Pad Thai Recipe : The “Authentic” VersionPosted: August 3, 2012
Okay, after we’ve agreed upon “What’s not” supposed to be in PadThai, let’s see what’s hot. In this episode I’m going to give you the recipe and ingredients with which I make my Pad Thai.
Ingredients for 4 portions
1.1) Tamarind pulp 1/4 cup
1.2) Coconut palm sugar 1/4 cup
1.3) Fish sauce 1/4 cup
Tip: mixing tamarind pulp and palm sugar over low heat will help soften the palm sugar, then turn off the heat before you add the fish sauce, so your whole house would not be “deodorized” with the fish sauce flavor. Otherwise, you are simply mixing the ingredients together.
Aways prepare the “sauce” first? I’ve heard a lot of people say to make PadThai you need to make the sauce ahead of time. It’s not a bad idea, but you can also make the Pad Thai without making your sauce first. The street vendors usually make the sauce ahead so they can make their PadThai fast and consistent. The advantage of making sauce in advance is you can take your sweet time, adjusting the taste to your preference.
There is another reason why you would want to make the Pad Thai sauce before hand. In making Pad Thai, you have four main foundation ingredients, three condiments, noodles, two protein options, and two vegetables. That’s a total of 12 ingredients (not counting the oil) going in apan that’s sitting over a full blast fire. It makes your life so much easier to combine the three condiments together. That eliminates three unnecessary steps, which would please Frank B. Gilbreth, Sr. but also gives the Pad Thai in the pan less chance to be burned while you’re adjusting the taste.
The Pad Thai street vendors in the old time didn’t make the sauce ahead, but they had their perfect measuring spoons for each of their condiments to control the consistency of their dishes. Since they weren’t competing for speed, they did just fine. My childhood memory buying PadThai was I had to wait and watch the merchant make my Pad Thai order right there in front of me, and the way to tell the good Pad Thai vendor was to look for a long line, because the good vendors made no more than three orders at a time, so the customers had to wait.
The ingredients aren’t written in stone, so they can be substituted for. These are the recommended choices for substitution.
Coconut palm sugar is not that hard to find anymore, Amazon is selling them, but if you have a hard time, you can use brown sugar.
Fish sauce can be substituted with soy sauce for the vegetarian, preferably mushroom soy sauce. Please do not use Kikkoman. If you really can’t find fish sauce but want to use it, try anchovies mixed with sea salt.
Tamarind pulp can be replaced with vinegar. I used balsamic vinegar when I made this dish in Italy once and it came out pretty good. It gave a pleasant flavor that was quite unique and not that far off from tamarind pulp, but I felt like I had wasted the aged-in-oak-barrels-for-30-years balsamic vinegar the moment I combined it with the stinky fish sauce!
Mix the three ingredients without heat. The portion ratio is 1:1:1 as a start, then you need to taste the mixture and fine tune the balance. Each ingredient always come in a different strength so you have to taste the mixture every time you make it. The right sauce is a balanced mixture of salty, sour, and sweet. I like to lead with saltiness, following with sour and then a finish of sweetness, because at the point of serving the dish you will get a wedge of lime and a pile of granulated sugar on the side to adjust the final taste. So you can keep both the sweet and sour flavors mild for now.
You can either mix them together and use them that day or make a batch of sauce ahead of the time and store it in the refrigerator. If you have leftover sauce from a batch after cooking, you should combine it all together and heat the mixture to a full boil and then store it in a clean jar.
I don’t suggest boiling the sauce until it thickens because you don’t really need thick sauce unless you need to save the storage space. If you make a thick sauce, you will have to add water when you toss the sauce in with the noodles anyway, so why waste time and energy?
Once you have got the sauce ready then we’re ready to prep the other sections of the ingredients. Remember, I told you four foundation ingredients, three condiments, one noodle, two proteins (optional), two vegetables and three seasonings. This is how I remember ALL the ingredients without turning the page in my notes or any recipe book.
Tip: The following ingredients need to be chopped into small pieces.
2.1) Chopped shallots 1/4 cup, 1 tablespoon for each serving portion.
Alternatively, you can use very strong-flavored onion such as a big red onion along with one teaspoon of chopped garlic if you absolutely can’t find shallots. I have to add a little bit of garlic because onion can’t give the pungent aroma the way I like. I don’t normally use garlic in my Pad Thai though, but you can use it if you prefer.
2.2) Chopped salted preserved radishes or turnips 1/4 cup, 1 tablespoon for each portion (Chi Po Kem).
This is an important ingredient. I only allow the sweet preserves of the same root vegetable, radish or turnip (Chi Po Wan) to be the substitution. I gave you two names, turnip and radish, because they use both names on the packages. You shouldn’t be using pickle carrots, cucumber, okra or mustard greens. You can order them from these online stores Importfood.com, Grocery Thai.com Without this ingredient, you would be making “Farang” (foreigner) Pad Thai.
2.3) Pressed tofu cut into a thin pieces (1/4” x 1/4” x 1/2”) approximately 1/2 cup, 2 tablespoons for each portion (add more for the vegetarian).
Pressed Tofu is the firmest of all tofu. It will withstand vigorous stirring and still come out whole and chewy. Most firm tofu will break apart in the process. However, If you can’t find it you can get firm tofu and you can press it yourself by following this simple method of How to Press Tofu by about.com.
2.4) Salted small dried shrimps, soaked in water until softened 1/4 cup, 1 tablespoon for each portion (skip this for the vegetarians).
I use medium-sized dried shrimp. Their size is about 3/8” in diameter. I don’t use the small size because I can’t find small shrimps that have already been shelled. If you can’t find medium or small sized shrimp, you can chop or grind the bigger size.
This might present an interesting opportunity for a substitution because it’s there for the umami taste. I used dried salted abalone once when I made this dish in Hong-Kong. It came out very delicious but dried abalone is quite expensive. You are welcome to try other substitutions such as salted dried cuttle fish or salted dried scallop, but I’m not so sure about salted dried fish because it might give too much fishy taste. If you try one, let me know how’s your Pad Thai turns out.
Thin rice noodles, also called Rice Sticks or Banh Pho soaked in cold water until they soften, but not too soft, and loosely packed, about 1-2 cup per portion (depend on how much carb you’re willing to eat)
If you have an Asian market near by and want to use fresh rice noodles, soak them in cold water anyway but for a shorter period. You want your noodles to be “pliable”. If they’re too soft they will turn into mush in the wok. You want your PadThai to be dry and the noodles soft but stretchy, not soft and mushy.
Actually there are more noodle choices than you might think. The rice stick, banh pho or “Sen-lek” in Thai is the most well known one. Then there is “glass noodle” or cellophane noodle, the clear noodles made with mung bean flour is a very good choice of noodle as well since they absorb the flavor really well. I made Pad Thai with Shirataki noodle, that contain no food calories by themselves. You can also make Pad Thai without noodles at all.
This time we’re focusing on the traditional Pad Thai so we will be using the small rice sticks. I will show you the many variations of PadThai later on in the next episode.
4.1) 4 eggs, one for each portion
The original Pad Thai never had major meat as part of the ingredients because the Thais are not the big meat eaters. Their diet consists of mostly vegetables and carbs, with a little bit of protein, mainly from eggs, small fishes, shrimps, and crabs. They might eat chicken or pork here and there, but beef only once in a long while. They are not big into killing large animals. The first protein introduced to the dish is of course, an egg.
Early on even the egg was an option—after all, the dish already had tofu and dried shrimps. The merchant would normally ask every customer “You want it with or without egg?” I remember not liking the Pad Thai with egg at all, but the “adults” would want me to eat it with egg. So it was such a treat when they had no time to go buy food for me and gave me money to buy my own Pad Thai instead. I would hold the money tight in my hand, go to my favorite Pad Thai vendor at the open market by myself and order my Pad Thai “without egg”. That generally made me felt like an adult even as I saved the rest of the money. (The one without egg would cost less, of course.) To then buy a popsicle like a child with the saved money didn’t really ruin my “adulthood” feeling the least bit. In fact, it was the proper way to celebrate my temporary maturity.
4.2) Fresh shrimps, medium size, peeled and deveined, about 6-8 per each serving
Shrimp were introduced into Pad Thai not so long ago. I would say about twenty something years ago I started to see the “fancy” PadThai with fresh prawns show up in some restaurants’ menus. In general, Pad Thai was not a restaurant item. If one wanted to get an order of Pad Thai, one had to search the street vendors in a local open air market, order and sit down to eat on whatever flimsy, wobbly chair and sticky, unsanitary table they provided. You would be so lucky if you don’t have to share the table with strangers. If that’s not romantic enough, one can order the take home Pad Thai, wrapped in a piece of newspaper lined with banana leaves. Notwithstanding this, when restaurants attempted to “fancify” the street food, the street vendors started offering Pad Thai with an option of fresh shrimp too.
There is no such thing as “Chicken Pad Thai” or “Beef Pad Thai” served in Thailand. Well, they might serve them now but only in the areas populated with “Farang” (foreigners). Actually, to the Thais, that’s not only unheard of but also grosses them out. I don’t recommend it either unless you are allergic to shrimp.
5.1) Bean sprouts loosely packed, 1-2 cups for each portion, half of them for the wok fry and the rest to serve fresh with the finished Pad Thai.
You can’t miss out on the bean sprouts. If you can’t find bean sprouts, don’t even consider making Pad Thai. I’m THAT serious. Mung bean sprouts only, NO soy bean sprouts, radish sprouts, alfalfa sprouts or other kind of sprouts.
5.2) Garlic Chives cut the bottom half inch off each chive and discard. Then cut the next 3-4” from the bottom from each, and save them to serve fresh with the finished noodles. Then cut the flat leaves into 1-1/2” long pieces. You will need about 1/4 cup for each portion.
Don’t let me see green onion or scallions in your Pad Thai. Garlic chive has a flat leaf, and a flat, green stalk—if you can blow air into a hollow stem, that is, the green part of the stalk, you’ve got the wrong herb!
5.3) Other than those two vegetables, you can use banana blossoms (Hua Pli), Tiger Herbal or Asiatic Pennywort (Bai Bua Bok) all of them could be served with the finished Pad Thai.
I know, I know, it gets a little tedious. But you followed me this far. This is just the last touch. On the other hand, this last touch reflects the real Thai culture, which doesn’t standardize the taste when it comes to food. Everyone can tailor their dishes to their own liking with these seasonings.
6.1) Crushed peanuts 1 full tablespoon for each serving
6.2) Wedges of lime
6.3) Granulated sugar 1 teaspoon for each serving
6.4) Dried crushed chili pepper as much or as little as you need
You would need a high-heat stove. If you have the electric stove, you won’t be able to make a good Pad Thai, despite the fact that you follow all the instructions I gave you precisely. Anyhow, there is a way to compensate—please read the tip for electric stoves at the end.
3) Add the three other foundation ingredients: dried shrimps, salted turnip and tofu, all together, toss them around, keeping them moving. I call these “foundation” for a reason. They’re going to release the aroma that is necessary for the whole dish into the oil. Some of that will be absorbed by the tofu and some will be absorbed later by the noodles. Fry until the tofu changes color. You can add about a tablespoon of water if the ingredients get too dry.
4) Add the noodles and then the sauce. You will need about 3-4 tablespoons of sauce. Toss them quickly, making sure that the sauce coats all the noodles. If the noodles are too dry or stick together, add a little water, one tablespoon at a time, and toss quickly to separate them. You shouldn’t have to use more than 2-3 tablespoons of water.
5) Push the noodles to one side of the wok, add another splash of oil, about another tablespoon, wait until the oil gets hot at this point it’s only take seconds, then crack the egg and add directly in the hot oil, scramble it a little and then flip the noodles that you pushed to the side back over the egg.
7) Lower the heat, or turn off the heat if you are using cast iron wok, and add the garlic chives and bean sprouts, toss them around, mixing them well with the noodles and all the other ingredients. The leftover heat will cook the vegetables and keep the noodles from overcooking. Toss them until the vegetables are soft.
8) Put the Pad Thai on the plate and serve with all the seasonings ON THE SIDE, together with more fresh bean sprouts and the garlic chives that you saved.
9) Now, rinse and repeat until you have servings for everyone.
If you’re using a non-stick wok or pan, you might not need to rinse but make sure that there is NOTHING left on the wok.
In the next episode I will show you the varietions of Pad Thai. Rest assured, I don’t mean “Chicken Pad Thai” or “Beef Pad Thai” indeed!
Tips for the electric stove user: Heat your stove with the wok or the pan on until it’s smoky, make sure that all ingredients are at room temperature so you when you add the ingredients, it won’t lower your wok temperature that much. Wait until the contents in the wok are hot before you add another ingredients.
The Pad Thai Trilogy has already been completed. It consisted of three parts.
this is the most important part of the Pad Thai Trilogy, Episode II: The “Authentic” recipe