This is one of my favorite dishes to order in a Thai restaurant, and before I went to Thailand I’d tried making it myself from a few different recipes in British cookbooks. It was nowhere near ‘authentic’, and you could tell.
As well as eating bucketloads of the stuff in Thailand recently, I was shown how to make it. Since returning, I’ve tried it a few times with a couple of tweaks due to the ingredients available – and I’ve not completely nailed it.
I don’t think there’s anything wrong with the recipe- I’ve compared a few from Thai chefs, including the one from the cookery class in Bangkok, and they’re almost identical, with similar results. The dish always turns out a bit greyer and less appetising aesthetically than the Pad Thai I remember being served in Thailand. That said, it does have the distinctive tangy, sweet flavour that I know and love, so perhaps I’m being too harsh on myself. The key, I’m told, as with most Thai cooking, is to find the right balance between the competing flavours of salty, sweet and sour. In our house, the jury’s still out- but in the meantime, here’s the recipe. I’d love to know how you get on if you try it!
Ingredients – see notes
(serves two as a main meal)
180g raw king prawns, peeled and deveined
2 tbsp shrimp oil or vegetable oil
30g (a small handful) Chinese chives, baby leeks, or failing that, spring onions, cut to 2cm slices
1 egg, beaten
3 cloves garlic, crushed
2 tbsp peanuts, toasted and crushed
2 shallots, finely chopped
3 tbsp tamarind paste
1 tbsp fish sauce
2 tbsp palm sugar or brown sugar
2 cups (½ jar, drained) beansprouts
1 tbsp dried shrimp (if available)
½ tsp chilli powder
2 tbsp chopped pickled radish or turnip
180g thai rice noodles
½ cup (or about 5cm squared) hard tofu, diced
1 small lime, cut into wedges
King prawns – For how to prepare these, head over to my All Things Prawny post.
Shrimp oil – Plain vegetable oil is fine, but for added flavour you can make your own shrimp oil by simmering discarded prawn heads and shells in vegetable oil for 5 minutes until the oil turns pink. See my All Things Prawny post for more info.
Peanuts – Buy unsalted, uncooked peanuts and dry roast them in the oven for 10-15 minutes, until they turn lightly golden but not burnt. Using a pestle and mortar, coarsely crush the roasted peanuts once cooled.
Tamarind paste – This is available in the UK in larger supermarkets and speciality food stores. If this isn’t available, but tamarind pulp is, you can make your own paste by soaking the pulp in warm water for 20 minutes, draining it, and then squeezing the pulp through a fine meshed sieve. Be warned- it’s messy!
Dried shrimp – Another speciality ingredient that I’ve only ever seen in supermarkets with an extensive Asian/Oriental section. These are tiny little whole prawns, dried with the shells still on.
Thai rice noodles– You’re looking for the translucent flat rice noodles. They will need soaking in lukewarm water for 10-15 minutes before cooking, so that they are floppy but not completely soft. Alternatively, you could use ‘straight to wok’ noodles if they are available.
Read carefully through the entire recipe before starting. Most of the cooking time for this dish is spent preparing the ingredients- cooking it is the quick bit!
Combine the fish sauce, sugar and tamarind paste in a small bowl.
Add the oil to a wok or large pan over a medium heat.
Add the shallot, garlic and tofu and stir for a minute or so. Add the pickled radish and dried shrimp, followed by the fresh prawns.
While the prawns are cooking- this will only take a couple of minutes- add the combined fish sauce, tamarind and sugar and stir.
As soon as the prawns are pink and cooked, add the drained noodles. You may need to add a couple of tablespoons of warm water at this point, especially if the noodles are under-soaked.
Turn the noodles carefully in the mixture with the edge of a spatula, taking care not to break them.
Once the noodles are soft, but before they turn mushy, push them to one side of the wok, and pour the beaten egg into the other side. Lift the eggy side of the pan, allowing the egg to run thinly around the edges where it should cook quickly in under a minute. As soon as it is cooked, add the chives and half of the beansprouts and fold these into the noodles with the fried egg.
Once everything is nicely combined, serve your Pad Thai with the crushed peanuts, lime wedges, chilli powder and the remaining beansprouts as garnish.