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Mar 20, 2006 01:03 PM

Pad Thai - Superior recipe? tips?

  • p

In the olden days when I worked in downtown Oakland, good pad thai was cheap and plentiful. Then I changed jobs and the local thai joints in my 'hood either raised their prices or went downhill.

So now I'm on a hunt for a superior pad thai recipe. Just think, if I can find a good recipe I'll be saving myself from the horrors of gummy noodles, grease-bombs, "suck-the-flavor-OFF-my-tongue" blandness!

You know what they say - give a woman pad thai and she's not hungry for a day but teach her to MAKE pad thai and she'll never go hungry again....or something like that.

Recipes? Tips? Any secrets to successfull pad thai?

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  1. f

    I have in the past used the Cook's Illustrated recipe. Usually I find their ethnic recipes to be less than authentic, as they tend to try to use nationally available items, but this recipe was very good, using tamarind paste, dried salted radish and dried shrimp, all of which will be easy for you to find in SF. Let me know if you want me to post it tonight.

    2 Replies
    1. re: farmersdaughter

      I totally second everything farmersdaughter writes (inc. the fact that I normally think CI's "ethnic" recipes are crap). This one really is pretty yummy.

      1. re: smokey

        Here's a link to the Cook's Illustrated Pad Thai recipe:

    2. Caught a Good Eats just the other night and bookmarked this recipe. Haven't tried it yet, but it sounded terrific and AB's usually very reliable.


      4 Replies
      1. re: JoanN

        I saw that show also but I thought his pad thai looked all wrong. When they focused on the finished dish the noodles were still very white and it seemed way too dry. In fact, that's what pushed me into wanting to find a genuinely good, tested recipe.

        1. re: Pssst

          I have never been to Thailand so I have never had the real thing, but what do you think was wrong about it?

          I agree it does not look like the stuff I get at my local Thai place, but which is correct?

          1. re: Pssst

            Hmmm... a few questions for you...

            Do you want a saucy pad thai, rather than a dry one? I've actually had really excellent versions of each. The pale and dry looking ones can sometimes pack a whole lot more flavor that they appear.

            Second is, do you have an opinion on ketchup or tomato sauce? Lots of places include it, as do many recipes (these usually correlate with the saucy style, but not always). Personally I prefer without but ketchup has its fans.

            Not that I have any recipes to recommend either way, but those answers may help to find or sort recommendations.

            I haven't tried AB's pad thai recipe, but my experience has usually been that it's best that I listen to him to understand the science behind a certain food, but then apply that knowledge using a more well-developed and -tested recipe. His pad thai recipe actually reads pretty good, though I would probably add fresh shrimp and crispy fried shallots. You could try modifying the noodle/sauce ratio to make it more to your liking. In any case I know your stove will do a better than the lame wok grill he had set up. He made such a huge deal of out of needing gobs of heat, then proceeded to practically steam everything in a lukewarm pan. The guy is my hero but sometimes, like with this episode, I find myself yelling "what the @#$@# are you doing?" at the TV.


            1. re: nja

              Crisy fried shallots...yum.

              For as many, many jars of condiments I have in my fridge, not only do I have no ketchup, I don't remember buying it - ever.

              To be clear, I don't have anything against people who use ketchup - to each his own, I just have found that tomatoes and spices (without the cloying sweetness of ketchup) suffice for me. So you can safely put me in the tomato not ketchup camp.

              Regarding saucy v. dry - seems like there should be enough sauce to give it great flavor but not so much that it drowns everything. I guess I'm with Goldilocks, I like it not too dry not too saucy.

              Today I googled "recipe: pad thai" and it doesn't look like Alton is far off. But the devil is in the details. I know this is quirky but it was his treatment of the eggs that had me worried, it really seemed like they were too "separate" from the other ingredients - the best pad thais I've had you could certainly taste that eggs were in the dish but they were incorporated in the sauce.

              I guess I'll just have to try a few places and make a few batches.

        2. I had been on the elusive search for making excellent pad thai. My conclusion is that unless you have an industrial / restaurant strength gas stove, you cannot get the heat high enough to quickly cook the noodles to retain the integrity of their texture. The end result is that you must cook the pad thai so much that it becomes smooshy. For me, some things are best left to those with the proper tools.

          3 Replies
          1. re: elise h

            Yes, well that presumes you can go out and buy excellent pad thai.

            I did just posd on my local board asking for restaurant recommendations, but I remodeled my kitchen last year and have discovered that I like eating out less and less because what I make at home is better - I can use really fresh ingredients, control the fat and make it exactly to my tastes. (That's not to say that I cook better that all the chefs in SF, it just means that for me the ROI for eating out is just not there.)

            And I do have a Viking range.

            1. re: elise h

              I ate a lot of pad thai when I spent a month in Thailand over 20 years ago. The street vendors cooked it to order, and it was delicious--and not an industrial stove in sight!

              1. re: DS

                Can you describe their tools and how they made it?

            2. I have had this in my file for years and keep meaning to make it. Please try it and let me know if it's any good. It sure looks authentic!

              Pad Thai
              2T tamarind paste (see note at bottom of recipe for substitutions)
              3/4C boiling water (if using tamarind paste)
              3T fish sauce
              1T rice vinegar
              3T sugar
              3/4t cayenne
              4T peanut or vegetable oil, divided
              8 oz. dried rice stick noodles, about 1/8” wide (the width of linguine)
              2 eggs
              1/4t salt, divided
              12 oz. medium (31/35 count) shrimp, peeled and deveined (optional)
              3 garlic cloves, pressed or minced (1T)
              1 medium shallot, minced (3T)
              2T dried shrimp, chopped fine (optional)
              2T chopped Thai salted preserved radish (optional)
              6T chopped roasted unsalted peanuts
              3C (6 oz.) bean sprouts
              5 medium scallions, green parts only, sliced thin on sharp bias
              1/4C loosely packed cilantro leaves (optional)
              Lime wedges, for garnish

              Rehydrate tamarind paste (if using) in boiling water. Add fish sauce, rice vinegar, sugar, cayenne and 2T oil into tamarind liquid and set aside.

              Cover rice sticks with hot tape water in large bowl; soak until softened, pliable, and limp, but not fully tender, about 20 minutes. Drain noodles and set aside. Beat eggs and 1/8t salt; set aside.

              Heat 1T oil in 12” skillet (nonstick is best over high heat until just beginning to smoke, about 2 minutes. Add shrimp and sprinkle with remaining 1/8t salt; cook, tossing occasionally, until shrimp are opaque and browned around the edges, about 3 minutes. Transfer shrimp to plate and set aside.

              Off heat, add remaining 1T oil to skillet and swirl to coat; add garlic and shallot, set skillet over medium heat and cook, stirring constantly, until light golden brown, about 1-1/2 minutes; add eggs to skillet and stir vigorously will wooden spoon until scrambled and barely moist, about 20 seconds. Add noodles, dried shrimp and radish (if using) to eggs; toss with 2 wooden spoons to combine. Pour tamarind mixture over noodles, increase heat to high and cook, tossing constantly, until noodles are evenly coated. Scatter cooked shrimp, 1/4C peanuts, bean sprouts, and all but 1/4C scallions over noodles. Continue to cook, tossing constantly until noodles are tender, about 2-1/2 minutes. If not yet tender, add 2T water to skillet and continue to cook until tender.

              Transfer noodles to serving platter. Sprinkle with remaining scallions, peanuts and cilantro. Serve immediately with lime wedges.

              Note: If not using tamarind paste, use 1/3C lime juice plus 1/3C water instead. Use brown sugar instead of white. Because this will already contain a good hit of lime, don’t serve with lime wedges.

              4 Replies
              1. re: wyf4lyf

                Is this the Cook's Illustrated recipe? It looks familiar.

                1. re: farmersdaughter

                  I honestly don't know. For years I was remiss to make a note about where I got recipes from. I'm trying to be better about that now. If it is the CI one, I apologize for that (since I didn't paraphrase...)

                  1. re: farmersdaughter

                    Yes, that's it - from July/August 2002. I've been meaning to try that one too.

                  2. re: wyf4lyf

                    I used a Williams-Sonoma pad thai recipe twice this past weekend, and I still haven't quiet got it down! I didn't use the preserved radish, though, I wonder if that would have made a difference. Other than that, I followed the recipe exactly, and it still just doesn't quiet as good as the local thai restaraunt!

                  3. I realize that this is absolute chowhound heresy, but I really like the prepared sauce from Taste of Thai (not Thai Kitchen, which is too sweet). There are two packets in a box, and the box has a "save the elephants" schpeal on it. Not a lot of heat, but that suits me just fine.