Why This Recipe Works
- Pairing the dish down to flat rice noodles, crunchy peanuts, fresh bean sprouts, scrambled egg, and green onions puts the focus on the tamarind, fish sauce, and caramelized palm sugar.
- Adding a protein like chicken makes this dish hearty enough for dinner.
- Prepping the ingredients ahead ensures the pad thai will come together quickly and efficiently.
Until recently, for me there was always a stigma around pad thai. One of the most well known of all Thai dishes, pad thai is the "safe" dish on a Thai menu—the one that your parents might order if you take them out for Thai, or if you don't like your spice burning hot, or haven't learned yet to have an appreciation (or a craving in my case) for fish sauce. For a long time I thought pad thai was even an American invention, akin to chop suey. But I guess it's not hard to see why I thought that. Pad thai is definitely chock full of wonderful, tasty "safe" things: chewy flat rice noodles, crunchy peanuts and fresh bean sprouts, scrambled egg, green onions, all in a mildly hot, sweet-ish sauce. But often, restaurants truck down that safe road to an extreme. They flood the noodles in an overly sweet sauce, and fill it with other items folks kind of expect in a Thai dish: shrimp, chicken, crinkle cut carrots, peas, string beans, and baby corn.
Maybe pad thai has been Americanized to some degree, but it is an authentic Thai dish. According to David Thompson in Thai Street Food, pad thai came about in Thailand as a result of a nationalist recipe contest in the late 1930s to find a tasty new dish that would encourage Thai people to eat more noodles. The winning dish was named "pat thai" to show Thai pride and to make sure folks knew that it was different from other stir-fried asian noodles.
To add a protein and keep this pad thai dish hearty enough for dinner, I've incorporated chicken. But in keeping with David Thompson's pared down pad thai, I've just about eliminated any other extraneous veggies except for the sprouts. (All the extra vegetables don't really add to the flavor anyway). The focus is on balancing of the strong flavors of tangy tamarind, salty-briny fish sauce (lots of it), and sweet caramelized palm sugar. Some of the sauce goes into the chicken to flavor it before cooking, and the rest gets soaked up into handfuls of delectably chewy rice noodles. The best part about rice stick noodles is that you just have to soak them before stir-frying, which makes them a snap to throw into a stir-fry.
The prep list may look intimidating, but in the end you'll be rewarded with an awesomely flavorful, authentic version of this famous Thai noodle dish.
Chicken Pad Thai Recipe
Tangy tamarind, palm sugar, briny fish sauce, and crunch peanuts are hallmarks of this classic Thai noodle dish.
1/3 cup tamarind pulp
1/3 cup fish sauce
2 ounces palm sugar, grated (about 1/3 cup)
1 pound skinless, boneless chicken breast, trimmed of visible fat and sliced into 1/4-inch thick strips
1/2 cup vegetable oil, divided
6 shallots, finely chopped
6 medium cloves garlic, minced (about 2 tablespoons)
1/4 cup tiny dried shrimp, soaked in hot water for 15 minutes and drained
1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon chile flakes
12 ounces dry rice stick noodles, soaked in cold water for 30 minutes, drained
2 large eggs, beaten
2 cups bean sprouts
2/3 cup toasted unsalted peanuts, finely chopped
1 bunch scallions, cut into 1-inch lengths
4 limes, cut into wedges for garnish
Soak the tamarind in hot water for 15 minutes. Strain and reserve juice, pressing on pulp to extract as much liquid as possible. In small bowl, combine strained tamarind juice, fish sauce, and palm sugar.
Place chicken in bowl and toss with 2 tablespoons fish sauce mixture.
In wok, or 12-inch non-stick skillet, heat 4 tablespoons oil over medium heat until shimmering. Add shallots and cook until just beginning to soften, about 3 minutes. Add garlic and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds.
Increase heat to medium-high. Add 3 tablespoons oil and chicken (with any juices). Cook, stirring, until cooked through, about 2 minutes.
Stir in rehydrated dried shrimp and chile flakes and cook for 30 seconds. Stir in noodles and remaining fish sauce mixture. Cook, tossing, until mixture is thoroughly coated and sauce has thickened slightly, about 1 minute.
Push mixture off to side of pan and add remaining tablespoon oil to empty part of pan. Add beaten eggs and cook, stirring and breaking into small pieces with spatula, until cooked through.
Toss in sprouts, peanuts and scallions. Cook, continuously tossing, until heated through, about 1 minute. Serve immediately with lime wedges on the side.
Wok or 12-inch non-stick skillet
Make sure to have all of your ingredients prepped and ready to go before starting to cook. Rice sticks can be found in the Asian food aisle in most major markets. If you don't have palm sugar, light brown sugar can be substituted. Tamarind can be found in your local Asian/Indian market. It usually comes in a package of the pulp with the seeds. Chop the soaked dried shrimp if larger than 1/2 inch. A large skillet is essential to be able to toss all of the ingredients.
|Nutrition Facts (per serving)|
|Amount per serving|
|% Daily Value*|
|Total Fat 46g||59%|
|Saturated Fat 6g||29%|
|Total Carbohydrate 82g||30%|
|Dietary Fiber 8g||28%|
|Total Sugars 29g|
|Vitamin C 29mg||144%|
|*The % Daily Value (DV) tells you how much a nutrient in a food serving contributes to a daily diet. 2,000 calories a day is used for general nutrition advice.|