Pad Thai

I’ve missed Thai food. In the first years after my celiac diagnosis, Thai food was a refuge. Dishes of fiery Thai basil fried rice, pad thai, pad woonsen and pad see ewe were my most frequent orders. Our Saturday evening visits to Thai Spice softened the blow of losing so many of my favorite foods, and I happily slurped a plate of rice noodles as my new comfort food.

As I get older, my sensitivity to gluten has grown more severe – a splash of soy sauce or a not-quite-clean wok can now make me sick for days,forcing me to give up eating Thai food from restaurants. I do make a pretty darned good Thai Curry Soup and basil fried rice, but pad thai has always eluded me.

In the past, I’ve made embarrassing piles of gunky, sticky rice noodles with not-quite-right sauce, that came nowhere near my pad thai ideals. I set out to do a little research and take another crack at the puzzle. I consulted the oracle that is Chez Pim, wandered over to Cook’s Illustrated which unlocked the secret of perfectly cooked rice noodles, and found a simpler technique for the sauce on Closet Kitchen that I used here.

The list of ingredients is long, but once you get a feel for the rhythm of making pad thai, it will come together quickly. Next time, I’m going to make a double batch of sauce and stash half in the fridge for a quick dinner on another night – I suspect that the sauce will keep for awhile in a closed container. Tamarind concentrate and palm sugar may be difficult to find if you don’t have an Indian or Asian grocery nearby, but they are available online.

The finished plate of noodles exceeded my humble expectations. When I made the sauce, it seemed too tart and salty, and I hoped that it would balance out when coating a pile of unseasoned rice noodles – it did. I love Kevin’s addition of the chili-garlic sauce to the noodles – I like a little zing to my pad thai. I can definitely say that I will no longer miss my takeout Thai – this version is better.

What’s your favorite Thai food fix? Share in the comments below.

Pad Thai
Serves 4
Adapted from Cook’s Illustrated and Closet Kitchen

7 T tamarind concentrate (I used Swad brand)
4 T fish sauce
2-2.5 rounds of palm sugar
1-2 T chili garlic sauce
2 cloves garlic, gently smashed with the flat of a knife & peeled
1 package stick rice noodles (4 servings)
1 T oil
1 shallot (chopped)
2 cloves garlic (chopped)
2 eggs (lightly beaten)
1/3 c chopped, toasted peanuts
5 green onions, sliced
1/4 cup cilantro, rough chopped
lime wedges

Chicken & Marinade
4 boneless, skinless chicken thighs
2 T wheat-free soy sauce
1 T fresh ginger, grated
1 T rice vinegar
1 tsp chili garlic sauce
½ tsp honey
lime wedges for garnish

  1. Combine the soy sauce, ginger, rice vinegar, 1 tsp chili garlic sauce and honey in a bowl and stir to combine. Slice the chicken thighs into ½ in wide strips and add it to the marinade. Let the chicken marinate while you prep the rest of the dish.
  2. Submerge the rice noodles in a large pot of really hot tap water for 20 minutes. After 20 minutes, the noodles should be pliable and limp, but not fully tender.
  3. While the noodles soak, use a chef knife to roughly chop the palm sugar and add most, but not all of the sugar to a small saucepan along with the tamarind, fish sauce, sugar, garlic cloves and chili garlic sauce. Cook over medium-low heat, stirring occasionally until all of the sugar has dissolved. Taste. The sauce will be quite salty, but taste for a balance between the tart tamarind and salty fish sauce and remember that the concentrated sauce is going to flavor a LOT of noodles, so it should taste a little saltier than is palatable. If the sauce tastes out of balance, you can add a bit more palm sugar. When you’re happy with the sauce, remove the garlic cloves and set the sauce aside.
  4. Heat a 12” non-stick skillet over medium heat and spray the pan with oil. Pour the eggs into the pan and swirl to coat the entire bottom of the pan. Cook for 1 minute, until the bottom has set, then loosen with a spatula and flip the egg. Cook for another 30 seconds, then slide the omelet onto a cutting board and let cool for a moment. Roll the omelet up into a cigar shape, then slice into thin ribbons of egg. Set aside.
  5. Return the skillet to the burner and add the chicken. Cook until done, then scoop into a bowl and set aside. Return the pan to the burner and add the shallots and 1 tsp of oil to the pan. Stir for 1 minute, then add the drained noodles & half of the sauce. Toss the noodles in the sauce constantly for a couple minutes. Taste. If the noodles are a little bland, add a bit more sauce. (You will likely have sauce leftover.) Add the green onions, peanuts, egg, chicken and cilantro to the pan and toss to combine. Taste the noodles to ensure they are cooked through and well seasoned, then serve with a wedge of lime on each plate.

Watch out for the post-pad thai carb coma. It’s a doozy.

8 thoughts on “Pad Thai

  1. Look at you promoting the Swad brand for tamarind 😉 And I burst out laughing when I saw Mark’s pic above. Haha! Pad Thai is actually my fave thing to order every time we go to a Thai restaurant. There’s a place here called Sawatdee where the dish looks just like yours 🙂 I also really enjoy the classic Thai red or green curries with steamed rice. I’m bookmarking this recipe for sure. Must try it out soon.

    • I’m a big fan of Swad products – you should see the Indian section of my spice cabinet! Pad Thai is my fave, too…but we hadn’t eaten those super refined rice noodles in so long we both felt the serious carb coma afterward – it was pretty funny. Both of us just wanted a nap!

  2. My pad thai is at the ‘gunky, sticky’ stage :/

    Your sauce looks great, but I’m just wondering what in this new process helped the texture of the noodles to be like takeout pad thai rather than sticky?

    I’m wondering if the secret is just to use more oil… ?

    • I think the secret to not sticking was mostly in finally following the package directions for the stick noodles, and soaking, rather than boiling, and then stir frying them when they’re just shy of done. And I used a good non-stick skillet to toss these babies around, so while I used a little more oil than a stir fry, it was still probably only 2 T of oil in a really hot pan.

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