bite to them before you throw them in the wok.  Personally, I like less fish sauce than what many recipes call for.  And I am not even scared of the stank of fish sauce, I just like the balance better with less.  I also like a spicy Pad Thai.  My chile powder currently is weak.  Weak!  I added two whole tablespoons and I could feed the resulting Pad Thai to an infant.  But all chile powders are different.  And finally, I love lots of cilantro and lime.  Not sure how authentic cilantro is, but I love it.  

Pad Thai
adapted from use real butter

vegetable oil (for frying)
12 oz. chicken (2 oz. per serving)
4 cloves minced garlic (about 1/2+ clove per serving)
sauce (see below) (about 1/4 cup per serving)
1 lb. rice noodles, soaked in warm water to soften (but not too soft)
6 eggs (1 egg per serving)
1 lb. shrimp, peeled and deveined (4-6 shrimp per serving)
1 cup ground peanuts (1-2 tbsps per serving)
3-4 cups bean sprouts (1/2 cup per serving)
1/2 cup pickled turnips, chopped (optional, 1+ tbsp per serving)
1 cup garlic chives or green onions, chopped (2 tbsps per serving)
1 bunch cilantro, coarsely chopped
more sprouts (garnish)
more cilantro (garnish)
fresh limes (garnish)

1/2 cup tamarind paste
1/3 cup fish sauce
1/2 cup palm sugar (I used 4 pods)
1 tbsp chili powder (to taste)

Make the sauce: Over a low flame, heat the tamarind, fish sauce, and palm sugar together until the sugar is dissolved. Stir in the chili powder a teaspoon at a time to desired spiciness. Bring the sauce to a simmer. Turn off the heat (keep sauce warm).

Make the pad thai: [The key is to cook up 1-2 servings at a time!] Heat 2-3 tablespoons of oil in wok or large frying pan over high heat. Add 2 ounces of chicken and stir-fry until it is half cooked. Add 1-2 tablespoons of sauce, and a pinch of garlic. Stir around and add about 2 cups of loosely packed (for me, a big handful) of rice noodles plus 1/4 cup of sauce to the pan and stir vigorously until the noodles soften. If it dries out, you can add some water. Push the noodles to the side and crack an egg into the pan. Let the egg cook for 10 seconds and then toss the noodles and egg together in the pan. Drop 4-6 shrimp, a couple of tablespoons of ground peanuts, a heaping tablespoon of turnip, and 1/2 cup of sprouts into the pan. Stir fry until the shrimp are just cooked (very fast – about a minute). Toss in the green onions or garlic chives and cilantro and remove from heat. Serve hot with more sprouts, ground peanuts, cilantro and lime wedges for garnish.

(Servings: 6, Prep time: 45 min., Cook time: 15 min., Difficulty: Intermediate)

foodforscot Ratings:

Shanon (taste):  8/10
Scot (taste):  8/10
Effort:  3/5
Dishwashing Effort:  3/5


  1. So like many people, I love ordering Pad Thai. I need to make it at home! What a great dish from one of my favorite bloggers. You always inspire me with your beautiful AND tasty meals. I hope you have a wonderful end to your week. Stay safe and happy. Love from Austin.

  2. Here is what I learned from this post. If my life is to be complete (and how can it be without pad thai) then I need to get myself to an Asian market. That looks delicious!

  3. Pad that is one of my favorites! But yeah, I haven't quite gone through the effort of gathering all the necessary ingredients. Thanks for the tour!

  4. I tried making pad thai the other day and failed miserably, yours look really good!