pad thai yum yum
March 24, 2005 10:32 PM   Subscribe

What's your best recipe for pad thai and tips for cooking it?

My favorite Thai place has vegetarian pad thai with deliciously prepared crispy/tender tempeh and tofu, and is dry rather than swimming in sauce. So, if you've got good tofu/tempeh prep tricks, I'd especially like those.
posted by melissa may to Food & Drink (12 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: The best and most foolproof recipe for pad thai that I've ever seen is the one that the Cook's Illustrated/America's Test Kitchen folks do. It's absolutely delicious and helps avoid lots of the traditional pitfalls of pad thai (oversaturated noodles, congealed sauce, etc.).

You can get the recipe here, but you'll have to register with the site first. It's well worth it though.
posted by yellowcandy at 10:44 PM on March 24, 2005

My restaurant recipe for Pad Thai is pretty much the same as what yellowcandy points to, except that we use palm sugar instead of the granulated sugar. Also, I probably would just add the bean sprouts and scallions in the last 30 seconds of cooking or they'll go soggy. Also, depending on the brand of rice noodles you're using, you may find that soaking them in cool water instead of warm water may work better.

Pad Thai has many variations (I myself make it 3-4 different ways) depending on the cook, so feel free to experiment. But please... for the love of all that's good in this world, just don't add freakin' ketchup to the dish.

(And it should not be swimming in sauce either.)
posted by madman at 12:34 AM on March 25, 2005

Best answer: Kasma has another recipe here.

Also see her notes and pointers:

I don't really know how pad thai became the most famous of Thai foods in America. To me, it is but one of many quick fast foods, with the best served by noodle carts, inexpensive sidewalk eateries, and small, nondescript mom-and-pop noodle shops, rather than fine restaurants, in the cities and towns of Thailand. I always find it amusing when restaurant reviewers judge the quality of a Thai restaurant by the quality of its pad thai, as noodles can hardly take claim as lying at the heart of my country's cuisine.

In fact, its name literally means "Thai-style stir-fried noodles," and for a dish to be so named in its own country clearly suggests an origin that isn't Thai.

posted by madman at 12:37 AM on March 25, 2005

Yeah, madman, that's true, but the same can be said for a lot of cultures- think spaghetti, lo mein, ramen. They're probably the most common Italian, Chinese, and Japanese foodstuffs here in the U.S.

A good Pad Thai, though, is a marvelous thing. Thanks for the ATC link!
posted by mkultra at 7:03 AM on March 25, 2005

I haven't checked the above recipies, but my advice is that you can't be stingy on the oil. Start with a whole cup, and with experience you can bring it down to a half cup, otherwise your noodles will clump.
posted by furtive at 8:08 AM on March 25, 2005

Cook's Illustrated offers a great method of cooking the noodles, which helps minimize noodle stickiness:

Soak the noodle in a large bowl filled with hot water until they are about 75% softened, but still quite al-dente. They suggest using only the hottest water you can get from your tap, not boiling water, but I find half boiling water, half hot tap water works best. Once they reach the softened-but-still-crunchy stage, drain the noodles and run cold water over them. Add the drained noodles to your stir-fry
at the end of cooking - they will take a minute or two to finish cooking, and will remain nicely seperated.

I find that this method works much better than boiling the rice noodles, which always results in a soggy clump.
posted by skwm at 9:03 AM on March 25, 2005 [2 favorites]

If you put chicken in your pad thai, like I do, it helps a lot to let the chicken pieces marinate in some fish sauce with salt and pepper while you soak the noodles; otherwise I find the chicken doesn't pick up enough flavor. Would the same thing work for tofu?

I don't always have bean sprouts available; I find that throwing in shredded purple cabbage in its place makes an interesting (and colorful) substitution, with a similar crunch.
posted by escabeche at 11:25 AM on March 25, 2005

The Cook's Illustrated recipe is the best I've found too. My advice is to do your mise en place -- have every ingredient measured, prepped, and ready to throw in, because once you start cooking it comes together in about 5 minutes.
posted by chickenmagazine at 1:47 PM on March 25, 2005

Response by poster: Would the same thing work for tofu?

I find it easy to marinade tofu, harder to marinade tempeh (unless it's very freshly made) but the thing that totally confounds me is getting the light crispy outer shell for the tofu, and the very tender yet firm texture for the tempeh. I've gotten pretty skilled at stirfrying the crisp/tender texture for vegetables, so I keep thinking I'll discover the secret timing or prep for tofu and tempeh, but years of cooking them hasn't revealed the secret to me.

What the chef at my little place does is slice the tempeh into thin strips, and cooks it to this wonderful melting tenderness -- I'd love to know what sort she uses, as all the tempeh I've ever used, even fresh, has an essential toughness that marinade doesn't ameliorate. I adore it. The tofu is the normal cubed, light brown and white tofu you can get in a decently cooked Asian stir fry. I just can't do it!

I've printed out the Cook's Illustrated recipe and will try it, but I'd still like to know what the best types of tempeh and tofu are for this sort of dish, and how best to prep and cook it. Thanks for the interesting link, madman; I like learning things like that. And thanks, yellowcandy, for the CI link. (I love your user name, by the way -- it reminds me of looking at the sun through hard candy, which I used to love to do when I was a little sweet-toothed girl.) And, of course, thanks to everyone else for your suggestions; every new bit of information is helpful.
posted by melissa may at 2:32 PM on March 25, 2005

Alas, one of the secrets of crispy tofu is a very, very hot wok — hot like you get it over the big gas burners in a commercial kitchen. We had one of those big gas ranges in a veggie co-op I once lived in, and our tofu reached levels of awesome I have not attained since.

(There may be another secret. I'll be listening eagerly in case it turns up.)
posted by nebulawindphone at 4:19 PM on March 25, 2005

Best answer: you can't be stingy on the oil. Start with a whole cup

Yes, if you want to kill yourself. :p

Seriously, that's way too much oil. At home, I make do with 3 tablespoons because I can cook at leisure. In the restaurant, we use maybe 4 tbsp, which is about 1/4 cup. And we make the dish many times every darn day. If you stir-fry properly (correct temperature and all), you don't need too much oil.

Tofu? Use the firmest tofu you can find or it will disintegrate while stir-frying. (May I self link? Here, I've written an article about tofu.)
posted by madman at 1:48 AM on March 26, 2005 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: What a great article, madman! Thank you so much. It would have never occured to me to freeze and thaw firm tofu to improve its consistency.
posted by melissa may at 9:36 AM on March 26, 2005

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