Pad Thai literally means “Thai fry,” and it’s the dish many foreigners think of first when they think about Thai food. It’s a satisfying one-dish noodle stir-fry, dry rather than sauced, and full of different isolated flavors that come together in a balance of salty, sour, and sweet. There are salty peanuts, soft pieces of cooked egg, a little succulent pork, and seared pressed tofu, all scattered throughout pan-seared thin rice noodles. Once you have your ingredients prepared, your cooking time is less than six minutes.
If serving guests classic pad Thai from a platter, chopsticks or tongs are easiest for the job. Or invite everyone to use chopsticks to serve themselves. As they eat, guests can flavor their portions as they wish with assorted condiments set out on the table, whether a squeeze of lime, a sprinkling of more chopped peanuts, bean sprouts, and a drizzle of chile-vinegar sauce.–Jeffrey Alford and Naomi Duguid
LC Legitimate Noodles Note
There are a lot of pad Thai recipes out there. Wait. Let us rephrase that. There are a lot of Americanized, pathetic, imposter pad Thai recipes out there. Not this one. You’ll find no sham ingredients such as ketchup or peanut butter here, nor will you find any sidestepping of classic ingredients such as fish sauce, palm sugar, tamarind, or tofu. (The recipe does cede that arguably scary-sounding salted radishes and dried shrimp are, indeed, optional and offers similar substitutions.) Any way you make it, this recipe is the closest we’ve found to actual pad Thai during our decades-long quest–and we’ve tried a lot of recipes. One aspect of authenticity not noted in this recipe? The tradition of not breaking the uncooked rice noodles, which come tightly wound in loops and packaged in plastic. This stems from the belief of many Asian cultures that the longer the noodle, the longer one’s potential longevity. As if we needed an excuse to tuck into these nifty noodles more often than we already do….
Classic Pad Thai Recipe
Hands-On Time: 35 minutes | Total Time: 1 hour | Serves 3 to 4
- 1/2 pound narrow dried rice noodles
- 2 ounces boneless pork, thinly sliced and cut into narrow strips about 1 1/2 inches long
- 1 teaspoon sugar (preferably palm sugar although light brown or granulated will work just fine)
- 1 heaping tablespoon tamarind pulp dissolved in 2 to 3 tablespoons warm water (or substitute 1 tablespoon rice vinegar plus 1 tablespoon water)
- 1 tablespoon soy sauce
- 1 tablespoon fish sauce
- 3 large eggs
- pinch salt
- 3 tablespoons peanut oil or mild vegetable oil
- 2 to 3 cloves garlic, minced
- 2 to 3 ounces firm tofu, cut into narrow strips about 1 1/2 inches long
- 1/2 pound (a scant 4 cups) bean sprouts, rinsed and drained
- 3 scallions, trimmed, smashed with the flat side of a knife and cut into 1 1/2-inch lengths
- 1 tablespoon dried shrimp (optional)
- 1 tablespoon salted radish (optional)
- 1 cup roasted peanuts, coarsely chopped
- 2 to 4 tablespoons cilantro leaves (optional)
- Chile-Vinegar Sauce
- 1 lime, cut into small wedges
- 1. Soak the rice noodles in very, very warm water for 20 minutes.
- 2. Meanwhile, place the pork in a small bowl, add the sugar, and toss to coat. In a medium bowl, combine the tamarind water (or rice vinegar and water), soy sauce, and fish sauce. In a small bowl, lightly beat the eggs and a pinch of salt. Place all three bowls near the stovetop.
- 3. Place a large wok or ginormous skillet over high heat. (You need a large wok to prepare this amount of noodles, as the noodles take up a lot of room, and you need to be able to push some ingredients up the sides of the wok while you cook other ingredients. If your wok is small, make this recipe in two batches.) Add about 1 1/2 tablespoons of the oil to the pan. When the oil is hot but not smoking, add the garlic and stir-fry briefly just until it begins to change color, about 15 seconds. Toss in the pork and stir-fry until the strips change color but aren’t cooked through, 1 minute or less. Add the tofu and press it against the sides of the wok with your spatula to scorch it a little, 10 to 20 seconds. Pour in the egg mixture and let it cook just until it starts to set around the pork and tofu, less than a minute. Use your spatula to cut the omelet into large pieces, then transfer everything to a plate and set aside.
- 4. Return the wok to high heat. Add the remaining 1 1/2 tablespoons oil and swirl to coat. Toss the drained noodles into the wok and stir-fry vigorously, pressing them against the hot wok briefly to sear them, then turn them and press them against the side of the wok again. The noodles will initially seem dry and unwieldy, but don’t worry, just keep folding them over and pressing them onto the wok — after about 1 minute, they will have softened more and be warm. Move the noodles up the sides of the wok and toss in 2 to 2 1/2 cups of the bean sprouts and the scallions. Stir-fry vigorously for about 20 seconds, pressing them against the hot wok and turning them so they wilt. Add the dried shrimp and salted radish, if using, and toss briefly with your spatula, then add the soy sauce mixture. Stir-fry for about another 30 seconds, gradually incorporating noodles into the bean sprout mixture. Add the reserved egg-meat mixture and toss gently to mix everything together.
- 5. Turn the noodles out onto a platter or onto individual plates. Sprinkle some of the chopped peanuts onto the noodles, then place the rest of the peanuts in a bowl as a condiment to be passed on the side so folks can add extra as they wish. Do the same with the cilantro. Place the remaining bean sprouts in a bowl and set them on the table. Pass the Chile-Vinegar Sauce and the lime wedges.
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Classic Pad Thai Recipe © 2000 Jeffrey Alford and Naomi Duguid. Photo © 2000 Richard Jung. All rights reserved.