I always seem to fool myself into thinking that pad thai is a good weeknight meal. Then I’ll get home from work and start prepping ingredients, and then I’m prepping and prepping and finally asking Dave to help because I’ve been in the kitchen over half an hour and I haven’t even started cooking yet. Fortunately, once the cooking starts, it only takes 10 minutes or so. That short cooking time is what always tricks me into making this on a weeknight.
One of the most difficult tasks with making pad thai is finding at least some of the authentic ingredients. I love tamarind, and I’m always disappointed when I order pad thai in a restaurant and find that they’ve skipped the tamarind. Tamarind is sold in several forms – the whole pods, the pulp of the pods, and a liquid concentrate. I use the pulp. If you really can’t find any, a mixture of lime juice and water can do in a pinch.
Pad thai has so many freakin’ ingredients, which is the only reason it takes a while to prepare. Another of my favorites, that might be hard to find, is dried shrimp. Mmm…like shrimp jerkey, so salty and good. I tried salted radish and absolutely hated it. Definitely a textural issue. I’ve seen recipes that called for salted cabbage instead of salted radish, so I want to try that too.
There are so many ingredients, and the cooking happens so fast, that I have to line up all of the ingredients in the order that they’re cooked, so I don‘t have to look at the recipe at all. Sometimes I have Dave read the recipe to me as I stand over the stove doing the fun part.
Ah, but pad thai is so worth all the chopping and prep work. It’s so good – and healthy!
Pad Thai (from Cooks Illustrated – no adaptations)
Serves 4 as a main dish
Although pad thai cooks very quickly, the ingredient list is long, and everything must be prepared and within easy reach at the stovetop when you begin cooking. For maximum efficiency, use the time during which the tamarind and noodles soak to prepare the other ingredients. Tofu is a good and common addition to pad thai. If you like, add 4 ounces of extra-firm tofu or pressed tofu (available in Asian markets) cut into ½-inch cubes (about 1 cup) to the noodles along with the bean sprouts.
If you’re using tamarind concentrate instead of pulp, mix 1 tablespoon with 2/3 cup hot water. If you can’t find any tamarind, mix 1/3 cup of water with 1/3 cup of lime juice; replace granulated sugar with brown sugar. Do not serve this version with lime wedges.
2 tablespoons tamarind paste or substitute
¾ cup water (boiling)
3 tablespoons fish sauce
1 tablespoon rice vinegar
3 tablespoons granulated sugar
¾ teaspoon cayenne pepper
4 tablespoons peanut oil or vegetable oil
8 ounces dried rice stick noodles, about 1/8 inch wide (the width of linguine)
2 large eggs
¼ teaspoon table salt
12 ounces medium shrimp (31/35 count), peeled and deveined, if desired
3 cloves garlic, pressed through garlic press or minced (1 tablespoon)
1 medium shallot, minced (about 3 tablespoons)
2 tablespoons dried shrimp, chopped fine (optional)
2 tablespoons Thai salted preserved radish (optional)
6 tablespoons chopped unsalted roasted peanuts
3 cups bean sprouts (6 ounces)
5 medium scallions, green parts only, sliced thin on sharp bias
¼ cup fresh cilantro leaves (optional)
1. Soak tamarind paste in 3/4 cup boiling water for about 10 minutes, then push it through a mesh strainer to remove the seeds and fibers and extract as much pulp as possible. Stir fish sauce, rice vinegar, sugar, cayenne, and 2 tablespoons oil into tamarind liquid and set aside.
2. Cover rice sticks with hot tap water in large bowl; soak until softened, pliable, and limp but not fully tender, about 20 minutes. Drain noodles and set aside. Beat eggs and 1/8 teaspoon salt in small bowl; set aside.
3. Heat 1 tablespoon oil in 12-inch skillet (preferably nonstick) over high heat until just beginning to smoke, about 2 minutes. Add shrimp and sprinkle with remaining 1/8 teaspoon salt; cook, tossing occasionally, until shrimp are opaque and browned about the edges, about 3 minutes. Transfer shrimp to plate and set aside.
4. Off heat, add remaining tablespoon oil to skillet and swirl to coat; add garlic and shallot, set skillet over medium heat and cook, stirring constantly, until light golden brown, about 1 1/2 minutes; add eggs to skillet and stir vigorously with wooden spoon until scrambled and barely moist, about 20 seconds. Add noodles, dried shrimp, and salted radish (if using) to eggs; toss with 2 wooden spoons to combine. Pour fish sauce mixture over noodles, increase heat to high, and cook, tossing constantly, until noodles are evenly coated. Scatter 1/4 cup peanuts, bean sprouts, all but 1/4 cup scallions, and cooked shrimp over noodles; continue to cook, tossing constantly, until noodles are tender, about 2 1/2 minutes (if not yet tender add 2 tablespoons water to skillet and continue to cook until tender).
5. Transfer noodles to serving platter, sprinkle with remaining scallions, 2 tablespoons peanuts, and cilantro; serve immediately, passing lime wedges separately.