Does anyone have any tried and tested recipes for pad thai that approximate this restaurant style dish? I am thinking of trying Cook's Illustrated version for an upcoming dinner party but wanted to know if there was something better out there.
If you can find the tamarind, the Cook's recipe is the best I've ever made. It's one of my favorite CI recipes of all time----before they started doing safe, mainstream recipes every issue.
I can't see the Cook's Illustrated recipe - I guess you need a login. I got to see a 'teaser' which recommended soaking in hot water. That's a good idea if you want a big soggy mush of noodles when you fry it. If you want your noodles to be separate strands, soak them in room-temp water instead. My recommendation when making Thai food is to stick to sites which are either written by Thais, or specialize only in Thai food. I've seen way too many recipes on the web which were scary to say the least. :)
I have a recipe for a vegetarian version here:
You can make it non-veg by using fish sauce instead of white soy sauce, and adding some dried small shrimp. You can add larger fresh shrimp too. I also have a pic up on Flickr with hover comments:
I just checked out Pim's recipe. It's good and worth a read for sure. She has a lot more theory than my recipe. I don't recommend adding garlic tho.
I think my best advice is to cook only one portion at a time, and make sure your pan is very hot.
It doesn't turn out like a soggy mess. It turns out exactly like the Pad Thai I've had in restaurants, both in the U.S. and Thailand. You soak in hot tap water, not boiling, and only for 20 minutes.
Cook's usually "borrows" (I use that term loosely) from authentic recipes, so I think there's no need to denigrate the recipe just because you don't see a Thai name beside it. Especially if you haven't tried it (or, um, even read the thing). Some of the worst cooks of any cuisine are native eaters, anyway!
A wok might be the implement of choice in restaurants and the old country, but a large 12-inch skillet (nonstick makes cleanup easy) is more practical for home cooks. Although pad thai cooks very quickly, the ingredient list is long, and everything must be prepared and within easy reach at the stovetop when you begin cooking. For maximum efficiency, use the time during which the tamarind and noodles soak to prepare the other ingredients. Tofu is a good and common addition to pad thai. If you like, add 4 ounces of extra-firm tofu or pressed tofu (available in Asian markets) cut into 1/2-inch cubes (about 1 cup) to the noodles along with the bean sprouts.
Serves 4 as a main dish
2 tablespoons tamarind paste or substitute (see Tamarind options in related articles)
3/4 cup water (boiling)
3 tablespoons fish sauce
1 tablespoon rice vinegar
3 tablespoons granulated sugar
3/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
4 tablespoons peanut oil or vegetable oil
8 ounces dried rice stick noodles , about 1/8 inch wide (the width of linguine)
2 large eggs
1/4 teaspoon table salt
12 ounces medium shrimp (31/35 count), peeled and deveined, if desired
3 cloves garlic , pressed through garlic press or minced (1 tablespoon)
1 medium shallot , minced (about 3 tablespoons)
2 tablespoons dried shrimp , chopped fine (optional)
2 tablespoons Thai salted preserved radish (optional)
6 tablespoons chopped unsalted roasted peanuts
3 cups bean sprouts (6 ounces)
5 medium scallions , green parts only, sliced thin on sharp bias
1/4 cup fresh cilantro leaves (optional)
1. Soak tamarind paste in 3/4 cup boiling water for about 10 minutes, then push it through a mesh strainer to remove the seeds and fibers and extract as much pulp as possible. Stir fish sauce, rice vinegar, sugar, cayenne, and 2 tablespoons oil into tamarind liquid and set aside.
2. Cover rice sticks with hot tap 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 1/8 teaspoon salt in small bowl; set aside.
3. Heat 1 tablespoon oil in 12-inch skillet (preferably nonstick) over high heat until just beginning to smoke, about 2 minutes. Add shrimp and sprinkle with remaining 1/8 teaspoon salt; cook, tossing occasionally, until shrimp are opaque and browned about the edges, about 3 minutes. Transfer shrimp to plate and set aside.
4. Off heat, add remaining tablespoon 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 with wooden spoon until scrambled and barely moist, about 20 seconds. Add noodles, dried shrimp, and salted radish (if using) to eggs; toss with 2 wooden spoons to combine. Pour fish sauce mixture over noodles, increase heat to high, and cook, tossing constantly, until noodles are evenly coated. Scatter 1/4 cup peanuts, bean sprouts, all but 1/4 cup scallions, and cooked shrimp over noodles; continue to cook, tossing constantly, until noodles are tender, about 2 1/2 minutes (if not yet tender add 2 tablespoons water to skillet and continue to cook until tender).
5. Transfer noodles to serving platter, sprinkle with remaining scallions, 2 tablespoons peanuts, and cilantro; serve immediately, passing lime wedges separately.
I have also made that Cooks Illustrated recipe and it was excellent. It is very similar to a recipe I have from a great (but now gone) Thai restaurant in Maryland right outside of D.C. The dried shrimp and salted preserved radish are the key to authenticity in this recipe. They help with the fishy/sour/salty taste components, as does the tamarind and fish sauce.
1. Ingredients list:
As you can see above, this recipe has about 20 ingredients for Pad Thai. To me, I like the above recipe's list of ingredients, or something similar. About 3 ingredients are those you may have to go to a Thai/Asian grocery store to buy on purpose for this recipe specifically, like (dried shrimp, sweet preserved radish daikon, and tamarind paste). And, a few ingredients, are southasian ingredients that you may have, that can be used on multiple other dishes, rice wine vinegar, fish sauce, peanut oil. And, then, of course, the other ingredients can probably be bought at a nice grocery store/produce place.
2. Soy sauce or sweet versions are bad:
If you choose to just buy half the ingredients, or just substitute soy sauce, or a sweet sauce, you will have a pile of Chinese stir fried noodles, or a sweet mush of noodles. It would be similar to ordering Pad Thai from a place that does Chinese/Thai takeout and doesn't use all of the correct ingredients. I think it is very important to have at least some of the preserved radish, that probably is one of the stronger flavors, if you don't like too much of it, start out with just a bit in the beginning. It counters the sweet taste of the rest of the dish. As for the tamarind, there are probably multiple options, from making it on your own, to buying a little container in a jar, and I would probably go with something easy in the beginning.
3. Leaving ingredients out:
Ok, if you don't have scallions/shallots, that would be fine. Once you start removing peanuts and bean sprouts from your garnish, it gets a bit lonely. You could probably substitute lemon for lime. You maybe could skip the rice vinegar and peanut oil. You could kind of use some pre-made pad thai mix if you carefully check the ingredients to make sure it includes tamarind and dried radish somehow, but not an imitation soy sauce blend. Basically, I would buy the dry ingredients one day to stock up. ANd, then right before you want to make it, get your bean sprouts, lime, etc....
Good luck. Don't make your rice noodles mushy. :) ENjoy!!
I want to apologize for the tone of my original post above. I re-read it now and it sounds awful bitchy, which was not my intention at all. I wrote it quickly and didn't think about it. I read 'hot water' in the recipe and dismissed it because I've read so many Thai recipes online which were totally incorrect. Again, sorry for the tone!
I made Chez Pim's recipe tonight after seeing this thread - it was great! I do have one question - I saw palm sugar at my Asian grocery store but figured I would just use plain white sugar since I had plenty of that at home. Is there much difference in the final product if you use palm sugar, and if so, what's the difference?
Palm sugar has a really nice flavor. It reminds me of the maple sugar candy I used to eat when I was a kid (but less sweet). It gives a certain flavor to the food along with the sweetness. I recommend trying it and seeing if you can taste a difference in the final product. You can also use the leftovers to make Thai sweets. :)
There are usually two types sold -- hard cakes in a plastic bag, and plastic tubs with a lid. I recommend the tubs because they are sealed and don't dry out -- a lot easier to use the sugar that way. They are sometimes sealed with wax too to prevent drying.
Regarding that video, it would have been more useful to westerners if quantities had been specified, and I think that the amount of noodles added was too small relative to the amounts of other stuff.
Note that there was NO ketchup or other tomato-based ingredient as is becoming far too common here in the U.S. Also note that when everything was on the plate the cook added little piles of sugar, ground peanuts and ground hot pepper on the side. This allows the eater to mix in as much or as little of those things as he/she wants and does away with another major problem of most stateside pad thais in that they come to the table much too sweet. Lastly, note that the dish is quite dry when done. It is not swimming in some gloppy sauce.
Obtaining the banana flowers mentioned as a garnish is impossible here in the states. They are not canned and no one has them fresh. But they add a rather sharp bitterness that is nicely toned by the palm and granulated sugar.
I tried Chez Pim's recipe last night, my first attempt at a homeade pad thai. I used "tamarind concentrate" together with the fish sauce, sugar and paprika to make Pim's suggested sauce.
The tamarind concentrate had a very strong smell was I supposed to dilute it by any chance? I looked around the web but nothing seemed to point me to adding water.
I wasn't happy with my end result, I'm trying to figure where I went wrong. It didn't taste the way the tamarind smelled (fortunately) but something was off, seemed almost to sour and tarty.
Her recipe uses tamarind pulp, which is different than tamarind concentrate. Not surprisingly (and not trying to be snarky here) -- tamarind concentrate is a lot more concentrated! The Cook's Illustrated recipe has adjustments depending on whether you're using pulp, concentrate, or lime juice -- for concentrate, you'd use less and add some water, as you suspected. I think the ratio they suggest is something like 1 tablespoon concentrate to 2/3 cup of hot water.
Not snarky at all, the fact that the jar said concentrate led me to belive that I should add water (no instructions on the jar). I did a quick search for tamarind concentrate and nothing popped up about adding water and as the consistency didn't seem too thick out of the jar I went with it. I should have asked the person at the store if I should add water.
You don't necessarily need to with every recipe, but if you're substituting for tamarind pulp in a recipe it usually helps because tamarind pulp is reconstituted in water. So you want to use less concentrate than you would use pulp, and you also want to add some water to make up for the lesser amount of liquid. But I occasionally use tamarind concentrate in Indian dishes without adding water.