There is something so intoxicating about Pad Thai. The perfect balance of sweet, sour, salty, and spicy. The aromas of fresh herbs and veggies juxtaposed against the pungent odors of fermented sauces. Or that droplet of perspiration that tickles the brow before it tumbles down your pulsating jaw as you chew. Ah yes, Pad Thai epitomizes all that is balance. A perfect comfort food.
Everybody has their own and only way to make Pad Thai. Some believe strict rules must be adhered to if you are to truly call this fried noodle dish real Pad Thai. Others are more experimental and believe only a few essential elements are necessary to label it Pad Thai. I find myself somewhere in the middle.
I believe Pad Thai, or at least a good Pad Thai, must begin with a tart tamarind base, layered with the sweetness of palm sugar, though light brown sugar will do just fine. Next, a hit of salt from the briny fish sauce, or soya sauce for vegetarians. And finally a few good shakes of the trusty Sriracha sauce to elevate the spiciness, and reinforce that savory garlic presence.
What’s a noodle dish without noodles? Pad Thai noodles must be flat rice noodles, otherwise you’ll end up with a bowl full of fusion confusion fettuccine. Nice try, but stick with the rice noodles. The only magic involved here is soaking the noodles in cool, that’s right COOL water, and letting them dry completely before tossing them into the wok. I know, the package says to pour boiling water over them for five minutes and if you want a lumpy pile of fried rice starch go right ahead. Soaking them in cool, not warm, not cold, but cool water for fifteen minutes and let them dry, will yield a perfect fried noodle with a wonderful texture.
And lastly, we come to the aromatics and toppings. This is where I step aside and let the experimenters have free rein. Mere suggestions I can only offer are garlic, ginger, chillies, an egg, carrots, bean sprouts, coriander (cilantro in North America), and of course the almighty chopped roasted peanuts. Choice of proteins are usually tofu, prawns or chicken, but scallops, beef, and pork work great as well. And there you have it, not only a dish that wakes up the taste buds, but is full of texture and color.
Now let’s take a closer look:
- 1 package of flat rice noodles (some are labelled Pad Thai)
- Pad Thai sauce (see recipe below)
- 15-20 Black Tiger Prawns (or choice of other protein)
- 1 large carrot cut into matchsticks
- 2 eggs, lightly beaten
- 4 spring onions, chopped
- 1 cup bean sprouts
- 6-8 cloves garlic crushed
- 1 large bushel coriander (aka cilantro) chopped, stems separated and finely chopped
- 2 Thai chillies, finely chopped
- 1/2 cup roasted peanuts, coarsely chopped
- Peanut oil for frying
For the noodles: place the rice noodles in a bowl and cover with cool water. Let set for 15-20 min. Drain and allow to completely dry. Tip* Cutting the noodles with scissors into shorter pieces, not only makes eating them easier, but also handling them while cooking.
Omelet: Heat the wok over medium-high heat. Add 1/4 cup oil. Pour beaten eggs into oil. DO NOT STIR. Tilt the wok in a circular motion, causing the egg and oil to spread across the surface. After 1 minute, carefully work your spatula under the omelet and flip it over gently to avoid splashing oil. Cook for 1 more minute, then transfer to a plate. Slice into bite-size pieces.
Stir-fry: Now this is when you want to work fast and efficiently. Traditionally Pad Thai is cooked 1 serving at a time and this is also my preference. Luckily, each serving only takes a maximum time of 2 minutes. A little longer if your protein is chicken or pork. In which case, if you’re cooking for four people, I’d make the exception and double up the servings. Otherwise, 1 serving, 2 minutes, and be sure to quarter the ingredients as you add them, for equal distribution.
Turn heat up to high. Be sure the wok is well oiled, a couple tablespoons should do it. Add the garlic, spring onion, chillies, and coriander stems. Stir. Add the prawns and continue stirring. Now toss in the noodles. Pour enough sauce to generously coat the noodles. Finally, add your carrots, bean sprouts, omelet, and peanuts. Stir well and quickly transfer to a plate. Then repeat for the next serving, but be sure the wok is sufficiently oiled.
Garnish with coriander leaves, more chopped peanuts, slices of chilli, and a lime wedge.
Pad Thai Sauce
- 3/4 cup water
- 3 tbsp raw tamarind
- 1 block palm sugar (or ½ cup light brown sugar)
- 1/4 cup fish sauce
- 2 tbsp Sriracha sauce
- 1 tbsp hoisin sauce
- 1 tbsp oyster sauce
- 1 tbsp soy bean paste
- 1 Lime
Bring water and sugar to a boil until sugar is fully dissolved. Remove from heat and add the tamarind. Be sure the tamarind is completely submerged and allow to cool enough to touch.
When the tamarind mixture is cooled down, use your hand to squeeze the paste, incorporating it into the water. The water will thicken and the seeds and stems will loosen. Now strain mixture into a bowl using a sieve and press firmly to free any remaining paste. Discard seeds and stems.
Add the remaining ingredients to the mixture. Be sure to taste for balance and preference. If you like it spicier then add more Sriracha, saltier add more fish sauce, and sweeter add more hoisin. If you accidentally go overboard and make it too sweet or too salty, use a squeezed lime to amp up the acidity. Set aside.
And there you have it. A beautiful Pad Thai, vibrant in color, harmonious in flavor. Stay tuned for a side of spring rolls with a crisp so deafening, and a flavor punch so intense you’ll be begging for mercy.