It's Hard to Find Good Pad Thai
This is what I've come to realize after eating Pad Thai at countless restaurants in N. America. I don't fully understand why it's hard to find good pad thai because it's not that hard to make, as you can see in the video, but it IS a lot of ingredients if you want to go with the "fully loaded" version.
I think this is where restaurants compromise. Either because some ingredients are hard to source, or because restaurants want to cut cost and/or simplify the process.
But each ingredient in pad thai contributes a flavour. Nothing in there is added just for "fluff" so the more you take away, the less complex the flavour becomes. Not to say that you cannot omit certain things if needed, but when you remove (or substitute) many ingredients, the flavour starts to become noticeably different.
I am aware that some ingredients are hard to find, so here are some substitution guides if you can't find some ingredients.
Substituting Pad Thai Ingredients
Here are suggestions for substituting certain ingredients you may not be able to find or cannot have:
- Palm sugar - Sub light brown sugar, use the same weight as the recipe calls for
- Fish sauce - You can probably find fish sauce, but if you are vegetarian, use soy sauce or try my Vegan Pad Thai recipe.
*It's important to use good quality fish sauce for this as it is the main seasoning. For how to choose the best fish sauce, watch my video on The Ultimate Guide to Fish Sauce.
- Tamarind - Please don't substitute this. It's so important. Don't know what tamarind is? Here's a video to answer all your questions.
- Sweet preserved daikon radish (chai po waan) - You can use Japanese yellow sweet daikon radish pickle (takuan). Use the same amount. You can also omit this if necessary, and add just a touch more sugar.
There also exists the SALTY version of Thai preserved radish (chai po kem), and if you can only get the salty one, there is something you can do to make it workable (caveat: I've never personally done it myself). You want to wash it well a few times with cool tap water to get rid of excess salt, then drain and cover it in sugar and let it sit and cure for 2 weeks.
- Dried shrimp - Unless you're allergic, try not to omit this as it does add a lot of great umami. Any Asian grocery store should have this in the refrigerated section. If you are allergic to shrimp, try dried scallops (these are quite expensive but you don't need a lot. Watch this video to see how to work with dried scallops.)
- Garlic chives - Most people will add green onions instead, which is fine, but garlic chives is actually quite mild as it is more of a vegetable than an herb. So if you are using green onions, do not add the same amount or it will be overpowering. Also, don't cut green onions the same way as they are much chewier in big pieces. So I would use 1-2 green onions only and thinly slice them.
- Peanuts - If you are allergic, try cashews or pumpkin seeds. You just wanna add a bit of nuttiness and crunch.
FAQ's & Common Issues
You used the wrong tamarind. You probably used "tamarind concentrate" from India, which is entirely different from the one we use in Thailand and is much more concentrated. It can be used but you'll have to dilute it. Unfortunately I've not personally used it so I don't know for sure how much water to add, but I would start with using just 1 Tbsp of the concentrate mix with 3 Tbsp water. See this video for everything you need to know about tamarind, and this video on how to make tamarind paste at home.
A few potential issues: Do not boil the noodles before using. Noodles only need to be soaked for 1 hour in ROOM TEMP water. They can be soaked in advance, but be sure to drain them well after 1 hour. Pre-soaked noodles can keep in the fridge for a few days.
Also, do not crowd the pan, especially if you have a weak stove. If you crowd the pan, you'll trap too much steam and causes noodles to boil rather than fry.
Make sure you measure the ingredients correctly. This is not the recipe to "eyeball". The sauce amount is designed to be perfect for the amount of noodles, so if you eyeball the noodles and use too much, it will be too diluted.
Rest assured, you pad thai is NOT supposed to be orange! Many restaurants will add ketchup and paprika to boost the colour in order to make it look more appealing, but this is not traditional.
However, we DO make a type of pad thai that is orange, and that colour comes from prepared shrimp tomalley (also known as shrimp paste in oil). Check out my recipe for Pad Thai Mun Goong here!
Pad thai is not a dish I recommend making for a party. It's hard to make a large amount of pad thai using a home stove—you will need to make multiple batches. Also, the noodles don't sit well and they are best when eaten fresh off the wok. If they sit for too long the noodles will start to clump up together.
It IS possible to do it, but as I said, I would cook multiple small batches, and plan it so that people will eat them shortly after they're done.
Pad thai, and rice noodles in general, do not keep well. One day in the fridge isn't too bad; it can be microwaved or re-fried in a pan with a splash of water. But after multiple days in the fridge, the noodles will harden and can't really be brought back to life. So it's best to not make too much.
Don't modify this recipe! Use my awesome vegan pad thai recipe here!
Sure. I'd marinate the chicken with some fish sauce or soy sauce so it has some flavour. Sear it off the same way I do the shrimp, remove from pan, and toss it back in towards the end with the beansprouts.
Watch The 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 below to ensure success - and if you enjoy the show, please consider subscribing to my YouTube channel. Thank you!
Pad Thai Sauce
- 35 g palm sugar, chopped (3 Tbsp tightly packed)
- 3 Tbsp water
- 4 Tbsp Thai cooking tamarind (see note 1, and also see how to make tamarind paste from pulp)
- 2 Tbsp good fish sauce (how to choose good fish sauce)
- 4oz (115g) dry rice noodles, medium size, soak in room temp water for 1 hour (see notes 2,3)
- 2 Tbsp dried shrimp, medium size, chopped
- 3 cloves garlic, chopped
- ¼ cup roughly chopped shallots
- 85g pressed tofu (1 square piece), cut into small pieces
- 3 Tbsp finely chopped SWEET preserved daikon radish (see note 4)
- Dried chili flakes, to taste (optional)
- 2-3 Tbsp vegetable oil
- 10 medium sized shrimp, or as many as you like (to sub other protein, see note 5)
- 2 eggs
- 2 ½ cups bean sprouts, loosely packed
- 10 stems garlic chives, cut into 2” pieces
- ¼ cup roasted peanuts, roughly chopped
- 1 lime
- Garnishes and condiments for serving: chili flakes, roasted peanuts, bean sprouts and garlic chives.
(In Thailand, fresh banana blossom is sometimes served on the side of pad thai. I don't love them personally, but if you do and can find them, go for it!)
To make pad thai sauce (see note 5):
- Add palm sugar to a small pot and melt over medium heat. Once sugar is melting, keep stirring until it darkens in colour (see video for colour). Immediately add water, fish sauce, and tamarind paste—sugar will harden immediately, this is okay.
- Bring sauce to a simmer, then turn off heat. The hardened sugar will not have dissolved at this point, but let it sit while you prep other ingredients and it should be dissolved by the time you need it. Check that it is dissolved before you start cooking!
To make pad thai (see note 6):
- Cut drained noodles once with scissors so they are half as long. This makes them easier to toss and separate in the wok.
- In a bowl, combine tofu, garlic, shallots, preserved radish, dried shrimp, and chili flakes.
- Heat a wok or a large nonstick skillet over medium heat and add just enough oil to coat the bottom. Sear shrimp, or whatever protein you're using, until done and remove them from pan.
- In the same wok over medium heat, add a little more oil if needed, then add everything in the tofu bowl and sauté for a few minutes until garlic starts to turn golden and shallots are wilted. If the wok looks dry, add a little more oil. (Don't skimp on oil otherwise the noodles will clump up together.)
- Turn heat up to high then add noodles and sauce. Keep tossing until all the sauce is absorbed.
- Once sauce is absorbed, you can turn off the heat and taste the noodles for doneness. If they're still undercooked, add a little more water and continue cooking, being careful not to add too much water!
- Once noodles are done, push them to one side of the pan. Add add little extra oil to the empty space and add eggs. Break yolks, then put noodles on top of eggs and cook for about 30 seconds. Flip and toss to mix eggs into noodles.
- Toss the cooked protein back in (unless you're using shrimp and want to place them on top when plating). Then add bean sprouts, garlic chives and half the peanuts. Turn off the heat and toss until well mixed.
- Serve immediately with a lime wedge and extra peanuts on top. For a classic presentation you can add a little extra side of bean sprouts and some garlic chives garnish.
- Be sure to squeeze a bit of lime on top before eating!
- Do not use the black, sticky "tamarind concentrate" that is a product of India as it is a much more concentrated version and cannot be used in the same way in this recipe. Make sure you either make it from pulp as shown here, or buy the brown paste that is a product of Thailand or Vietnam.
- You can soak noodles in advance, drain, and keep them well sealed in the fridge for a few days.
- I use Erawan brand noodles. Some brands, such as Thai Kitchen, have thinner noodles, so I would soak them only until the noodles become white and completely pliable (no resistance when bending); check them at 30 minutes. I would also use only 1 Tbsp of water in the sauce and you can always add more when cooking needed (I show you when to do this in the video).
- Thai SWEET preserved radish is made from daikon radish and it is a difficult ingredient to find unless you have a well-stocked Thai grocery store. You can instead used chopped Japanese “takuan” which is also a sweet preserved daikon radish; it’s the yellow pickle you often see in sushi rolls. There also exists the SALTY version of the Thai preserved radish and they look exactly the same as the sweet, but do not use the salty kind as it will be too salty. See text above on how you can turn the salty kind into sweet.
- If using chicken, pork or beef, slice into bite-sized pieces and marinate them with just a bit of fish sauce or soy sauce so the meat isn't bland.
- You can make a big batch of sauce in advance and store indefinitely in the fridge. When ready to use, you will need 5 oz (150ml) of sauce for this recipe.
- If making large amounts, don’t crowd the pan or noodles will steam too much and become mushy. I recommend cooking no more than 3 servings at a time in a wok (1.5 times this recipe), and less if you’re using a small pan.
Keywords: pad thai