Learning about Pad Thai

My friend Alix lives just down the street from me in Victoria and she was in my french class when I was in Grade 12. But it wasn't until we were reunited at the University of Victoria a couple years later (also in a french class), that we really became good friends. Now we've both wandered out to Montreal, on our own accords, and we live quite close to each other (but she has the Jean Talon Market for her backyard, and I, living a bit further away, need to ride my bike). She also happens to adore cooking and I rejoice over this aspect of our friendship; we talk on the phone daily, just to check in, and the subject matter is usually either french or food (or of course the habitual crisis). We make a good team.

She lives in an enormous apartment with three other people, in huge sunny rooms and a wicked awesome kitchen. It's the center of their house and all the best moments of her parties happen in this room (wild dancing for example). I love going over there for tea or breakfast, muffins in hand, and slumping down into one of the clunky round-legged wooden chairs at the warped table while Alix puts the kettle on.

She's in the middle of writing papers for school, and I of course first suggested we cook something time-consuming like lobster, but then realized that making pad Thai would be an excellently easy project. I am by no means a pad Thai connoisseur, but I'm starting to try different recipes. Other than the sauce, which I think that once you've found a good one there's no need to change it, pad Thai is extremely versatile and really fun to make with friends because there is lots of chopping and sauteing to do, which are two basic kitchen tricks that most people are familiar with.

I recently bought Matthew Amster-Burton's book Hungry Monkey and this is where my most recent wave of inspiration came from. He advertises pad Thai as being a perfectly acceptable meal to share between you, your spouse and your baby, and I say, why not! I've also made the recipe from the author's of The New Best Recipe that is those who write Cooks Illustrated magazine. Matthew's recipe is simpler (because there are less ingredients) and more economical, so that will be the one I give you here. But Cooks Illustrated (America's Test Kitchen!) is known for their in-depth testing of recipes and their version is phenomenal.

Pad Thai Sauce

Mr. Amster Burton says the sauce will keep refrigerated up to a week or frozen up to a month. This recipe makes about three times as much as you need for one meal for two. And note that it is worth it to buy the tamarind paste, absolutely, but! if you can't find it (or don't want to) Cooks Illustrated leaves us with this excellent tip: 1/3 C lime juice + 1/3 C water - but you might need more to substitute for the quantities of tamarind in the following recipe.

Tamarind is, by the way, "made from the fruit of a tropical bean tree" and sold in 1-pound blocks in Asian markets. It has a "tart woody flavor, essential for pad Thai".

4 ounces tamarind paste
1 1/2 C boiling water
1/4 peanut oil (I used canola)
6 TBS fish sauce
1 TBS rice vinegar
1/4 C sugar

- Pour boiling water over the tamarind in a bowl. Let it sit for five minutes and kind of break up the sticky brown pieces with a spoon. Let it sit for a bit longer and then stir it around some more. You don't want any large chunks of paste left. Then strain through a sieve into a bowl, pressing and scraping the paste so you push as much flavour through as you can. Discard seeds and skin left in sieve.
-Add the rest of the ingredients to tamarind in a bowl and stir until the sugar is dissolved.

The Sautée

for two adults

4 ounces rice noodles, soaked in hot tap water for 20 minutes
2 tsp oil (peanut or canola)
1 large egg
1/4 C pad Thai sauce
lime wedges, cilantro and chopped, roasted peanuts for serving

*Add anything else you want like tofu, shrimp, bok choy, peas, sweet potato. Traditionally I believe there are scallions, you could also add shallots and garlic if you please. We wanted to add a bit of heat to the dish, so Alix chopped up some chilies. You could also just add hot pepper flakes, which is what I've done in the past. However, make sure you prepare all your ingredients before you heat up your pan or wok, and saute them before you cook the eggs and noodles so everything is cooked through and warmed up.

*Alix has an electric wok! WOW. So, that's what we used. I've also used a plain old sauce pan with sides, however, not the best but it works.

-Heat oil over medium-high
-Add egg and scramble
-Add noodles and sauce and cook until the noodles are tender (might take a couple minutes) and the sauce and egg are evenly distributed
-Add any other additional toppings at this time, toss well, and serve
-Top with lime, cilantro and peanuts. (Also, chili garlic sauce is your best friend at this moment if you like this hot hot hot.)

Then eat strawberries and whipped cream for dessert!

There were some really great suggestions for potato salad dressings, i.e. sour cream, or a combination of sour cream and yogurt. I'd love to hear what you guys have to say about the versions of pad Thai you've tried, or your favourite. Notably, where are your favourite places to go and eat pad Thai?

*Photos are courtesy of Alix and her Nikon D60




  1. What a great meal! So glad you liked the pad thai recipe. We just started getting ripe strawberries here; strawberries and cream sounds like a perfect dessert to follow Thai food.

  2. I must admit, I have yet to take inspiration and make something you have blogged about. I read, and enjoy, and think about you cooking in your kitchen overwhelmed with joy but I havn't actually done it myself. But tonight I made Pad Thai. Officially inspired by Miss Judy Ione. I used the recipe from Cooks Illustrated. I didn't know there was tamarind downstairs so I used lime juice and water. I bought the wrong size rice noodle. Forgot to chop the peanuts until it was time to add them to the pan. Used chicken because I only had time to go to one store and that was thriftys. It was out of this world. We ate on the back porch in the fading sunlight, drank ginger beer and finished with strawberries from oldfield orchard and whipped cream.
    love love
    little bit

  3. - Laurie,

    great to hear from you and I'm so glad you enjoyed the post! And what a neat connection you have to Kelsey as well.

    - Little bit,

    Great! Glad you made something and glad it worked out more or less. I miss you tons, but as long as we keep on cooking and cooking we'll find our way back to each other, for sure.


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