Adapted from Cook’s Illustrated, July 2002. There were two ways to get Thai food on the Eastern Shore of Virginia: drive an hour south over the Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel to Virginia Beach, or make it yourself. We were desperate for the Thai food we had loved in San Francisco, so we ordered authentic Thai ingredients from importfood.com, a wonderful online Thai supermarket. The first time we made Pad Thai, we were overwhelmed with pleasure that it was possible to create real Thai food at home.
Now that we live in a more urban area, we could buy Pad Thai from one of the many Thai restaurants in Charlotte. But we have never found the equal of this recipe. It takes work but if you love Pad Thai, it is absolutely worth the effort.
2 tablespoons tamarind paste, the sticky kind that comes in a block
¾ cup water (boiling)
3 tablespoons fish sauce
1 tablespoon rice vinegar
3 tablespoons granulated sugar
¾ teaspoon cayenne pepper
4 tablespoons peanut oil or vegetable oil
8 ounces dried rice stick noodles, about ⅛ inch wide (the width of linguine)
2 large eggs
¼ teaspoon table salt
16 ounces medium shrimp (31-35 count), peeled and deveined, if desired
3 cloves garlic, minced (1 tablespoon)
1 medium shallot, minced (about 3 tablespoons)
2 tablespoons dried shrimp, chopped fine
2 tablespoons Thai salted preserved radish
6 tablespoons chopped unsalted roasted peanuts
3 cups bean sprouts (6 ounces)
5 medium scallions, green parts only, sliced thin on sharp bias
¼ cup fresh cilantro leaves (optional)
We use a large 13 1/2-inch skillet instead of the traditional wok. Pad Thai cooks very quickly, the ingredient list is long, and everything must be prepared and within easy reach at the stovetop when you begin cooking. If you have not mastered the principle of mise en place, this recipe is good practice.
For maximum efficiency, use the time during which the tamarind and noodles soak to prepare the other ingredients. Soak tamarind paste in 3/4 cup boiling water for about 10 minutes, then push it through a mesh strainer to remove the seeds and fibers and extract as much pulp as possible. Stir fish sauce, rice vinegar, sugar, cayenne, and 2 tablespoons oil into tamarind liquid and set aside.
Cover rice sticks with hot tap water in large bowl; soak until softened, pliable, and limp but not fully tender, about 20 minutes. Drain noodles and set aside. Beat eggs and 1/8 teaspoon salt in small bowl; set aside.
Heat 1 tablespoon oil in 13 1/2-inch skillet (preferably nonstick) over high heat until just beginning to smoke, about 2 minutes. Add shrimp and sprinkle with remaining 1/8 teaspoon salt; cook, tossing occasionally, until shrimp are opaque and browned about the edges, about 3 minutes. Transfer shrimp to plate and set aside.
Off heat, add remaining tablespoon oil to skillet and swirl to coat; add garlic and shallot, set skillet over medium heat and cook, stirring constantly, until light golden brown, about 1 1/2 minutes; add eggs to skillet and stir vigorously with wooden spoon until scrambled and barely moist, about 20 seconds. Add noodles, dried shrimp, and salted radish (if using) to eggs; toss with 2 wooden spoons to combine. Pour fish sauce mixture over noodles, increase heat to high, and cook, tossing constantly, until noodles are evenly coated. Scatter 1/4 cup peanuts, bean sprouts, all but 1/4 cup scallions, and cooked shrimp over noodles; continue to cook, tossing constantly, until noodles are tender, about 2 1/2 minutes (if not yet tender add 2 tablespoons water to skillet and continue to cook until tender).
Transfer noodles to serving platter, sprinkle with remaining scallions, 2 tablespoons peanuts, and cilantro; serve immediately, passing lime wedges separately.