My mother was born and raised in Bangkok….but she doesn’t make Phad Thai. It’s so easy to go down to the local street vendor and buy every meal, I don’t blame her. Besides, there are so many unique ingredients that you need to have on hand for almost every dish that unless you are in the business of cooking A LOT, it’s not worth having a kitchen full of obscure items you use only occasionally.
I didn’t start making Phad Thai, or actually appreciate eating it, until I was an adult. I know, poor deprived childhood, especially since mom is Thai. She didn’t make it and we didn’t go out to eat it. That makes it practically heresy. Sorry relatives and ancestors. But, after my first real taste in Thailand, I was hooked. At first I scoured the internet, checked out cookbooks, including mom’s, tasted all local restaurant varieties and attempted every recipe to make my own. All were never good enough. Too many Americanized ingredients or techniques adapted for inside cooking. I’ve had some pretty bad Phad Thai here in the States, including some of my own creations. Mushy or hard noodles reminiscent of ketchup, or flavored too sweet or salty. It just doesn’t taste how I think it should taste….meaning it should taste like Thailand: so good that you #cantstop #wontstop eating it.
See, nothing compares with authentic street vendor Phad Thai. Eating steaming hot, spicy noodles off a melamine plate in a crowded, sauna-like atmosphere filled with pungent smells that make your eyes sweat more than your body is something not easy to replicate. At least I have not found it yet. So imagine my fascination when I learned of #PokPok, Andy Ricker’s Portland restaurant making authentic Thai food in authentic ways using authentic ingredients and tools he has imported for himself…#lifechanging. I purchased his cookbook of the same name and visually weighed his recipe against my memory of watching Phad Thai being made in Thailand. Brilliant! One of these days, I’ll amass the ingredient list and attempt his version. For now, I’ll have to settle for what I have on hand. Plus, I’m still perfecting my cooking technique, and aside from the sauce, I think cooking technique determines at least 80% of the recipe’s success.
Like most stir-fried noodle dishes, the essential element is the sauce. The actual ingredients of the stif-fry are more forgiving.
Phad Thai Sauce
- 3 parts Tamarind water (I make mine by purchasing real tamarind, either in a block or the actual pods and soaking in water, straining out the seeds) This is a non-negotiable in my book.
- 1 part palm sugar (You can purchase palm sugar at specialty markets, it usually looks like large clumps/pods of yellow-brownish sugar. It is usually really hard, and water must be added to make it into a useful syrup OR pull out the rasp/fine grater and get some sugar scraped off. )
- 1 part Fish Sauce (You cannot substitute this for any other salty sauce and get the same results. Sorry, vegans. You just can’t.)
Mix all ingredients together. Taste and adjust. I like my sauce sour, so I use less sugar, but some people like a sweeter sauce, so add more sugar. Same thing with salt. Add more fish sauce if you want it saltier. There should be a balance of flavors, and you should be able to taste all three: sour, sweet and salty.
Phad Thai Ingredients
- rice noodles (soaked in water until pliable)
- eggs (1 per serving)
- extra firm tofu, cubed
- mung bean sprouts
- thai red chilis, (seeded, sliced, or not)
- garlic chives (they look like long, flattened green onions OR green onions and some garlic will make a fair stand-in)
- unsalted peanuts
- radishes…dried shrimp…dried chili flakes,…etc.
More or less what you like, and have on hand. I like to finish my Phad Thai with fresh cilantro, because I like to eat cilantro. Not necessary. And sorry about not having exact measurements. That’s just how I cook. Depends on how much you want to make, how much you eat. Maybe 4-6 shrimp per serving, a few chives per serving, a 1/4 cup peanuts and 1/2 cup mung beans?
Start by heating the pan very hot, adding oil, cook the egg, flip and break apart. I then remove the egg, add the garlic chives or green onions/garlic and the tofu and red chilis. I add the mung beans, stir then last I add the shrimp and 1/2 sauce. Cook until shrimp is no longer pink.
At this point, I like to take everything out of the pan and set aside. I like to cook my noodles separate, because I feel like I can’t get my pan hot enough to do a good job with everything else in there.
Stir fry the noodles in some oil, adding the remaining sauce and some of the soaking water to ‘steam’ the noodles. Cook until noodles are al dente. Plate and serve, or return the remaining ingredients to the pan to serve together immediately. Remember this is FAST FOOD. If you leave it too long, the noodles will absorb all of the sauce and the texture will be off.
Serve with lime wedges, extra peanuts, dried chili flakes, granulated sugar, extra bean sprouts and fish sauce so everyone can adjust to their own taste. I always add lime, fish sauce and extra dried chili flakes. The hotter, the better!! Enjoy!