Pad Thai Recipe: Made With Chicken, Shrimp, Beef, or Tofu
Pad Thai is, far and away, one of the most popular Thai dishes in the world. Its flavor is deep and complex. It has tanginess, umami flavor, saltiness, creaminess, sweetness, everything you could possibly want in a single dish!
This delicious dish is not only out of this world delicious, but it’s also possible to make in your own home. It might seem complicated, but all it takes is a few simple steps.
Today, we’re going to go through our pad thai recipe. When you’re done reading this article, you’ll have a full understanding of this classic Thai dish, so you can put your hands to work and make it in the kitchen. Let’s get started!
What Are the Origins of Pad Thai?
Pad thai has a bit of a curious origin story. There are a lot of questions surrounding how the various traditions came about that led to its creation, but it’s a fascinating trail to follow.
The actual dish wasn’t really commonplace in Thailand until about the 1940s. Thailand was in the middle of a big governmental change, and many government officials, like Field Marshal Plaek Pibulsongkram, were attempting to give Thailand a new, modern identity.
He changed the country's name from Siam to Thailand and tried to implement a whole host of new cultural ideas that would help Thailand compete in the modern global market.
One of those things was pad thai.
The dish was developed in his home, probably by his family’s cook, and then the recipe was spread throughout the country, made popular in street carts and restaurants everywhere.
But the origins of the pad thai techniques predate the creation of the dish by hundreds of years. In fact, Thai people did not stir fry noodles until an influx of Chinese immigrants had come a few hundred years prior. And rice noodles were likely spread from the closeby country of Vietnam.
So the dish does not have a centuries old, exclusively Thai history, but since its creation in Thailand, it has taken the world by storm.
How Is Authentic Pad Thai Made?
Pad thai is a stir fried noodle dish. It is made by stir frying a few key vegetables and ingredients, then adding scrambled eggs, noodles, and sauce. Because pad thai is stir fried, it cooks rather quickly, making it very popular in street carts in Thailand.
The core of pad thai is the rice noodles. They have a unique texture that is both chewy and springy. Slurping up rice noodles is unlike any other experience.
They are a completely different animal than noodles made with wheat and eggs.
Rice noodles are essential for the pad thai experience, so make sure you get quality rice noodles that are medium width for the best pad thai.
If noodles are the foundation of pad thai, the sauce is the beautiful architecture that gets all the attention. The sauce is where all of the flavor comes from. It’s complex and it’s full of a lot of ingredients that you might have a tough time finding in the U.S.
Many people refer to the sauce as “peanut sauce,” but that term may be a little misleading. It’s a reflection of how the dish has been Americanized.
Lots of places will put peanut butter in their Thai sauce, but most of the time, when you have the dish in Thailand, the sauce won’t have peanuts in it at all. The dish will simply be sprinkled with crushed peanuts at the end.
The main ingredients of the pad thai sauce are tamarind, palm sugar, Thai sweet soy sauce, and fish sauce. The tamarind or tamarind paste brings the citrus, the palm sugar brings the sweetness, saltiness comes from the soy sauce, and the fish sauce carries the umami flavor.
But if you don’t have access to these tough-to-find ingredients in the States, a quality pre-made pad thai sauce will work great, too.
Pad thai is commonly served up with some fried tofu. The tofu is there for protein and texture, but it also does a great job of absorbing the flavor of the delicious sauce, so when you bite into the tofu, you’ll get a great burst of saucy goodness!
Shrimp is one of the most essential ingredients in pad thai. Shrimp pad thai, with whole, plump, cooked shrimp, is very common and incredibly delicious.
But even if you don’t have the whole shrimps in your pad thai, the high-quality pad thai will still have ground dried shrimp in it.
Dried shrimp has a salty, fishy taste that is delicious. It brings the flavor of your pad thai to new heights! The flavor of shrimp is quintessential to the pad thai experience. You definitely don’t want to skip this all-important ingredient.
Simply place some dried shrimp in a food processor or blender and grind it up until it’s fine. Then it’s ready to go.
Packed with vitamin A, C, and Iron, bean sprouts are light, healthy, and give each bite a beautiful, delicate, crunchy texture. The variance in texture makes for a great eating experience, so it’s a super important ingredient for pad thai.
The last step is to add scrambled eggs. The creaminess of the eggs compliments the rich sauce so well. It adds protein to your meal and creates a pleasant, soft texture to the whole dish.
Is Americanized Pad Thai Similar to Traditional Pad Thai?
There are some similarities between the pad thai in America and the pad thai you’ll find at a street cart in Bangkok. You’ll definitely find rice noodles, peanuts, bean sprouts, and you’ll probably have a generally tangy, sweet, umami flavor to the dish.
A lot of the ingredients are similar, but, generally speaking, many Americanized versions choose to use different ingredients that make some compromises on flavor.
What Are the Key Differences?
The first key difference is with the dried shrimp. Dried shrimp have a pretty potent flavor of fish. Many Americans tend to avoid such strong seafood flavors, so this ingredient often works its way out of pad thai dishes.
Another big difference is in the sauce.
Many pad thai recipes will make a peanut-based sauce, incorporating peanut butter into the sauce base. Although this can yield some good results with flavor, the dish becomes something different than pad thai.
You’ll also find a lot of American recipes substituting the tamarind for a different type of acidity. Tamarind and tamarind paste are often challenging to find in grocery stores, so they are substituted for rice vinegar.
In extreme cases of Americanization, they might substitute the tamarind and palm sugar for ketchup, yielding a result that is very far from what pad thai is supposed to be.
How Can I Make Pad Thai at Home?
To make pad thai at home, the first thing to remember is that all your ingredients need to be prepped and ready before you begin.
Pad thai is stir-fried at high heat and cooks in only a few minutes so that you won’t have time to prepare ingredients at the last minute.
With that said, let’s dive into a pad thai recipe that you can make in your own kitchen!
Cook Your Noodles
First, cook your rice noodles. Rice noodles are typically far softer than other types of noodles, so don’t just go throwing them in a boiling pot of water for 10 minutes. Read the instructions on your packet and cook the noodles accordingly!
Many rice noodles only need a few seconds in boiling hot water. Some simply need a soak in room temperature water for a few minutes. Just make sure you don’t overcook them as they can fall apart during the stir-frying process.
Shrimp: Stir-Fry Shrimp Until Cooked Through and Set Aside
Next up, it’s time to cook those delicious shrimp. Put a little bit of oil in your wok or pan and stir fry your shrimp until they’re cooked through. You can season them with a bit of salt and pepper, but don’t go crazy. The sauce will add more flavor later.
Once they’re cooked, take the shrimp out of the pan and set them aside. You’ll put them back in the pan in a few minutes.
Chicken: Slice Thinly and Cook in Oil, Then Set Aside
If you’re cooking with chicken, you’re going to want to make sure that it’s sliced nice and thin. You don’t want to be eating big, tough bites of chicken, so thin, bite-sized slices work the best.
Cut your chicken against the grain for the best results, season it with salt and pepper, and maybe a bit of cornstarch for extra crispiness, and then stir fry it in oil until it’s cooked. Then set it aside for later.
Tofu: Press the Tofu, Cut Into Cubes, Season, and Pan Fry
If you’re using tofu, make sure you’re using firm tofu. That will give you the best results when you pan fry it. You also need to take the time to press your tofu. Simply place the tofu on a plate, cover it with a paper towel, and set a few plates on top of the block.
This will press out all the juices and make for a great result when you fry it.
After your tofu is pressed, cut it into bite-sized cubes. Season your tofu with salt, pepper, and garlic powder. Then lightly coat it in cornstarch to make it nice and crispy. Pan fry your tofu in a little bit of oil and set it aside.
Make sure you whisk your eggs before you start cooking! You have to move quickly when you stir fry, so there won’t be time to do this later. Crack a few eggs in a bowl and then whisk until they’re a uniform texture.
Make Your Sauce
Now it’s time to make your sauce. First, you’ll need to make tamarind paste or buy it pre-made. Add about two ounces of dried tamarind pulp in a small bowl and mix it with half a cup of boiling water until it’s incorporated. Then strain it through a mesh sieve.
Once you’ve got your tamarind paste, add a few tablespoons of palm sugar to sweeten it up. Add two tablespoons of fish sauce and one tablespoon of Thai black soy sauce. Then mix it together, and you’ve got your delicious pad thai sauce ready to go.
Add All Ingredients to Wok
Now oil up your wok, set the stove to medium-high heat, and wait till the oil gets hot. You’re ready to stir fry! At this point, make sure all of your ingredients are prepped and ready to go so that you can move quickly.
First, add your ground dried shrimp to the oil and cook it until it’s fragrant and golden brown. Once it’s brown, you’re welcome to add some minced or sliced garlic if you want that extra flavor.
Put your noodles in first, and follow it up right away with the sauce. Now it’s time to stir fry vigorously! Toss the noodles into the sauce, making sure that everything gets coated properly and gets hot.
Set your pan to medium-high heat and add your noodles to the pan. Then, pour in your eggs to the center of the wok for a soft scramble. Add your bean sprouts once your eggs are cooked, and throw your chicken, shrimp, or tofu into the wok.
Cook Until Noodles Are Softened
Now that you’ve added everything into your wok or pan, continue stir-frying until all of the ingredients are incorporated and your noodles become a nice, soft texture.
Garnish and Enjoy!
The classic garnish of pad thai dish is crushed peanuts. Take a couple of tablespoons of peanuts, put them in a plastic bag, and beat them with a wooden spoon until they’re crushed properly.
You can garnish with garlic chives for a bright, green color and subtle garlic, onion flavor. Cilantro also makes for a great garnish. Or put a lime wedge on the side for a bit of extra tang from the freshly squeezed lime juice.
How Can I Make My Pad Thai Spicy?
If you like your pad thai spicy, there are a couple of ways you can go about raising the heat.
You could add chili flakes. It’s best to add it to the sauce to cook when in the wok, giving a nice toasty layer to the spiciness. Add however much you want, and if you want some more heat, you can garnish with some chili flakes at the end.
You could also add some sriracha or chili paste into the sauce. This will incorporate into the sauce very well and make for a uniform spiciness throughout the dish.
Can I Make Pad Thai Without Sauce?
Unfortunately, pad thai isn’t much without that delicious, unique sauce. If you have some dietary restrictions that keep you from eating the sauce, try and substitute some ingredients to suit your nutritional needs. But a dry pad thai wouldn’t be pad thai at all!
The Bottom Line
Pad thai is an incredible dish. And if you find the right ingredients, you can make a tasty pad thai at home that is up to par with the street carts in Thailand! So go and try out your favorite Thai dish at home.
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