Shrimp may be the most common protein component of this beloved Thai street food but chicken pad Thai is just as tasty. It’s all in the sauce. The sauce makes the dish and it is called pad Thai sauce. The meat, seafood and vegetables can vary from cook to cook but if pad Thai sauce is absent, the dish isn’t pad Thai noodles at all.
“Pad Thai” translates to “fried Thai style” and that should give you an idea just how versatile it is. The sauce is a combination of tamarind paste, fish sauce, palm sugar and rice vinegar. Which ingredient should be dominant is the cook’s decision.
What noodles should be used? Thin rice noodles are traditional. They are sometimes labeled “Pad Thai noodles” but check the ingredients list in the package to make sure. While almost any kind of noodle can be cooked pad Thai style, if you want to get a feel of the pad Thai that hawkers peddle in every corner of Thailand, get noodles made from rice flour.
- 150 grams thin rice noodles prepared according to package directions
- 4 chicken thigh fillets cut into thin strips
- 1 small carrot julienned
- a bunch of spinach chopped up
- a bunch of mung bean sprouts
- a small onion or two shallots peeled and thinly sliced
- 2 cloves garlic minced
- a small piece of ginger grated
- 2 tablespoons cooking oil
- patis (fish sauce), to taste
- Pad Thai sauce (see notes below)
- chopped dry-roasted peanuts
- fresh cilantro and parsley or both
Heat the cooking oil in a pan. Add the chicken strips and cook until the edges start to brown. Add the ginger, garlic and onion (or shallots). Stir fry for about 30 seconds. Add the vegetables. Stir fry for another 30 seconds. Season with fish sauce. Stir.
Add the noodles. Stir. Pour in just enough Pad Thai sauce to wet the noodles. Stir and toss to mix everything.
Transfer to a serving platter. Sprinkle with chopped peanuts and fresh cilantro or parsley. Serve hot.
Pad Thai sauce is really just a spicy version of sweet and sour sauce. Instead of vinegar, however, the sourness is derived from tamarind juice. Bottled ready-to-use pad Thai sauce is available in Asian groceries and Asian section of supermarkets. You can also make your own.
To make Pad Thai sauce, simply mix together tamarind juice (see how to extract tamarind juice; or you may use tamarind paste sold in jars), fish sauce, shaved palm sugar (or brown sugar) and chopped chilis with just enough hot water to make the mixture stirrable. How much of each ingredient you should use depends entirely on you.