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Pad Thai Recipe (ผัดไทย)

February 29, 2016

Pad Thai Recipe (ผัดไทย) – Part One: The Pan

pad thai recipe
One of the reasons I had not put Pad Thai [1] on this site until now is because I knew it would be a lot of work as there is so much that needs to be said about the dish. Pad Thai, like many true street dishes [2] cannot be adequately explained in one post. It’s a dish that was born out of an interesting era with an interesting history; it’s a dish that may look quick to make but actually requires pretty extensive preparation; it’s a dish that is somewhat picky about the quality of the ingredients that go into it. Unavoidably, this will have to be a series.

However, the first installment of our Pad Thai series has nothing to do with its history, ingredients, or method of preparation. I don’t know what kind of logic I’m operating on, but I’ve decided to commence the series with what in my opinion is the ideal Pad Thai pan. To me, it’s that important.

Those who have been to Thailand may have noticed that vendors whose specialty is Pad Thai oftentimes sell Hoy Tod [3] (หอยทอด mussel pancakes/fritters) also, and that these vendors always use a large, flat carbon steel pan which lends itself well to both dishes.[4] There are reasons for this the most important of which is that a well-seasoned, wide, flat-bottomed pan with short sides makes it harder for you to botch your Pad Thai. This is due to the fact that this type of pan has large surface area which allows for better evaporation. And good evaporation means better chances of you getting the much-loved brown bits and “wok smell” both of which are desirable in stir-fried noodles (cf. my post on Pad See-Ew).

In the case of Pad Thai, the brown bits and wok smell aren’t very important. Nevertheless, good evaporation is key to creating noodle strands that are well-seasoned and entirely cooked through while retaining a bit of chewiness — exactly some of the characteristics of superior Pad Thai. Add too little sauce and the noodles are under-seasoned and dry; add too much sauce and the noodles are over-seasoned and most likely soggy. To produce a good plate of Pad Thai you still need to practice, of course, but a good, wide, flat-bottomed pan makes it much less likely for you to ruin the dish. The sauce gets absorbed and the excess moisture evaporates before it causes the noodles to become too wet and gummy.

A heavy, wide, flat-bottomed paella pan with short rims would work well provided that it’s made of superior material. A traditional steel paella pan or an enameled steel paella pan are definitely not a good choice. A friend of mine loves making Pad Thai in his 17-inch aluminum nonstick paella pan and you can’t persuade him otherwise (I personally don’t like making any stir-fried noodles in a nonstick pan). However, at a risk of stating the obvious, paella is not a stir-fried noodle dish, and most paella pans aren’t made with dishes like Pad Thai in mind. So if you’d like to go the paella pan route, choose wisely. You want it to have large surface area, great heat retention, an ability to withstand high heat, and a nonstick surface.

But the best pan for Pad Thai which I have ever come across in my entire life is not a paella pan at all; it’s a cast iron pan. Cast iron cookware is rarely, if ever, used in Thailand (in fact, I have never seen it anywhere, and the ones I’ve seen have been brought over from the US), so you just have to try it to see that even though cast iron pans and Pad Thai seem like an odd pair, they work so well together.

One factor that makes a cast iron pan better than any wide and flat pan with short and flared rims is its excellent ability to heat evenly and to retain heat for long periods of time — precisely what a dish like Pad Thai desperately needs. Not any regular paella pans can do this.

pad thai recipe
The pan which I’ve used to make Pad Thai with consistently great results is a pre-seasoned 17-inch cast iron pan made by Lodge. With the bottom measuring 14 inches across and the rims standing 2 1/2 inches tall, it gives you enough surface area to make 3-4 servings of Pad Thai at a time — something that, when done in a smaller pan, inevitably leads to noodles that are soggy or stick together. It distributes heat perfectly and sits nicely on any type of stove top including flat ceramic surface.

I’ve recently discovered this pan and fell head over heels in love with it. This pan is great for Pad Thai, Pad See-Ew, Hoy Tod, and other stir-fried or pan-fried Thai street dishes. The pan performs so excellently and is so versatile that I don’t even mind the fact that it’s painfully huge and heavy. Also, the pan comes pre-seasoned, so it’s ready to be used right away. As a safety measure, I went ahead and seasoned it with coconut oil anyway. To my delight, the seasoning has withstood batch after batch of Pad Thai even with the acidic tamarind pulp in the sauce.

I love this pan to bits.

I know it took me nearly three years to finally blog about Pad Thai, but, you see, I really want you to make it and to make it successfully.

___________________________

1 The official transliteration of ผัดไทย is phat thai.
2 More on the subject of “true street food” in another post, another time.
3 The official transliteration of หอยทอด is hoi thot.
4 Not all Pad Thai vendors sell Hoy Tod, though, and certainly not all of them use a flat pan. However, based on my observation, Pad Thai made by vendors that limit their repertoire to only Pad Thai or Pad Thai and Hoy Tod is almost always anything from good to excellent. One easy way to spot a mediocre Pad Thai vendor is when Pad Thai is one of the many dishes on offer at the same stall. Excellent Pad Thai makers almost always sell nothing but Pad Thai and sometimes Pad Thai and Hoy Tod. This is true to my experience, although I’m sure some exceptions do exist. Without input from the locals, it’s very possible that one could travel across the oceans to Thailand in search of a good plate of Pad Thai just to end up at a really atrocious street food stall and with some really sad Pad Thai.

Source: Pad Thai Recipe (ผัดไทย) – Part One: The Pan – SheSimmers

 

Pad Thai Recipe (ผัดไทย) – Part Two: The Noodles

pad thai recipe

The noodles are soft enough when they can be twirled around your fingers without breaking
Different people use different yardsticks to measure the quality of Pad Thai. For me, the noodles represent that which makes or breaks this dish. True, the noodles alone don’t make a good plate of Pad Thai, but they do form the bulk of it. And when the noodles are badly cooked, they invariably drag everything down with them. In light of this, a post focusing on nothing but this ingredient is, in my opinion, entirely justified.

Many people place the highest importance on the seasonings. Pad Thai seasoned with ketchup? Blasphemy, they cry. Well, it’s not that I disagree with that. It’s just that, personally, if better choices aren’t available, I would choose ketchup-flavored Pad Thai with properly cooked noodles over perfectly-seasoned Pad Thai with mushy, gummy noodles any day.

As saddening as Pad Thai seasoned with ketchup or Pad Thai that is badly seasoned is, more so is Pad Thai with overcooked and soggy noodles. When that happens, there’s little, if anything, you can do to fix it. You can sometimes resuscitate Pad Thai with tough and undercooked noodles by moistening it with a little water, covering it with plastic wrap, and giving it a minute or two in the microwave. If the flavor of your Pad Thai is off, you can still adjust the seasoning after it has left the pan. Missing ingredients? I wouldn’t consider that the end of the world.

But if the noodles are wet, gummy, and mushy — it doesn’t even matter if you get everything else right — it’s game over. That plate of Pad Thai has left this world and gone where there is weeping and gnashing of teeth. Nothing can be done to bring it back.

Dried rice noodles come in different widths, but they’re always flat.
The first step towards keeping that from happening is to start with the right kind of noodles. Just because it says “rice noodles” or “rice sticks” on the package doesn’t mean you’re in the clear. These terms are used so broadly to refer to various types of Asian rice noodles (that are wildly different from each other and not at all interchangeable) that they’re almost meaningless.

The noodles that are traditionally used in Pad Thai are thin and flat rice noodles, Sen Lek (เส้นเล็ก), that are sold dried most of the time. In Thailand, respectable Pad Thai vendors always use Sen Lek that comes from Chanthaburi province or at least ones that are made according to that tradition (and they often advertise that on their shop signs). Chanthaburi noodles are made from freshly-milled rice flour and still dried out in the sun the old-fashioned way (as opposed to machine-dried). They cook up nice and chewy, and that’s one of the marks of superior Pad Thai.

However, this doesn’t mean that if you can’t get a hold of noodles from Chanthaburi, you’re doomed. As long as you go for the rice noodles that are thin and flat, preferably made in Thailand, you’re okay. Make sure the noodle strands aren’t round, though, as those are entirely different from Pad Thai noodles. These noodles are always flat.


Some brands use the t-shirt sizing system on their rice noodles: small, medium, large, and extra-large. Shown here are dried rice noodles measuring 2 millimeters (S), 3 millimeters (M), 5 millimeters (L), and 9 millimeters (XL) in width. I prefer my Pad Thai noodles 3 millimeters wide, but anything under 5 millimeters in width will do. You have better chances of achieving noodles that are cooked through yet still retain the much-loved chewiness with narrower noodles.

To prepare dried noodles for Pad Thai, simply soak them in room temperature water until the noodles are pliable yet firm. When you bite off a piece, it should be chewable yet feel unpleasant to eat. [The soaking time varies depending on the width of the noodles. For 3-millimeter-wide noodles, 20-30 minutes of soaking in room temperature water should suffice; for anything wider than that, increase the soaking time accordingly. You know the noodles are ready when they’re soft enough for you to twirl them around your fingers without breaking the strands (see picture above).] Then drain the noodles well and set them aside.

I strongly recommend against blanching the noodles prior to stir-frying. These rice noodles release tons of starch in hot water, and, as we all know, hot water + starch = glue. Blanching your rice noodles is a most guaranteed way of getting your Pad Thai noodles to clump up. (No respectable Pad Thai vendors have a pot of boiling water next to their pan for the purpose of par-boiling their noodles before frying.) The best method is to cook your pre-soaked noodles in a pan wherein the stickiness of any released starch will be offset by the presence of the oil.

Source: Pad Thai Recipe (ผัดไทย) – Part Two: The Noodles – SheSimmers

 

Pad Thai Recipe (ผัดไทย) – Part Three: The Notable Ingredients and Garnishes


I have proposed in the first part of the Pad Thai series that the best pan to use to make Pad Thaiis a wide, flat-bottomed pan with a nonstick surface, short rims, and great heat retention ability. In the second part of the series, I have proposed that the best rice noodles to use in Pad Thai is flat rice noodles between 2 to 5 millimeters in width (measured before soaking). In the same post on the noodles, I’ve also cautioned you against blanching or par-cooking the noodles prior to stir-frying for that is the surest way to get your noodles to clump up and your Pad Thai completely ruined.

In this post, I will be making comments and suggestions on the ingredients and garnishes that help make your homemade Pad Thai that much closer to the most common version found on the streets of Bangkok. You may not have seen some of these ingredients before in all the versions of Pad Thai which you have had outside Thailand. But I can assure you that none of these ingredients is foreign to most Pad Thai enthusiasts in the motherland. And this is undoubtedly a yawn-inducing post to them for, you see, Pad Thai is such an ordinary food that is found everywhere in Bangkok, and these common ingredients are found right along with it. Everywhere. Every day. Almost all the time.

Banana Blossoms (Hua Pli หัวปลี)

A banana blossom wedge is featured as the cover image of this post, because I love this Pad Thai garnish so much. The tender heart of a banana blossom provides not only the crunch but also the very mild and pleasant astringency both of which I’ve found to be a perfect counterbalance for a dish like Pad Thai which, though does not taste greasy, contains quite a bit of oil out of necessity.

So in this case, banana blossom wedges are not simply a garnish in the manner of that cute little mint sprig in your dessert which nobody really eats; they’re actually there to be eaten along with the fried noodles.


The blossoms of one of the most common banana cultivars in Thailand, burro (nam-wa น้ำว้า), are tender, crunchy, fresh-tasting, and has no trace of bitterness. And they’re used quite commonly as a Pad Thai side/garnish. I’m feeling a little sad just thinking of how disappointingly tough and tannic most of the banana blossoms found in the US are, and how this has made it so hard for me to convince my American friends of how delicious, how tender, how sweet raw banana blossoms can be when most of the banana blossoms they have experienced are anything but delicious, tender, and sweet.

But there’s a way to make raw banana blossoms more enjoyable. Just remember to peel off all of the reddish outer layers until the pale yellow core is exposed. (This, sadly, means you end up throwing away more than half of each banana blossom you’ve bought by weight.) To use a banana blossom core as a Pad Thai garnish, cut it lengthwise in half then cut each half, on an angle, into thirds, making sure the core stays intact holding all the petals in each wedge together. Pick off and discard all the bitter little bananas that grow between the petals.

Then plunge the banana blossom wedges into cold acidulated water (water and white vinegar) right away to keep them from turning brown. Keep them in the water until serving time, shaking off excess water beforehand.

pad thai recipe
Tofu (Tao Hu เต้าหู้)

The best type of tofu for this purpose is the firmest you can find. They should not, however, be pre-seasoned; plain extra-firm tofu is the best. If you have access to extra-firm tofu that has been tinted yellow (found in the refrigerator section of most Asian grocery stores), by all means, use that for it is the best kind to use in Pad Thai. The yellow tofu is firmer than many brands of so-called extra-firm tofu and most appropriate for this task.


I cut my yellow tofu into short sticks, approximately 3/4 inch in length, 1/4 inch in width and thickness. But this is by no means a rule; as long as you cut the tofu into small, uniform-in-size pieces, you’re good. This ensures good interspersion; it also serves as a reminder that this is a dish born out of the post-war recession during which time people struggled to stretch every ingredient.

If you can’t find yellow tofu, use the firmest tofu you can find; cut it into small sticks, and firm up the exteriors by searing them in a medium-hot skillet just to keep them from disintegrating in the pan.

tamarind paste

Tamarind pulp should be as thick as possible;
you don’t need extra water that would only make your noodles soggy.
Tamarind Pulp (Nam Ma-Kham Piak น้ำมะขามเปียก)

I have explained the reason for thick tamarind pulp in my earlier post on how to prepare tamarind pulp for Thai cooking, and if you have not read that post, I think at least a quick scan would be helpful. But to recap, the best tamarind pulp to use in Pad Thai — or any dish for that matter — is the kind you prepare yourself from fresh mature tamarind pods.

I like to use shelled and deseeded tamarinds that come in a block. But if you can’t find those, use whole mature tamarinds found at most Hispanic markets. It will be more difficult to get the pulp out of them. Even so, it’s usually just a matter of removing the shells and soaking them longer in hot water as opposed to room temperature water.

pad thai recipe
Salted or Preserved Radishes (Hua Chai Po หัวไชโป๊ว)

Also referred to as “salted/preserved/pickled turnips,”[1] this is one ingredient that many Thai restaurants often leave out of their Pad Thai. Then again, if you’ve never had Pad Thai that contains it, you’re not going to notice that anything is absent. After all, the radishes are chopped so finely and used in small amounts that you can barely notice their presence. But try serving a plate of preserved radish-free Pad Thai to those who grew up eating it a few times a week, and they’d be mentally scratching their heads wondering what’s missing.

There are two types of preserved radishes: one is salty (hua chai po khem หัวไชโป๊วเค็ม) and one is on the sweet side (hua chai po wan หัวไชโป้วหวาน). The latter is preferred.

However, from my experience, people have a hard time finding this ingredient at all and don’t have the luxury of passing over one type in favor of another. So if you can’t find sweet preserved radishes, the salty variety is perfectly fine to use; just rinse them briefly with water and squeeze them dry.

You see the arrow? You see the arrow? Hehe. I’m so mature.
Salted/preserved radishes come in three forms: whole, cut into long thin strips, or finely chopped. Go for the finely-chopped version, if it is available to you, and if Pad Thai is the sole purpose of you buying these radishes. But if the strip version is the only available one, just line them up and slice them crosswise finely as shown above. I usually buy whole preserved radishes for they’re the most versatile.

Shrimp Paste in Oil (Man Kung Sa-woei มันกุ้งเสวย)

pad thai ingredients
If you think the salted/preserved/pickled radish/turnip thing is confusing, meet our next ingredient: shrimp paste in oil. It will make you shake your head, wondering just how many kinds of shrimp paste are used in the various cuisines of Asia.

As you can see, this is not the purple-brown smooth shrimp paste (kapi) that is routinely used to make Thai relishes and curry pastes. This is made out of shrimp meat, soybean oil, and some other stuff that serves as either flavor or color enhancers. Needless to say, it’s not the most natural ingredient — or traditional, for that matter.

It sure adds lots of flavor to Pad Thai, though.

This is — for lack of a better way to describe it — an artificial means of mimicking the rich, savory shrimp tomalley (Man Kung มันกุ้ง) which is used in some high-end versions of Pad Thai. It’s also this reddish shrimp tomalley that lends its beautiful color to the noodles — something which people have tried to achieve by means of tomato sauce or ketchup.

If you have access to fresh, natural shrimp tomalley, by all means, use that for there’s nothing better than the real thing. For the rest of us, the use of this shrimp paste to add the extra savory flavor and reddish color to our Pad Thai sauce will have to do.

But this ingredient is completely optional. You can make delicious Pad Thai without it.

Here’s looking at you, kid.
Small Dried Shrimp (Kung Haeng Foi กุ้งแห้งฝอย)

Dried shrimp is also another ingredient which is often mysteriously absent from the version of Pad Thai found at most Thai restaurants overseas. Back home, it’s a must.

Stand behind any street Pad Thai vendor and observe his or her mise en place, and you will spot a bowl of dried shrimp. They’re usually not the premium dried shrimp — the kind that’s headless, shelled, and flaky. These are the cheaper kind. They’re small and scrawny. You pop a few in your mouth, chew on them, and swear you can’t detect any shrimp meat — just shells. They’re sometimes even dyed red. And since they still have eyes, they stare back at you.[2]

Tiny these little guys may be, but they do play an important role in Pad Thai. If the only kind of Pad Thai you’ve had is made by Thai restaurants overseas, you may not even know that dried shrimp is a Pad Thai ingredient and its absence may not bother you at all. Bangkokian Pad Thai enthusiasts, on the other hand, will notice it right away if their noodles come without these crunchy, shrimp-y bits.

I buy my tiny, shell-on dried shrimp from a local Korean or Japanese market. Go for tiny ones that still have the shells and, yes, the eyes on.

pad thai recipe

Notice the leaves are flat, not tubular like other chive varieties.
Fresh Chinese Garlic Chives (Bai Kui Chai ใบกุยช่าย)

This is also known as Chinese leeks or nira grass.

Maybe I haven’t dined in the right places, but I have never ever had Pad Thai outside of Thailand that contains Chinese garlic chives. At the same time — maybe I haven’t dined in the wrong places — I have never ever had Pad Thai in Thailand that does not contain Chinese garlic chives.

The scent of garlic chives is one of the most prominent features of the kind of Pad Thai I grew up eating. And having to make do with Pad Thai that has green onions — or, worse, cilantro — in lieu of Chinese garlic chives at Thai restaurants overseas was (and still is) a big adjustment for me.

For each bite of Pad Thai, take a bite out of these fresh, crunchy, peppery chives.
When it comes to Pad Thai, Chinese garlic chives serve not only as an essential ingredient, but also an essential garnish/side. Pad Thai without kui chai leaves in it tastes and smells wrong to me; a plate of Pad Thai without fresh kui chai on the side for you to eat along with the noodles also looks incomplete.[3]

If you’ve been trying in vain to recreate the kind of Pad Thai you’ve had on the streets of Bangkok, look at your recipe. Assuming everything else is right, if the recipe doesn’t call for Chinese garlic chives, that’s the reason your attempts have proved futile. You can make decent Pad Thai without these chives. But if your goal is to create the Pad Thai as sold on the streets of Bangkok, you cannot leave them out.

To prepare kui chai for Pad Thai, make a cut crosswise about 5-6 inches from the base and reserve the stalks to serve along with the fried noodles as a side vegetable. Cut the remaining tender parts of the leaves into 1-inch pieces and add them into Pad Thai along with fresh bean sprouts just before you take it off the heat.

1 These are made by pickling then dehydrating daikon. Do you call daikon a radish or a turnip?

2 Perhaps the proto-typical Pad Thai employed a different type of dried shrimp — possibly the premium, meaty kind that might not have been so expensive back then. After all, a Pad Thai recipe cookbook from my mother’s collection, dated to the early 60s, calls for the premium, meaty dried shrimp with an instruction to pound it in a mortar until flaky first (premium dried shrimp cannot be added to Pad Thai as is for, being so dense, they will go from pleasantly chewy to tough and rubbery.) Nowadays, though, it’s almost always this kind of smaller dried shrimp that is routinely used.

3 Think of someone whom you have seen for years with lots of facial hair. Now mentally shave their beard off and look at their face again in your mind. That is how I feel when I see a plate of Pad Thai without stalks of fresh Chinese garlic chives on the side.

Source: Pad Thai Recipe (ผัดไทย) – Part Three: The Notable Ingredients

 

How to Prepare Tamarind Pulp (น้ำมะขามเปียก) for Thai Cooking

how to prepare tamarind pulp
One major ingredient in the Thai cuisine is the pulp of dried mature tamarinds. It’s one of the most prominent souring agents right up there with lime juice. Knowing how to prepare tamarind pulp from dried tamarind pods is, therefore, very important if you’re one of those people who take Thai cooking seriously.

If you plan on making your own Pad Thai in the future, familiarity with how to prepare tamarind pulp will serve you well.

Now that I think about it, the reason I have not blogged about Pad Thai [Added 01-01-12: I have recently blogged about Pad Thai], perceived worldwide to be the quintessential Thai dish, is mainly because I want to introduce to you first each of what I consider to be the essential ingredients. Tamarind pulp, the ideal souring agent of the dish, is first on the list.

how to prepare tamarind pulp
Too often, tamarind pulp is referred to as tamarind juice. The only explanation for this obvious misnomer that I can think of is that the Thais call prepared tamarind pulp, “น้ำมะขาม(เปียก),” which is literally “tamarind water.” Needless to say, น้ำมะขามเปียก is not at all the juice of the unjuiceable tamarinds; it is the hydrated and disintegrated pulp of this fruit-like legume.

This is similar to “prune juice” which is also a misnomer as you don’t “juice” the prunes to get prune juice; you take the pulverized pulp of dried plums and add enough water to it to make it drinkable. It is also the case with tamarind “juice.” If you go to Thailand and some countries in Latin America, you may see tamarind juice offered as a beverage. That beverage is nothing but water flavored with tamarind pulp. And the tamarind pulp which we’re talking about here is simply a much, much more concentrated version of what is referred to as tamarind juice.

Did I thoroughly confuse you yet?

I believe the juice vs. pulp issue is worth mentioning because most prepared tamarind pulp that you’ll see in Asian markets is labeled, “tamarind juice” or “tamarind juice concentrate.” When you see something like that, just know that it is, in fact, tamarind pulp.

Why make your own? Well, one reason is that it’s more economical that way. When you buy the watery prepared tamarind pulp that comes in a plastic tub, you get mostly water and frustratingly small amounts of tamarind for your money. When you buy a block of shelled tamarinds as shown here, you get 100% tamarinds and no filler.

how to prepare tamarind pulp
This leads to the other reason why you should prepare your own tamarind pulp. As mentioned above, most brands of prepared tamarind pulp that I have seen on the market are too thin and watery. This means in order to get the desired level of sourness, you need to put in more of it.

The souring agent is the tamarind pulp proper; the water is merely the vehicle that is there only to help soften and loosen the pulp.

Therefore, to get maximum sourness without adding too much liquid to the dish, you need prepared tamarind pulp that contains as little water as possible. You’re not going to get thatfrom commercial prepared “tamarind juice concentrate.”

Does the level of concentration make a difference? In some dishes, this is not a battle worth dying in. In other dishes, however, too much liquid produces less-than-desirable results. TakePad Thai for example. Adding too much liquid could very well result in the noodles being tragically soggy and falling apart. You definitely don’t want that.

In the US, dried tamarinds are often sold whole at Hispanic markets or in blocks (with the shells, or sometimes both the shells and seeds, removed) at Asian markets. I like the block kind as it eliminates one messy step.

The ratio of tamarind pulp and water that works best for me is one ounce of shelled tamarinds per one fluid ounce of water. This results in prepared tamarind pulp that is thick in consistency and concentrated in flavor. The amount of water is just enough to allow the shelled tamarinds to soften up and disintegrate without much manual labor on your part. Other than that, the water serves no purpose whatsoever.

For a 14-ounce block of tamarinds shown here, I use 14 fluid ounces of lukewarm water (1 3/4 cups). [Block tamarinds are the easiest to work with. Having been shelled, deseeded, and kept in a condition wherein they stay moist, block tamarinds don’t need to be boiled or soaked in boiling water.] I let it soak for 15-20 minutes. Then I grab a handful of the tamarind pods and keep squashing and squeezing the now-softened pulp to separate it from the veins, the seeds, and the tough membranes that cover the seeds. Use both hands for extra pleasure.

What you end up with after the squashing and squeezing is a thick purée of tamarind pulp along with the veins, seeds, and membranes. Some people run the tamarind pulp purée through a sieve to separate out the pulp. When you deal with large amounts of tamarind purée, this makes more sense. However, I prefer to grab a handful of the tamarind purée and squeeze it really hard. The tamarind pulp purée will seep through your fingers as you tighten your fist while the veins, seeds, and membranes stay inside. Then you keep the purée and throw away the junk in your fist.* You keep doing this until you end up with nothing but thick and smooth tamarind pulp in the bowl.


It may sound like a messy, icky undertaking, but in less than half a minute into it, if that long, you will have this very strangely pleasant why-didn’t-I-do-this-before feeling. Trust me. I’ve done this for years and every time still feels like the first time.

This ratio of 14 ounces tamarinds and 14 fluid ounces of water will yield approximately 16 fluid ounces (2 cups) of very concentrated tamarind pulp, ready to use in any recipe. All recipes calling for prepared tamarind pulp, which you will find here henceforth, assume that the pulp is prepared in this manner and has this consistency.

If you plan to use a lot of prepared tamarind pulp in a week or two, you can store it in a glass jar in the refrigerator. For longer storage, I recommend that you freeze it as prepared tamarind pulp can get moldy after a couple of weeks in the refrigerator. If you have ice trays, fill them with the tamarind pulp, freeze, pop out the frozen cubes and store them in a freezer bag in the freezer. That way you can thaw out just a few cubes when you only need a small amount.

Source: How to Prepare Tamarind Pulp

 

Pad Thai Recipe (ผัดไทย) – Part Four: Pad Thai Sauce

In this good news-bad news scenario, I’ve already given you the bad news in Pad Thai Recipe – Part Two in which I opine that it’s not the way Pad Thai is seasoned that makes or breaks it; it is how well or how badly the noodles are cooked. And what makes this bad news is that getting the noodles right happens to be the hardest part about Pad Thai. There are too many variables and too many scenarios generated by the combinations of these variables.The key – and this will be addressed more fully in the final post in the series – is to use heat and moisture in such a way that you end up with well-seasoned noodles that are soft yet chewy and not clumpy, soggy, or tough. This sounds simple, but is not easy. But we’ll leave that for later.

Now the good news.

The level of difficulty in seasoning your Pad Thai well, in my opinion, is in reverse proportion to the level of difficulty in getting the noodles right. Any imperfections can even be fixed – to the extent where something unpleasant can be made acceptable – after the fact.

If you’re going to worry a lot about something when it comes to Pad Thai, I hope it’s the noodles. The sauce is easy.

But isn’t it hard to achieve the well-balanced flavor? After all, one of the comments I’ve heard all the time is, “I can’t seem to get the flavor of my Pad Thai sauce balanced.”

“Balanced,” in my opinion, is not a prescriptive attribute. How can it be?

I think – and I could be wrong – the translation of that is, “I still remember the best Pad Thai I’ve ever had and I can’t seem to replicate that exact flavor.”

how to prepare tamarind pulp

Prepared tamarind – so thick you can stand a teaspoon in it
For this Pad Thai sauce, I wouldn’t worry too much about getting the “balance” of flavors right in your sauce. Think of the flavor traditionally associated with Pad Thai; that’s your guideline. As long as you adhere somewhat closely to that, you will be okay.Besides, I have so much problem with the word “balance” that gets thrown around seemingly carelessly whenever the topic of Thai cuisine and what defines it is discussed. I find it to be meaningless. But I’ll save my rant for later.

With this recipe, I’ve given you what I like – my personal interpretation of “balance” which, to me, simply means, “what tastes good to me.” And I wouldn’t want you to take it as anything but a starting point.

If you don’t like the flavor this sauce gives, adjust it next time. Add more tamarind if you like it more sour; add more fish sauce if you like it saltier; add more palm sugar if you like it sweeter. And if you still don’t get the flavor exactly as you like it (your “balance”), pretend you’re in Thailand and allow yourself some extra sugar, fresh lime, and fish sauce on the table with which to adjust the flavor of the finished dish to taste. Like it spicy? Add some dried chili flakes. (That’s what they do in Thailand which does not always cross over to Thai restaurants overseas.)

Eventually, you will find your own “balance.”

There are a few remarks I’d like to make about the sauce:

  • You can do what some ultra-traditional Pad Thai vendors do, i.e. season the noodles as they fry them with the individual seasonings: palm sugar, fish sauce, and tamarind pulp. The advantage is that it’s easier to customize the flavor. The disadvantage is that it’s hard to do well. I recommend that you do what most vendors do nowadays which is to have the sauce mixed in advance.
  • I measure the liquid ingredients by weight instead of volume, because I can’t think of a way to measure palm sugar accurately and consistently without a scale. And I figured since I’d already be weighing the palm sugar, I might as well weigh everything else too.
  • The tamarind pulp I use is prepared exactly as I’ve described in the post on how to prepare tamarind pulp. You may have your own way of preparing tamarind pulp, and that is fine, but the flavor of the sauce will be different from what I intend. The idea is to use the least amount of water possible to get the tamarinds to soften up. My prepared tamarind pulp is, therefore, so thick that you can stand a teaspoon in it. After all, it’s the tamarind you need, not the water.
  • This recipe gives you a very thick, concentrated sauce. I don’t see the point of making your Pad Thai sauce thin and watery then reducing it down to a thicker consistency, especially in light of the fact that it doesn’t take more effort to make a concentrated sauce right off the bat. If moisture is needed during the frying stage, I’d like to add it in the form of plain water instead of more sauce. This is because every time you add the sauce to the noodles, not only do you add moisture, but you also add more seasoning. In an attempt to adequately hydrate the noodles, you risk over-seasoning the dish which is harder to fix than if you under-season it.
  • The sauce can (and should) be made in advance. It freezes well. You can also freeze the sauce in an ice cube tray, then pop out the frozen cubes and keep them in a freezer bag. Thaw out only what you need at a time.

 

Pad Thai Recipe (ผัดไทย) – Part Four: Pad Thai Sauce
Prep time
5 mins
Cook time
2 mins
Total time
7 mins
Prepared Pad Thai sauce
Author: Leela
Recipe type: Sauce, Condiment, Seasoning
Serves: 2 cups
Ingredients
  • 180g fish sauce
  • 226g palm sugar, finely chopped
  • 60g brown sugar
  • 150g tamarind pulp, prepared exactly as explained in how to prepare tamarind pulp
Instructions
  1. Put everything in a medium pot placed over medium heat. Stir constantly until the sugars have dissolved. This should take less than a minute. You don’t want to reduce or thicken the sauce; it’s already very concentrated and further reduction will result in a much lower yield than intended which leads to over-seasoned Pad Thai.
  2. To keep the sauce from being overly reduced, chop your palm sugar very finely and do not use high heat.
  3. Once the sugar is dissolved, remove the sauce from heat; allow to cool. Store in a glass jar and refrigerate or freeze.

Source: Pad Thai Recipe (ผัดไทย) – Part Four: Pad Thai Sauce – SheSimmers

 

Pad Thai Recipe (ผัดไทย) – Part Five: Making Pad Thai

pad thai recipe
In order for this final post in the Pad Thai recipe series to make sense (or become clear as to why it is sketchy or seems to leave out important details), it is assumed that all of the earlier posts have been read in their entirety. Therefore, if you have not done so, may I please invite you to visit the following posts before continuing?

Pad Thai Recipe Part One: The Pan – In this post, I discuss the importance of choosing the right type and size of Pad Thai pan to create the closest replica of what respectable Pad Thai stalls in Bangkok produce.
Pad Thai Recipe Part Two: The Noodles – In this post, I discuss the right type and size of noodles to use in this dish and how to prepare them.
Pad Thai Recipe Part Three: The Notable Ingredients – In this post, I introduce to you some of the ingredients and garnishes routinely used in street Pad Thai in Bangkok but often omitted at Thai restaurants overseas.
Pad Thai Recipe Part Four: Pad Thai Sauce and Seasonings – In this post, I share my favorite Pad Thai sauce recipe and discuss the seasoning of Pad Thai on and off the stove.

pad thai recipe

Prepare the noodles according to the instructions in How to Prepare Pad Thai Noodles.
Most of what I believe to be the key issues have already been discussed in the earlier posts, so there’s not much left to talk about. It’s all about action from this point on. This is the most crucial part where additional information is not needed nearly as much as hands-on experience.

The immediate goal of this series is to facilitate you in creating the version of Pad Thai which I like, using the ingredients and method commonly employed by street vendors in Bangkok, my hometown. But that’s just to get you started; it’s not the ultimate goal. Eventually, you will want to get to a place where you can move the noodles around in the pan with the spatulas and know just how much longer it will take for them to cook, how often to stir them, whether the heat is too low or the evaporation rate is too high, how to season it, etc.

The ultimate goal is for you to know how to make Pad Thai which is different from how to follow a Pad Thai recipe. In other words, I’ve put you through five long posts so that eventually you won’t need them anymore.

I hope this entire series has been helpful in keeping as many preventable mistakes as possible from happening. But when it comes to a dish like this where — I think — the mastery of technique is more important than the procurement of ingredients (which, of course, is not to say that ingredients aren’t important), there’s only so much written — or even visual — instructions can do for you.

pad thai recipe
However, some of these tips may help you:

  • I can’t stress this enough: prepare your ingredients beforehand and have them nearby. Timing is of utmost importance. Making Pad Thai isn’t hard; it does, however, require a fairly high level of concentration.
  • You must use oil — this much oil. A pan lightly coated with nonstick spray is cute to look at, but no good Pad Thai has ever come out of it. Using more oil than necessary is not a good idea either; it will only result in oily Pad Thai.
  • Do not use a pan smaller than 14 inches for this recipe. If you halve this recipe, you can use a 12-inch pan, but nothing smaller than that. I personally prefer making my Pad Thai in a large cast iron pan. Many have written me saying that, due to lack of storage space, they cannot and will not buy a 17-inch cast iron pan for the sole purpose of making Pad Thai. That is understandable. Therefore, I have demonstrated how to make the dish in a regular nonstick 14-inch pan.
  • You can halve the recipe, but I would not double it. I won’t even make more than this at a time in my 17-inch cast iron pan. In fact, we’re already pushing it by making this much Pad Thai in a 14-inch pan.
  • You can use a large round-bottomed wok, but, as you will see, making Pad Thai this way is easier to do in a flat pan.
  • The material of which your pan is made, the thickness of its bottom, the height of its rim, and its size all directly affect the rate at which the sauce gets absorbed into the noodles as well as how long it takes for the noodles to be ready. Add the level of heat and its source (flame versus electric coil) to the mix and we have endless possibilities of what can happen.

This recipe is made in a 14-inch nonstick pan over medium-high gas flame. Your mileage may vary.

  • As you can see from the previous point, it’s utterly impractical — and I think quite naïve — for a recipe to be telling you how long you should cook the noodles, how much moisture is needed, what to add to the pan after how many minutes have passed, etc. In an ideal world, each and every one of all the various factors at work in the development of a recipe will apply in every single replication of the same recipe, yielding the exact same result every single time. In the real world, that is hardly the case. Instinct and common sense come in handy here.
  • Make sure the noodles are adequately hydrated. As long as they pass the twirl-around-the-fingers test, they’re fine. Some have asked whether the noodles should be blanched before going into the pan, and my answer is that I find it to be an unnecessary step which carries more risk (of clumped-up or soggy noodles) than reward (shorter soaking time). But adequate soaking is all it takes to eliminate this step which no street Pad Thai vendors take, based on what I’ve seen. And I think letting the noodles sit in water undisturbed for roughly half an hour can’t be more complicated than going through the trouble of boiling up a pot of water and synchronizing the blanching and the frying, etc. In short, I see absolutely no point in blanching the noodles.
  • Evaporation is key. Use your instinct to judge whether the heat is too low or high for your situation. At no point should the noodles sit in a pool of moisture quietly; that invariably leads to soggy noodles. Ideally, we want the noodles to be softened with just the sauce and the heat, and we want the sauce to be fully absorbed into the noodles quite quickly. But if the noodles are still undercooked after the sauce has been fully absorbed, a bit of plain water should be added to the pan to help the noodles soften up. Don’t add more sauce; you will only over-season the dish.
  • I use shrimp here for that is the most common meat used in Thailand. I have never had Pad Thai with chicken, pork, beef, etc., until I came to the United States. There’s a shop in Bang Pho area close to my grandparents’ house that makes their famous Pad Thai with pork liver (which I adore), but that’s an anomaly. If you like your Pad Thai with chicken, pork, or beef, be sure to slice the meat thinly so it cooks at the same rate as whole shrimp.

pad thai recipe

_________________________________________

Pad Thai Recipe (ผัดไทย) – Part Five: Making Pad Thai
Prep time
30 mins
Cook time
10 mins
Total time
40 mins
Author: Leela
Recipe type: Entree, Main, Noodles
Serves: 2
Ingredients
  • ⅓ cup (83mL) plain vegetable oil
  • 4 ounces (113g) 2-3 millimeters wide dried rice noodles, following the instructions on how to prepare dried rice noodles for Pad Thai
  • ⅔ cup (~166mL) prepared Pad Thai sauce
  • 1 tablespoon (14mL) shrimp paste in oil (มันกุ้งเสวย), as mentioned in my post on Pad Thai ingredients, optional
  • 2 large cloves (8g) garlic, peeled and finely chopped
  • 1 medium shallot (18g), peeled and finely chopped
  • ¼ cup (24g) finely-chopped preserved radishes
  • ¼ cup (8g) shell-on small dried shrimp (the kind specified in my post on Pad Thai ingredients
  • ¾ cup (100g) the firmest tofu you can find
  • 220g (1/2 lb) large (31-35/lb) shrimp, peeled and deveined
  • 2 large eggs, cracked into a bowl
  • 6-7 stalks of Chinese chives
  • 2 cups (110g) bean sprouts
  • Garnishes and extras:
  • Sugar, dried red pepper flakes, fish sauce, and fresh limes
  • Chopped dry-roasted peanuts
  • Extra bean sprouts, soaked in acidulated water (to keep them fresh and crunchy)
  • Chinese chive stalks
  • Banana blossom, trimmed according to the instructions in my post on Pad Thai ingredients
Instructions
  1. Cut the chive blades into 1-inch pieces; reserve the bottom parts of the stalks to eat with the finished dish.
  2. Set over medium-high heat a flat pan (preferably well-seasoned cast iron pan or nonstick paella pan), no smaller than 14 inches wide. Add half of the vegetable oil to the pan when it’s hot.
  3. Immediately add the noodles to the hot oil, followed by the sauce (if you want to add the shrimp in oil to the dish, add it to the pan now along with the sauce); stir constantly (this is much easier done with two spatulas). Keep the noodles moving all the time.
  4. After about 30-40 seconds, with the tips of your spatulas, you should be able to feel that the noodles have softened up considerably. At this point, push them to one side and add the remaining vegetable oil to the empty side of the pan.
  5. Add the garlic, shallot, preserved radishes, dried shrimp, tofu, and shrimp.
  6. We have now reached the critical point of the process. The task before you is do whatever you can to: 1. keep the noodles moving almost constantly to keep them from burning or forming excessive crust at the bottom, 2. get the shrimp to cook about ½ way through, and 3. keep all the small bits of stuff in the pan from burning (those around the perimeter tend to burn first).
  7. Once the shrimp is turning a bit opaque on both sides and all the small bits are getting brown, make a well in the middle into which you add the eggs.
  8. Break and scramble the eggs with the tip of your spatulas; let them cook undisturbed on one side before flipping and breaking them into smaller pieces, keeping an eye on the other members of the pan the whole time, especially the noodles.
  9. By the time the eggs are cooked: 1. the shrimp should be fully, but not overly, cooked, 2. the noodles are soft and chewy, 3. the sauce has been entirely absorbed into the noodles, and the little bits have crisped up and caramelized.
  10. Turn off the heat immediately.
  11. Add two handfuls of chive-bean sprout mixture to the pan and give it all a quick but gentle stir. We want to wilt the bean sprouts and chives while getting all the little bits thoroughly interspersed into the noodles. Your Pad Thai is now done. You can serve it immediately, or you can let it cool for 8-10 minutes in the pan (which, in my opinion, is when Pad Thai is at its best).
  12. Top with 2-3 tablespoons of chopped peanuts per serving. Place a wedge of banana blossom and chive stalks on the side. Season to taste off the pan with extra fish sauce, lime juice, sugar, and dried red pepper flakes as necessary.

Source: Pad Thai Recipe (ผัดไทย) – Part Five: Making Pad Thai – SheSimmers

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