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Pad Thai

Pad Thai was created after the country had just changed its name from Pratet Siam to Pratet Thai. It seems ironic that the one dish whose name was honoured with “Thai”—a buzzword at the time—uses noodles, a Chinese ingredient. But that was the point: around the time of World War II, Chinese immigrants had made noodle dishes wildly popular among Thai people. The Prime Minister, known for his Thai patriotism, tried to fight the spread of Chinese culinary influence by creating a noodle dish that used Thai ingredients and flavours. This is why pad thai contains no ingredients common to other noodle dishes, such as soy sauce and oyster sauce.

Serves: 2–3
Cooking Time: 15 minutes + 1 hour to soak noodles
Do-ahead Tips: Make the sauce in advance and store in fridge; soak the noodles in advance, drain, and store in fridge in a sealed container
Pad = Stir-fry; Thai = Thai
Pad Thai Recipe

Ingredients

THE SAUCE
  • 3 Tbsp Palm sugar, finely chopped, packed
  • 3 Tbsp Water
  • ¼ cup Tamarind juice (see note)
  • 2 Tbsp Fish sauce (see note)

THE REST
  • 4 oz Dry rice noodles, medium size (2½–3 mm)
  • 4 oz piece Pressed tofu, cut into small pieces, about ¾ cup (see note)
  • ¼ cup Sweet preserved daikon radish (chai po waan), finely chopped
  • 3 cloves Garlic, chopped
  • 1 Shallot, chopped
  • 1 Tbsp Dried shrimp, rinsed and finely chopped
  • ½–1 tsp or to taste Chili flakes
  • 2½ cups Bean sprouts
  • 1 cup Garlic chives, 2-inch pieces
  • ¼ cup Roasted peanuts, chopped
  • 2 Eggs
  • 2–3 Tbsp Vegetable oil
  • 8–12 Shrimp, peeled and deveined
  • 1 Lime

How to make Pad Thai

  1. Soak the noodles in room-temperature water for about 1 hour, until the noodles turn white and are pliable.
  2. Make the sauce by combining the palm sugar and water in a heat-proof bowl, and then microwaving for 30–45 seconds or until hot; stir to dissolve most of the sugar. Stir in the tamarind and fish sauce.
  3. Organize your prep by combining the tofu, preserved radish, garlic, shallot, dried shrimp, and chili flakes in one bowl. In another bowl, combine the bean sprouts, garlic chives, and half of the peanuts. Crack your eggs into a small bowl, so you avoid having to fish egg shells out of a hot pan.
  4. Heat 2 Tbsp of the oil in a wok or large sauté pan over medium-high heat until hot. Add the shrimp and let them cook, without moving, until they are halfway done. Flip the shrimp and cook the other side. Remove and set aside.
  5. To the same wok, add everything in the tofu bowl. Cook, stirring constantly, until the garlic starts to turn golden brown, adding more oil if it seems dry.
  6. Add the noodles and pour the sauce over the noodles; keep tossing until all the liquid is absorbed and the noodles are cooked. When the sauce is all absorbed, push the noodles over to one side and add the eggs into the empty space. Scramble the eggs slightly and swirl the pan to spread the eggs wide. Once the egg is 50% set, put the noodles on top of the egg and let it sit for 10–15 seconds to set the eggs.
  7. Flip the noodles so the eggs are now on top; stir to break up the eggs. Add everything in the bean sprouts bowl and toss to incorporate into the noodles. Remove from the heat.
  8. To serve, transfer the noodles onto a plate, making sure to distribute the tofu evenly, as it tends to slip off the noodles and stay in the wok. Arrange the shrimp on top of the noodles and sprinkle on the remaining peanuts. Serve immediately with a piece of lime. You can also serve extra bean sprouts, peanuts, chili flakes, and garlic chives on the side. If you can find fresh banana blossoms, they are also traditionally served with pad thai. Be sure to squeeze the lime over the noodles before you eat them!


Note: Each brand of tamarind juice varies greatly in acidity, so you may need to adjust this amount.
Fish sauce flavour is prominent in this dish, so it is important to use a good-quality, fresh bottle.
Pressed tofu (sometimes labelled as “bean curd”) is almost as firm as cheddar cheese and can be tossed in the wok without breaking. You can also use extra-firm tofu, cut into small pieces, and then fried until golden brown, which will firm them up.

WHAT COLOUR IS IT?
I often get asked why some pad thai has a bright orange colour, while others are various shades of brown. In North America, some restaurants add tomato paste, ketchup, or paprika to enhance the colour or to make the flavour more familiar. Even though diners have become much more adventurous, the practice has stuck. In Thailand, where many varieties of pad thai exist, some are also orange, but these orange noodles are likely to come from shrimp tomalley or Thai chili sauce (scan QR code for pad thai variations).
THE BREAKDOWN
The Style Thai
The Aromatic Garlic, shallots, chili flakes, garlic chives
The Nuggets Noodles, shrimp, tofu, preserved radish, dried shrimp, eggs, bean sprouts, peanuts
The Sauce Fish sauce, palm sugar, tamarind, water
Flavour Profile A balance of sweet, sour, and salty

Tip for Success: This ratio of liquid to noodles results in perfectly chewy noodles for me. But to be sure, taste the noodles to check their consistency after all the sauce has been absorbed; if they feel too chewy, add a splash of water and cook longer until dry.