Pad thai made from scratch isn't exactly a quick meal—there are a LOT of ingredients to prep. But how do restaurants get your freshly-made pad thai done in 5 minutes? Good news: they're not doing anything you can't do at home. But the most important thing they do is to have the sauce made in bulk, in advance.
Once you've got the sauce made, and if you want to be even MORE prepared, there are a few other simple things you can do in advance so that, comes cooking time, you can literally get pad thai on the table in minutes. Watch the video to see me cook pad thai in less than 5 minutes in real time!
Once you have the sauce, you can use it in my authentic pad thai recipe.
An authentic pad thai sauce is actually very simple. There are technically only 3 ingredients: the sweet, the salty and the sour. But because we want this to be a time-saver, I've also add the shallots and the garlic into the sauce so we don't have to chop and sauté them on the day.
- Tamarind paste (the sour, what is tamarind?)
- Fish sauce (the salty)
- Palm sugar (the sweet)
Important note about tamarind:
Whenever you cook Thai food, I recommend that you make tamarind paste from pulp for the best flavour. But if you are going to buy it instead, make sure it's a product of Thailand or Vietnam and not a product of India. Thai and Vietnamese tamarind paste is a loose brown liquid, whereas Indian "tamarind concentrate" is a thick black paste that is much more concentrated. It is a different product and should not be used when cooking Thai food.
What NOT to Put in the Sauce?
You might be tempted to add as many things as possible for max efficiency, but some things are better left out:
- Dried shrimp. If I let the dried shrimp sit and infuse their flavour into the sauce for a long time, I find that the final dish is permeated with too much shrimpiness. Yes, things can be too shrimpy, even for me!!
- The same goes for the sweet preserved radish if you're using it - it was too strong.
- Tofu would absorb too much flavour from the sauce, and will likely shorten the shelf life of the sauce as well.
- Peanuts lose their crunch in the liquid.
How to Make Pad Thai Sauce
Here's an overview of hot to make pad thai sauce in advance. It's relatively simple, but be sure to watch the video tutorial with it's extra tips to ensure success.
- Saute shallots and garlic until soft and fragrant.
- Remove from the pot.
- In the same pot melt the palm sugar.
- Keep cooking until the sugar darkens slightly in colour.
- Once the sugar reaches a caramel colour, add the tamarind paste to stop the cooking.
- Add the fish sauce and stir to dissolve the sugar.
- Add the shallots and garlic back in and stir to mix.
- Keep it in a jar and it will last at least 3 months in the fridge.
Once you've got the pad thai sauce made, you can use it right away, and the rest needs to be kept in a sealed container in the fridge. It should last at least 3 months in the fridge.
If you need to, you can also freeze the sauce, and I would recommend dividing it into portions before freezing for easy usage. You can freeze them in ice cube trays and then leave a note for yourself how many cubes you will need per serving.
How to Make Pad Thai in 5 Minutes
In essence, pad thai is a noodle stir fry, and like most noodle stir fries, it is very quick to cook. What takes time is the prep. Making the sauce in advance is just "level 1 preparedness," but you can save even more time by prepping more of the ingredients. If you do enough prep and get to "level 4" you can literally make pad thai on a weeknight in 5 minutes!
To prove that I'm not exaggerating, watch the video tutorial below to see me cook pad thai in REAL TIME in less than 5 minutes! For more on the different levels of prep, read my post on my authentic pad thai recipe.
*One note: if your pre-cooked protein is fridge-cold, add it a bit earlier than I did in this video to give it time to heat up. I would toss it with the noodles once the sauce has been absorbed, and before you add the eggs.
Frequently Asked Questions
Trust me, you don't want to. I have seen many brands of bottled pad thai sauce on store shelves, and I have never come across one that comes close to the authentic flavour of real pad thai. Most of these sauces are overly sweet, and use cheap ingredients that compromise the flavour.
For example, instead of palm sugar they use granulated white sugar. Instead of fish sauce they add salt and maybe even soy sauce which is not the right flavour. And instead of using all tamarind they will mix in white vinegar or rice vinegar which is much cheaper. They also often add a lot of additives and colour that are totally not necessary.
Pad thai sauce uses only a few ingredients, and the store that sells the bottled sauce probably also sells all the ingredients you need to make a much better one yourself!
You should keep the pad thai sauce well-sealed in the fridge, and it should last you at least 3 months, and probably much longer. (I have just never had it any longer than that). There is a lot of sugar, acid, and salt in the sauce, all of which are ingredients that help preserve food.
You can, but there is probably no need to as it lasts quite a long time in the fridge.
You can substitute the fish sauce with either a good brand of vegetarian fish sauce or an equal amount of soy sauce (preferably Thai, but otherwise you should get good quality light soy sauce).
This recipe makes enough sauce for 8 servings of MY pad thai recipe. It's important to highlight "MY" here, because if you use another pad thai recipe it might have a different portion size, which will then need a different amount of sauce.
So, as I've indicated in the recipe, you'll need to measure the final volume of the sauce and divide it by 8 - which is how you'll know the volume of sauce needed per serving. I don't just give you the volume of sauce you need here because everyone will end up with a slightly different amount of garlic and shallots, (not to mention different amounts of evaporation), so the volume needed will differ from batch to batch.
In order to reduce bulk for storage, I've omitted the water from the sauce. So when you make your pad thai, you'll need to add 1 ½ tablespoon of water per serving (again, a serving of my pad thai recipe) in order for the noodles to have enough moisture to cook in. If space is not an issue, you can add the water to the sauce before storing.
Before you start, be sure to watch the video tutorial to ensure success! I always include little tips and tricks not mentioned in the blog post. The video is in the recipe card below, but you can also watch it on YouTube!
Homemade Pad Thai Sauce
FULL VIDEO TUTORIAL
All my recipes come with step-by-step video tutorials with extra tips not mentioned in the blog post, so make sure you watch the video to ensure success. If you enjoy them, consider subscribing to the YouTube Channel to not miss an episode. Thank you!Subscribe to my YouTube Channel
- In a medium sized pot, heat the oil over medium high heat. Add the garlic and shallots, and saute until soft and translucent - about 5-8 minutes. Remove from the pot.2 tablespoon oil, 1.75 oz chopped garlic, 4 oz chopped shallot
- Return the pot to the stove over medium heat, then add the palm sugar and let it cook until it melts; pressing on any hard chunks to help them dissolve more quickly. After it melts, let it cook a little further until it caramelizes into a slightly darker brown for a richer flavour, being careful not to let it get too dark.4.9 oz palm sugar
- Turn off the heat then add the tamarind paste; it will bubble aggressively and the sugar will harden initially. Turn the heat back on to low to help the sugar dissolve and add the fish sauce. Turn off the heat after the sugar is mostly dissolved; don't worry about a few chunks left over, they will dissolve eventually.¾ - 1 cup tamarind paste, ½ cup fish sauce
- Stir the garlic and shallots back in and let cool. You can also add the chili flakes at this stage if you wish to make it spicy.chili flakes
- Measure the volume of the sauce by pouring it into a liquid measuring cup. Divide the volume by 8 to get the amount of sauce you need per serving (if using my pad thai recipe). Write this number down and tape it to the container of the sauce, also note on the label that you need to add 1 ½ tablespoon of water per serving when you cook.