Pad Thai, perhaps Thailand’s most infamous noodle dish, has dozens of incarnations—including several regional variations—each one a slightly different take on the mouthwatering combination of sweet, salty, and sour flavors. Some are super spicy, and some—like this recipe—are very mild. Regardless of your recipe, this is one of those dishes that’s all prep and very little actual cooking.
Pad Thai: The winner of our first Reader’s Choice Recipe Poll
Back in the beginning of June, we asked you all to vote for your which delicious-looking recipe from Cookstr.com you’d like to see demonstrated in The Hungry Mouse’s signature, step-by-step style.
This Pad Thai by Australian chefs Victoria Blashford-Snell and Brigitte Hafner won our poll, with 55 of the 273 votes cast. You can also find it in their book, The Illustrated Kitchen Bible.
Deborah Madison’s Spring Rolls came in second, and Nick Malgieri’s Challah came in third. Look for step-by-step walk-throughs of those recipes in the weeks to come.
A little history about pad thai
One of Thailand’s national dishes, Pad Thai typically consists of rice noodles stir fried with a combination of eggs, another protein (shrimp, tofu, or chicken), peanuts, fish sauce, chili pepper, bean sprouts, and lime—along with any number of other ingredients, including tamarind juice, coriander, cabbage, banana flower, and preserved turnip.
Many hold that the dish is actually Vietnamese in origin, and was adapted to the Thai palate. A popular street food, vendors would wrap the noodles up in a bundle of banana leaves to feed hungry folks on the go. It was officially promoted by the Thai government during World War II, as part of an effort to reduce wartime consumption of rice (one of the country’s biggest exports at the time).
It continued to be a staple in the lean times that followed the war, with rice noodle shops and factories popping up all over the country as a way to help the people get by.
Ingredients in pad thai
Most larger supermarkets should carry some version of these ingredients. To track down these specific brands, your best bet it to hit up a big Asian grocer (or order them online). In the Boston area, we head to Chinatown or hit Super 88.
Rice Noodles—For this recipe, you’ll need wide, flat rice noodles. Think fettuccine.
Fish Sauce—Also known as nuoc mam. Like soy sauce, the fewer ingredients in fish sauce, the better. Look for bottles made only with anchovies, salt, and sugar.
Fish sauce is pungent stuff. It should be a rich brown color and as thin as water. (Looks a lot like my vanilla extract, doesn’t it?)
We like Golden Boy brand fish sauce a lot. If you can’t find it in person, you can order a 24-oz. bottle of the stuff here for just under $4. (I can’t imagine ever going through such a big bottle. But, the good news is that it doesn’t need to go in the fridge, so you can just stick it in a cabinet. I could be wrong, but I’m guessing it keeps forever.)
Oyster Sauce—As with fish sauce, look for an oyster sauce whose first ingredient is, well…oysters. Oyster sauce is thick and syrupy.
We like Lee Kum Kee Premium Oyster Flavored Sauce (order it online here for about $8). Steer clear of their Panda brand, whose first ingredients are water, sugar, and salt.
Shrimp—I don’t mind shelling and deveining shrimp myself. Click here for step-by-step photo instructions on how to clean the little beasties. Try cleaning shrimp under cold running water. It makes the whole operation a lot easier. (Or, if you’d rather skip it and save a little time, just buy them already cleaned.)
Tips on cooking Pad Thai
- Prep all the ingredients in advance. The whole dish takes about 5 minutes to cook, if that, so there’s no time to chop as you go.
- Cook it when you’re ready to eat. The leftovers are still tasty, but they pale in comparison to the hot-out-of-the-wok experience.
- Use the largest wok or frying pan you have. All the ingredients, including the noodles, go into the pot and get tossed around.
12 oz. (350g) flat rice noodles
4 Tbsp. vegetable oil
2 Tbsp. cilantro, chopped
1 small hot red chile, seeded and finely chopped
9 oz. (250g) large shrimp, peeled and deveined
4 shallots, finely chopped
4 large eggs, beaten
1 Tbsp. sugar
2 Tbsp. oyster sauce
1 Tbsp. Thai fish sauce
2 Tbsp. fresh lime juice
9 oz. (250g) bean sprouts
4 scallions, white and green parts, sliced
1 cup unsalted roasted peanuts
1 lime cut into 4 wedges, for garnish
Serves about 4
Pad Thai: Prep all your ingredients
No, really. Do this all in advance.
Cook the rice noodles
Set a kettle of water on the stove over high heat to boil. Grab your rice noodles and toss them in a large mixing bowl.
When your water is boiling, pour enough into the bowl to submerge your noodles.
With a pair of tongs, scoot the noodles around to loosen them up and separate them.
Cover the bowl with some aluminum foil and let them soak for about 15 minutes, or until soft. (Give one a taste to see if they’re ready.)
Drain the noodles and set them aside.
Mix the pad thai sauce
In a small bowl, add the lime juice, oyster sauce, and fish sauce.
Mix together to combine well. Set aside for a few minutes.
Stir fry the pad thai ingredients
Don’t start cooking until you can give it your full attention for 5 or 10 minutes. Once you start, the whole thing comes together really, really fast.
Heat a wok or large frying pan on the stove over high heat. Add 2 tablespoons of the oil, and the chopped cilantro and chili pepper.
Toss in the shrimp. Stir to coat with oil, cilantro, and chili. Stir them around constantly—making sure to flip them over on both sides—for about a minute, until they’re just opaque.
You want them to look about like this. They should be opaque on both sides, and will only be about 1/2 cooked through at this point.
Yank them out of the pan and set them aside for a minute on a plate.
Keep the heat on high (or drop it a little if your pan is starting to smoke).
Add the remaining 2 tablespoons of oil to the hot pan. Toss in the chopped shallots. Stir fry for 1 minute.
Pour in the eggs.
Toss in the sugar.
Begin to stir the eggs immediately so they break up into bits as they cook. Cook for about 1 minute, until the eggs are totally scrambled.
Pour in the mixture of lime juice, fish sauce, and oyster sauce.
Stir around to distribute the sauce. Add the noodles to the pot.
Toss in the bean sprouts and shrimp.
Stir fry for another 2 minutes. This will help the all the flavors marry together and finish cooking those shrimp.
Sprinkle in the sliced scallions and half of the peanuts. Stir fry for another minute.
Pour the whole pan out into a large serving bowl. Garnish with lime wedges and the rest of the peanuts.
Thanks again to our friends over at Cookstr.com. Look for our other Reader’s Choice winners soon! (And maybe I can even convince The Angry Chef to share his top-secret recipe for Pad Thai with us…)