Mastering Pad Thai, Thailand’s Most Difficult Dish

Is your tummy rumbling? Are your chopsticks poised to dig in? Are you ready for a delicate balance of flavours to dance across your taste buds? Then get ready to bring your culinary A-game and nail this dish. Pad thai is one of the most difficult dishes in Thai cuisine. It requires quick hands, flawless timing, and authentic ingredients (for heaven’s sake, no ketchup substitutions!). When we attempted it at the Time for Lime cooking class I wrote about earlier this week, the results were decent – I’d say a 7/10, which isn’t bad for a first attempt. But with a bit of practice and stubborn determination, I think this could become a signature dish for home chefs with a taste for Asian cuisine. Read on for the recipe, plus some tips on Thai cooking from Time for Lime chef, Junie Kovacs. Bon appetit!


Some of these yummy ingredients will go into the dish. 

An eager group of students, ready to tackle Thailand’s toughest dish.

Ingredients are prepped. Killer knife is at the ready. 

The final product looks beautiful when Junie plates it. 

PAD THAI WITH SHRIMP

Ingredients

(serves 4)

  • 4 tbsp tamarind sauce (Junie’s Tip #1: some people cheat and try and use a mixture of sugar and vinegar instead. This is not even close to the same thing. Do not, I repeat, do NOT do this.)
  • 3 tbsp fish sauce (Tip #2: never put fish sauce in the fridge – it will crystallize and go bad faster. Fish sauce should be clear, not opaque.)
  • 1 tbsp brown sugar (or 1.5 tbsp palm sugar) 

  • ½ cup firm tofu, cut in small rectangles
  • 4 cloves garlic, finely chopped
  • 4 Thai shallots (or 1 small red onion), finely chopped
  • 4 tbsp dried shrimp
  • 4 tbsp sweet pickled white radish (daikon)
  • 1 tsp dried chili flakes
  • 16 raw prawns, peeled and deveined with tails on (Tip #3 (will we ever get to the end of the recipe with all these tips?!?!): Thai people generally don’t eat dairy, so as a rule, shrimp is always served with the tail on, for calcium)

  • 200g dried rice noodles soaked for 20 minutes
  • 3 tbsp stock or water
  • 3 eggs cracked into a bowl, don’t mix them
  • ¾ cup fresh bean sprouts
  • 3 garlic chives, sliced in 4cm pieces (Tip #4: in Thai cuisine every ingredient has a specific cutting method – some have two, depending on what dish they’re going in – but for the sake of this recipe, we’ll keep it simple)
  • 2+3+1 tbsp frying oil (something light like canola or grapeseed oil)

For garnish:

  • Fresh bean sprouts
  • Garlic chives
  • 1 lime, in 4 wedges
  • crushed unsalted peanuts
  • dried chili flakes

Instructions
The key to a good pad thai is timing and the right heat, so prep all the ingredients ahead of time and then get ready to rock and roll. To get a good result, make just 2 portions at a time, so to make this recipe, you’ll have to complete the steps twice.

Soak the noodles in luke warm water for 20 minutes, then drain. 

In a small bowl, mix sugar, fish sauce, and tamarind sauce until sugar dissolves. 

Heat 3 tbsp of oil on medium to high heat in a large pan or wok. Add tofu and stir-fry for about 20 seconds until it becomes a bit crispy and brown. 

Add garlic, red onion, dried shrimp, a pinch of dried chili flake, and the sweet pickled radish. Stir-fry just until the garlic releases its aroma (but don’t let it start to brown). 

Add the fresh shrimp and stir-fry until they turn pink.

Push all the ingredients to one side of the wok. 

Add the noodles and the stock. Stir-fry with rotating movement until the noodles are soft and semi-dry. If they’re too dry, add a touch more stock. 

Push all the ingredients to one side of the wok again. 

Add 1 tbsp oil in the empty space and spread the oil around. 

This is the tricky egg part – get ready!
Pour the eggs into the oil and puncture the yokes. Spread the egg evenly in the empty space by rocking the wok sideways like a boat. (Tip #5: this shouldn’t be like fried eggs or scrambled eggs, more like an unfinished omelette that you mix in gently). 

While the eggs are setting, add the mixture from the small bowl and the bean sprouts, on top of the noodles. 

When the eggs are almost set (but not scrambled), scrape and mix them gently together with the other ingredients in the wok. Stir-fry for about 6 seconds. 

Turn off the heat and throw in the garlic chives. Give it a couple of turnovers. 

Place on serving plates. On the side, provide some fresh bean sprouts, garlic chives, a lime wedge, crushed peanuts, and chili flakes for garnish.

Voilà! 

If you didn’t nail it on your first try, don’t give up. Even bad attempts usually still taste good (even if they look like a bit of a mash-up) so dig in and you’ll improve on the next try. 

/1/ Lead image was sourced because my shots didn’t turn out as nicely, and food needs to look appetizing, don’t you agree?

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