Hey folks, I’ve teased and hinted at this recipe for awhile now, but it’s finally here!
It took me forever to get this one just right! Finally though, I have a delicious Phad Thai recipe that you can actually replicate at home.
Yes, you read that correctly — Phad Thai at home that doesn’t suck.
If you’ve ever eaten a delicious Phad Thai at a restaurant (or Thailand), you’ll know just how amazingly delicious Phad Thai can be. The flavors, the textures, and all the ingredients come together to form one of the most popular rice noodle dishes in the world. But, when you actually try to replicate the dish at home the results turn out … disappointing.
Maybe it’s the ingredients, or maybe it’s technique. Either way, most people give up after a few attempts and throw up their hands in frustration. After that, they just decide to leave it to the professionals at a restaurant.
That’s not how we roll in the Tako household. We stubbornly keep at it until we find a method that works!
When it comes to food, I believe in not compromising. Just because we’re frugal doesn’t mean we have to eat bad food! On the contrary, I’ve found that cooking everything at home means we eat better than before, and my cooking skills have improved!
After months of trial and error, I’ve finally figured out the secret to really good Phad Thai at home….and today I’ll share it!
A Little Bit About ‘Mise En Place’
Before we begin, I want to talk a little about ‘Mise En Place‘. ‘Mise En Place’ is a French phrase that means “everything in it’s place”.
In cooking, the phrase refers to preparing all the required ingredients before performing the actual cooking.
That means all the prep work is done well beforehand, and the ingredients are easily available when the cooking actually happens. The result looks something like this:
In the case of Phad Thai, this is critical because the actual cooking of the dish only takes a couple minutes. If you’re busy trying to prepare something while the dish is cooking you’re going to end up with a poor result.
In the interest of getting good results, please practice a little ‘mise en place’ with your Phad Thai!
Now, The Big Secret
In the past, I’ve said that the secret to good food is all in the sauce, and I wasn’t wrong … but with Phad Thai it’s slightly more complicated than that.
Specifically, the noodle-to-sauce ratio has to be just right (as well as having all the right sauce ingredients).
If you shrink or grow the recipe, the noodle-to-sauce ratio will need to grow or shrink to match. The sauce is typically reduced into the noodles during the cooking process — this ends up amplifying anything you might have done right or wrong with the sauce.
Technique is also a factor. But if you follow the steps in this post, you should be able to whip up a batch of delicious Phad Thai in 30 to 45 minutes without much trouble.
Preparing the noodles is a good “first place” to start on this dish, as they take the longest time to prepare (because of soaking time).
Next, soften 8 oz. of the rice noodles (half of the Royal Blossom package) by soaking them in warm water for 30 to 45 minutes. This amount will serve 4 very generous helpings.
After soaking, the noodles should be soft and pliable, but not cooked. Drain off the water, and they’ll look something like this:
Now that the noodles are soaking, it’s time to start on the sauce. The sauce is the heart of Phad Thai, and where all the magic happens.
While creating this recipe, I tried several different kinds of tamarind blocks and found that they caused the Phad Thai to come out far too sour. (It’s also a lot of extra work to separate the seeds from the tamarind.) I avoid this kind of tamarind now.
Instead, I prefer the liquid tamarind concentrates that are available from the usual sources.
For our 8 oz. of noodles, we need 1/2 a cup of tamarind concentrate. At this into a mixing bowl. Remember, it’s the ratio of the sauce relative to the volume of noodles, so adjust accordingly if you’re making a smaller batch.
Next, add 4 tablespoons of a good quality fish sauce into the mixing bowl. I prefer Red Boat fish sauce. It’s the highest quality fish sauce I can find, and isn’t loaded with MSG or other artificial ingredients.
Next, comes the sweet portion of the sauce…aka sugar. Some “authentic” Phad Thai recipes call for palm sugar, but in my opinion palm sugar is too difficult to work with and too expensive.
It’s not worth the extra the effort for a very marginal difference in flavor.
I stick with standard white sugar, the kind you can find at any grocery store. Combine 6 tablespoons of sugar with 6 tablespoons of water. Mix and dissolve the sugar into the water thoroughly before adding it to the tamarind/fish sauce mixture.
Here is the part where my recipe varies from others — Some recipes call for either black soy sauce or ketchup to enhance the color of the noodles.
Mainly, this affects the color and not the flavor, so I skip these ingredients. You may want to add them.
Let’s review the contents of the sauce….
Phad Thai Sauce for 8 oz. of Rice Noodles
- 1/2 cup of Tamarind Concentrate
- 4 Tablespoons of Good Quality Fish Sauce
- 6 Tablespoons of sugar (dissolved into the water)
- 6 Tablespoons of water
- Optional: Black Soy Sauce or Ketchup for color
Now is the time to prep all the various toppings that go along with the noodles. Lots of recipes will vary on the actual toppings, but I prefer to use the most affordable options for my Phad Thai.
The first topping of course, is shrimp. Any large shrimp should work.
Precook about 10-20 shrimp in a large wok with oil and a little chopped garlic. Be very careful not to overcook the shrimp. I usually turn off the heat when the shrimp are a little undercooked.
Set aside the shrimp into a bowl. We’ll add these into the Phad Thai later.
Next, I precook my eggs. Some people cook the egg with the noodles (like Thai street vendors do), but I’ve found that my stove doesn’t actually produce enough heat to do this properly. It ends up being a gloopy mess in the noodles, so instead I precook and scramble 4 eggs.
Again, we set these aside the eggs for adding to the noodles later.
Time to tackle the fresh ingredients! Prepare the following:
- 1/4 cup of chopped cilantro
- 1/2 a large onion, sliced finely.
- 3-4 cloves of finely diced garlic.
- 1 large bundle of green onions, chopped into 1-2 inch lengths
- 2 to 3 cups (roughly) of fresh bean sprouts
- 1/4 cup of crushed peanuts
This part of the prep work ends up being a bunch of chopping. I recommend using a sharp chef’s knife, my favorite being a Shun Chef Knife. Best damn knife I’ve ever owned.
When it comes to the peanuts, they need to be crushed by hand. I use the back of a wooden spoon to do this.
When all the ingredients are prepared, set them out next to the stove. The cooking process goes very fast, so you’ll want everything close-at-hand and ready!
Finally, it’s time to cook some Phad Thai! This is the fun part, but it goes really fast.
Why so fast? Because you’ll need to turn up the stove heat really high. I usually turn my stove to “high” and just leave it there through the whole process.
Just like mathematics, cooking pad thai has a order of operations that makes a huge difference in the end result. Follow along carefully for best results.
First, add 2 tablespoons of vegetable oil into a large wok (or your largest frying pan) and then add the garlic and sliced onions. This may seem like a lot of oil initially, but it won’t be. I promise.
Cook until the onions become translucent.
Then, add the noodles and sauce. At this point, I usually switch to cooking with silicone tipped tongs so I don’t scratch my wok.
Cook the noodles and reduce the sauce on high heat until the liquid is almost completely reduced.
Note: If you plan on cooking your egg with the noodles in a more traditional fashion, now is the time to do it.
Next, add the precooked egg, raw bean sprouts, and shrimp. These ingredients really don’t need much cooking, but they do need to be thoroughly combined with the noodles.
Then turn off the heat. Yes, turn it off. Everything should already be piping hot, so the residual heat will do the rest.
Add the green onions, cilantro, and half of the crushed peanuts. Again, these ingredients don’t really need cooking. Mix thoroughly with the noodles and other ingredients.
And that’s it! You’re done!
You should be left with delicious phad thai that needs plating.
When I plate the dish, I use my silicone tipped tongs to place the noodles first and then layer the shrimp, eggs, and other toppings on top of the noodles. The remaining crushed peanuts are then sprinkled on top.
Final Noodley Thoughts
Tradition is great for old grandmothers and historians. I am neither an old grandmother, nor a historian… just a stay-at-home dad that loves to eat delicious food.
For the record, I’m not calling my version of Phad Thai “authentic” or “traditional” in any way. I’m simply making what works with ingredients that are commonly available to me. I prefer affordability over strict authenticity.
The cost of this dish ends up being $2 to $3 for a very large and generous serving. It’s about twice the food you’d get in a restaurant for a third of the price…despite a couple specialized ingredients.
That’s right, making Phad Thai at home is an outstanding bargain. It’s well worth your time and effort to make this dish at home.
I highly recommend you give it a try!