From “A Spoonful of Promises” by T. Susan Chang (Lyons Press, 2011)
Serves 2 to 4
Pad thai is easier than you might think, provided you can get your hands on fish sauce and rice noodles (fine to use any medium ones if you can’t get wide ones), both easily available at Asian groceries. The same stores usually have dried shrimp, but they vary widely as to where they put it and, well, asking doesn’t usually help. What you’re looking for is a little flat cellophane package; in the window you can see the dried shrimp, which are salmon-pink, curled up, and no bigger than the nail on your pinky finger.
The egg instruction–“beaten, fried, and finely sliced”–sounds bizarre, but it’s really simple. You beat the eggs as if you were making scrambled eggs, but then you don’t scramble them. You pour one thin layer into a hot oiled pan, like a crêpe (flip it over once). Depending on your pan you might get one, or two egg crêpes per egg. Then you roll the crêpe(s) up lengthwise and chop it into fine, noodle-like slivers. Perfection isn’t necessary, and eggs made this way have a pleasant texture when you encounter them in a noodle dish. That said, I am sure there are plenty of Thai cooks who just crack the egg right into the pan and have done with it.
You can use sliced green chilies instead of chili paste for heat-delivery, if you prefer.
1 tablespoon dried shrimp (optional)
1/2 pound fresh shrimp, chicken or pork
2 tablespoons corn or peanut oil
1 clove garlic, crushed
2 medium shallots, sliced in thin rings
1/4 pound firm tofu, sliced into 1/4-inch strips
10 to 12 ounces 1/4-inch-wide dry rice noodles (banh pho, sen jaan, or rice sticks)
1 tablespoon tomato paste
1 tablespoon Asian chili paste, or to taste
3 tablespoons sugar, or to taste
2 tablespoons fish sauce
Juice of 1 lime
1/3 cup chopped dry-roasted unsalted peanuts
1 cup bean sprouts
1 egg, beaten, fried, and finely sliced
1/2 cup chopped scallions
1/2 cup chopped cilantro
1/2 cup shredded fresh mint
1 extra lime, cut into wedges (for serving)
Soak the dried shrimp, if using, in cold water for 20 minutes. Drain them and chop them finely. If using fresh shrimp, shell and devein them; or cut the chicken or pork along the grain into small strips. Soak the rice noodles in warm water for at least 15 minutes.
In a wok, cast-iron skillet, or large nonstick skillet, heat the oil over medium-high heat. When it is hot (but not smoking) add the garlic, shallots, and dried shrimp all at once. Lower the heat to medium and cook, stirring constantly, until the garlic is just golden-brown and shallots are beginning to caramelize.
Push garlic mixture to one side of the pan. Raise the heat to high and add the tofu. Cook it until it is lightly browned. Push the tofu to one side of the pan. Add the fresh shrimp, chicken, or pork. Stir-fry, mixing everything in the pan together, until the meat is just barely opaque.
Drain the noodles. Push everything in the pan to one side (if the pan seems dry, add another teaspoon of oil). Add the noodles and stir-fry, gradually working in the other ingredients in the pan.
Clear a small space in the center of the noodles and add the tomato and chili pastes. Gradually incorporate them into noodles until evenly distributed; the noodles should be tinted red. Reduce the heat to medium-low. Clear a small space in the pan and add the sugar. Toss the noodles briefly.
Add the fish sauce and lime juice. Stir-fry, mixing thoroughly and scraping the pan with a spatula. You may need to cut through noodles with the spatula. Taste the mixture. It should be evenly balanced with salt, sweet, and sour tastes. Fish sauce helps cut through a heavy lime taste. But if you have added plenty of lime and fish sauce and the flavors still don’t come alive, try adding more sugar, 1 teaspoon at a time.
Add the peanuts and bean sprouts, toss briefly, and remove from heat. Scatter the egg and scallions over the noodles. Garnish with wedges of lime, cilantro, and mint. Serve at once.
Photo by Sala Kannan