This is one of those dishes I made AGES ago, but never got around to posting. You might remember I had a bit of a peanut frenzy while my allergic honey was away on the east coast for a couple of weeks. Turns out, as delicious as peanuts are, it is, in fact, possible to get tired of them. But in the week or so that I was greedily packing peanuts into nearly every dinner, I decided to try this recipe for pad thai from The New Best Recipe. Like many of you, I suspect, I’ve always thought that pad thai is probably something that just isn’t worth the effort and is best to just get at restaurants. But given that I’m rarely, if ever, disappointed by the recipes from that cookbook (and the America’s Test Kitchen/Cook’s Illustrated team, in general), I gave it a shot.
Writing about a meal nearly two months after you cooked and ate it is a bit of a challenge, but a few things stick out in my mind. First, it was much quicker and less involved than I imagined it would be. Part of it is that I decided not to bother getting the more obscure ingredients (like preserved radish), cutting down both my ingredient list and my prep time. What effect did that have on the dish? Well, I’ll admit that without those “extras”, it lost some of the complexity and nuanced flavor it might have otherwise had. (But on the plus side, nearly all of the basic ingredients are standard kitchen staples that don’t require an extra shopping trip!)
On the whole, though, it was good and tasted like a much lighter, MUCH less oily version of the pad thai you might get in a restaurant. I decided to make mine with tofu, but pad thai is terrific, of course, with shredded chicken, shrimp or both! While this recipe is unlikely to replace the pad thai from your favorite Thai joint, for a quick and light DIY version of the classic, it’s worth a try.
Pad Thai (serves 4)
2 tbsp tamarind paste or substitute (see note at bottom of recipe)
3/4 cup boiling water
3 tbsp fish sauce
1 tbsp rice vinegar
3 tbsp sugar
3/4 tsp cayenne pepper
4 tbsp peanut or vegetable oil
8 oz dried rice stick noodles, about 1/4 inch wide
2 large eggs
12 oz medium (40-50/lb) shrimp, peeled and deveined (optional)
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 medium shallot, minced
2 tbsp dried shrimp, chopped fine (optional)
2 tbsp chopped Thai salted preserved radish (optional)
6 tbsp chopped, unsalted roasted peanuts
3 cups (6 oz) bean sprouts
8 oz tofu (optional)
5 medium scallions, greens parts only, sliced thin on a sharp diagonal
1/4 cup loosely packed cilantro leaves (optional)
lime wedges for garnish
1. Rehydreate the tamarind paste in boiling water (see note below). Stir fish sauce, rice vinegar, sugar, cayenne, and 2 tbsp of the oil into the tamarind liquid. Set aside.
2. If using tofu, blot it well by wrapping it in a clean dish towel and pressing it until the towel is moist. Then cut into 1/2 cubes.
3. Cover the rice sticks with hot tap water in a large bowl and soak until softened, pliable, and limp but not fully tender, about 20 minutes. Drain the noodles and set aside. Beat the eggs and 1/8 tsp salt in a small bowl and set aside.
4. Heat 1 tbsp oil in a 12-inch skillet (preferably non-stick) over high heat until just beginning to smoke. Add the shrimp and sprinkle with 1/8 tsp salt. Cook, tossing occasionally, until the shrimp are opaque and browned aout the edges, about 3 minutes. Transfer the shrimp to a plate and set aside.
5. Off the heat, add the remaining 1 tbsp oil to the skillet, set the skillet over medium heat, and cook, stirring constantly until light golden brown, about 1 1/2 minutes. Add the beaten eggs to the skillet and stir vigorously until scrambled and barely moist, about 20 seconds. Add the rice noodles, the radish, and the dried shrimp (if using) to the eggs, toss with 2 wooden spoons to combine. Pour the fish sauce mixture over the noodles, increase the heat to high, and cook, tossing constantly until the noodles are evenly coated. Scatter 1/4 cup of peanuts, the bean sprouts, all but 1/4 cup of the scallions, tofu, and the cooked shrimp (if using) over the noodles, continue to cook, tossing constantly until the noodles are tender, about 2 1/2 minutes. (If not yet tender, add 2 tbsp of water to the skillet and continue to cook until tender.)
6. Transfer the noodles to a serving platte and sprinkle with the remaining scallions, the reamining 2 tbsp peanuts, and the cilantro (if using). Serve immediately, passing the lime wedges seperately.
Tamarind options: 1) use tamarind paste or pulp (preferred method), soaking 2 tbsp of it in 3/4 cup boiling water for 10 minutes, then push through a mesh strainer to remove seeds and fibers; 2) mix 1 tbsp tamarind concentrate with 2/3 cup hot water; 3) combine 1/3 cup lime juice with 1/3 cup water and substitute brown sugar for white in the recipe (do not serve with lime wedges or it will be too lime-y)