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Pad Thai (or Phat Thai or Phad Thai) is a popular typical Thai stir fry rice noodles that can be found in Thai restaurants and in street food stalls, alike. The cooking process is quick and easy, though preparing the ingredients take a bit of time in advance. I find many Thai restaurants have their way of making Pad Thai, some make it sweet and soggy, some make it dry and clammy. I love Pad Thai cooked with loads of bean sprouts, chives, firm tofu, prawns, with a bit of wok-smokiness (we called that ‘wok hey’ in Cantonese). The taste should not be overly sweet, or sour or salty, it should be a balance of sweet-savoury-sourish flavours.
Key ingredients to make Pad Thai
Dried rice noodles are the main carbohydrates in this dish. This is perhaps the most time consuming part of the recipe as it takes a long time to hydrate the rice noodles in room temperature water. Unlike rice vermicelli which takes about 15-30 minutes to soften from soaking, medium sized rice noodles take about an hour. Some brands might suggest that you boil the rice noodles to soften it, but I find it makes the noodles more vulnerable to breaking when stir frying, so you need to mindful of that during cooking. The ‘softness’ of the hydrated rice noodles should be opaque white, not overly soft and still a little firm. If you are in a rush to cook the rice noodles, you can soak them in hot water for a shorter period of time, but be careful not to oversoak it for the same reason the rice noodles might turn too soft and breaks easily when cooked. When cooking Pad Thai, the rice noodles will soak up the sauce and soften even more.
Aromatics in this recipe include garlic, shallots, dried shrimps and preserved turnip (we called it cai po 菜脯). The preserved turnip might be quite salty, even thou the packaging says sweet preserved turnip. The seasoning sauce in this recipe is adjusted to accommodate the saltiness of the preserved turnips. If this ingredient is not available, it can be omitted.
Pad Thai typically contains firm tofu (we called it tau kwa in Southeast Asia) and another meat protein. For the tofu, either firm tofu or extra firm tofu are fine. Simply put into cubes and fry until crispy brown. For the meat, it can be chicken, pork, beef or prawns. This recipe uses prawn and it’s cooked in advance with the tofu, then added back to the rice noodles later. If you are using chicken, pork or beef slices, you can marinate the meat with some fish sauce for about 30 minutes, before cooking it the same way in this recipe.
The two main vegetables used in this recipe are bean sprouts and garlic chives. Add them to the dish to stir fry and also add them to the side as garnish. Other garnishes include ground peanuts, chilli flakes and lime wedges.
The seasoning sauce of Pad Thai is made up of a few ingredients, fish sauce, palm sugar, tamarind juice. Fish sauce might smell fishy and pungent but it brings an elevated umami flavour to the dish. The flavours of palm sugar is almost irreplaceable, but if you are really conscious about sugar consumption, you can replace it with other sweeteners. And if palm sugar is unavailable, you can also replace it with brown sugar or coconut sugar. As for the tamarind juice, this recipe uses the tamarind paste from Thailand, just mix the brown sticky paste with water and use your fingers to break the pulp, then strain it to extract the juice. Tamarind or assam has a beautiful sourish flavour and is a perfect ingredient for seafood dishes. If you really can’t find tamarind paste, you can substitute with rice vinegar.
How to store leftover Pad Thai
Cooked rice noodles tend to clump together over a period of time, I would suggest to keep it in the fridge in an airtight container for a day if there are leftovers, then stir fry it in a pan or reheat in the microwave.
Watch how to cook Pad Thai on YouTube
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Classic Pad Thai 泰式炒河粉
Pad Thai ingredients
- 200 g dried rice noodles medium sized
- 2 tbsp dried shrimps
- 3 cloves garlic
- 4 shallots
- 100 g firm tofu (tau kwa) medium sized
- 2 tbsp preserved turnips (cai po) minced
- ½ tsp dried chilli flakes optional, season to taste
- 4 tbsp vegetable oil
- 12-15 fresh prawns medium sized
- 2 eggs medium sized
- 100 g bean sprouts washed
- 6-7 garlic chives washed
- Soak 200 g dried rice noodles in water for about 1 hour until softened or according to packaging instructions. Then drain off the water and set aside.200 g dried rice noodles
- Mix 4 tbsp water with 1 golf ball sized tamarind. Use your fingers to break the pulp of the tamarind.1 golf ball sized tamarind, 4 tbsp water
- Strain the tamarind mixture through a sieve to extract the tamarind juice.
- Make seasoning sauce by mixing together 1 tbsp palm sugar, 2 tbsp fish sauce, tamarind juice and 4 tbsp water.1 tbsp palm sugar, 2 tbsp fish sauce, 4 tbsp water
- Soak 2 tbsp dried shrimps for about 15 minutes until softened. Pat dry the hydrated shrimps and mince finely.2 tbsp dried shrimps
- Peel and mince 3 cloves garlic finely.3 cloves garlic
- Peel and mince 4 shallots finely.4 shallots
- Cut 100 g firm tofu (tau kwa)into 1-inch pieces.100 g firm tofu (tau kwa)
- Wash 6-7 garlic chives. Trim off the white part. Cut the rest into 2-inch pieces.6-7 garlic chives
- Grind 1/2 cup roasted peanuts into coarse bits in a food processor.1/2 cup roasted peanuts
- Wash, deshell and devein 12-15 fresh prawns.12-15 fresh prawns
- Use a wok or large frying pan over medium heat. Warm 1.5 tbsp vegetable oil. Fry the tofu until slightly browned. Remove from pan and set aside.4 tbsp vegetable oil
- In the same wok or frying pan, fry the prawns until cooked or turn pink.Remove from pan and set aside.
- In the same wok or frying pan, warm 1.5 tbsp vegetable oil over medium heat.Sauté dried shrimps, garlic, shallots, 2 tbsp preserved turnips (cai po) until aromatic.2 tbsp preserved turnips (cai po)
- Turn up the heat to medium high. Add the rice noodles, seasoning sauce, and 1/2 tsp dried chilli flakes. Mix the rice noodles well with the sauce.1/2 tsp dried chilli flakes
- Push the rice noodles to one side of the pan,.If required, add about 1 tbsp vegetable oil. Add 2 eggs and break them up. Then fold the rice noodles over the eggs and leave the eggs to cook for about 30 seconds. Then stir fry to mix well. Taste the noodles, it should be soft. If it’s still hard, add some water and let it cook until soft.2 eggs
- Add garlic chives and 100 g bean sprouts, and stir fry briefly until slightly wilted. Then add prawns and firm tofu. Mix briefly, then turn off the heat.100 g bean sprouts, 6-7 garlic chives
- Cut 2-3 limesinto wedges, and use as garnish.2-3 limes
- To serve Pad Thai, garnish with lime wedges, more bean sprouts, garlic chives, chilli flakes and peanut bits.Bean sprouts, Garlic chives