Pad Thai is a tricky dish to make. I've tried to make it many times, many variations of ingredients, sometimes changing as little as 1 ingredient or method at a time, akin to a science experiment. There were many failures: undercooked noodles, overcooked mushy noodles, not the right combination of flavour, etc, etc.
Yesterday, I finally created Pad Thai that I am actually proud to call Pad Thai. I'll outline the tricks and tips along the way, so you don't have to go through countless bags of banh pho noodles as I have.
1/4 pack of banh pho rice noodles (I prefer the thinner width noodles; usually the package contains 2 bundles of noodles, I made 1 of them, but only used about half of that)
1 garlic clove
2-3 tablespoons vegetable oil
1/2 cup of firm or medium-firm tofu
1/2 cup Chinese chives
1/2 cup bean sprouts
3 heaping teaspoons tamarind sauce
4 teaspoons soy sauce (or vegetarian fish sauce if you can find it)
2 sort of heaping teaspoons brown sugar
1 teaspoon Sambal Oelek (chilli sauce, the less ingredients the better, you can see the flakes as well)
3 tablespoons of water
2 tablespoons crushed peanuts
Yield: approximately 2 servings. (or just 1 if you eat very large servings)
1. Soak the noodles in warm water for about 15-20 minutes. They should be a bit hard to the touch (so not cooked yet) but be able to bend (ie not retain their package shape). Tip: It is super important that you DO NOT use boiling water, as this over softens the noodles and you could end up with a rather nasty, mushy mess later.
2. Take your half of block of tofu, wrap it in an absorbent paper towel, place it on a plate or cutting board and place something flat, but heavy right on top. This squeezes out the excess water, so that it can fry better in the pan. (f you want smaller bits of breakable tofu resembling egg in your Pad Thai, you can use medium-soft tofu (still squeeze the water) and cook it akin to scrambled eggs, breaking it up into little pieces untill they all turn golden. If using firm tofu, cut into small cubes and fry till golden brown in a large flat skillet (Having a large flat surface is important for cooking Pad Thai evenly, you will understand why in Step 4) on medium-high heat.
3. While the tofu is turning golden (a minute or 2 on each side), finely dice the garlic and shallot, and cut the chives in 1.5-2 inch long strands. In a bowl, mix the tamarind, soy sauce, brown sugar, and Sambal Oelek in a bowl to make the sauce. Tip: mixing the sauce before hand ensures you can adjust it to your own tastebuds, and will evenly coat the noodles, as opposed to throwing in the ingredients in a hot pan, and hope they meld together in the right taste.
4. When the tofu is cooked you can either push it to the side of the pan, or temporarily remove it from the pan (I pushed mine to the side). Turn the heat to low-medium and add the garlic and shallots, stirring frequently so the garlic does not burn, as this would create a bitter taste. When they are cooked (a min or 2), push these to the side as well and add your noodles.
Tip: depending on how large your skillet it, add noodles just enough to cover your cooking surface, do not pile it on top like a pyramid. If your skillet is too small, you can always cook the noodles in 2 batches, but putting all the noodles in at once if your skillet is too small will RUIN your Pad Thai. I learned this the hard way, thinking I was supposed to use a wok for Pad Thai, or always putting heaps of noodles in the skillet, being left with gross Pad Thai as the aftermath.
After you add the noodles on low-medium heat, add 2-3 tablespoons of water and let noodles soften up a bit more from their firmness.
5, Add Pad Thai sauce and using a flat spatula, swirl the noodles in circles. If you have 2 flat spatulas, use them to flip over the noodles, so that they cook on both sides (I would not recommend thongs). Add chives and bean sprouts, and cook for another 2 minutes, mixing in evenly all the tofu, garlic and shallots that were pushed to the side. Serve with a sprinkle of crushes peanuts on top.
I was too hungry to set up a nice bowl and spend 20 minutes photographing it, so I just took a photo of the noodles in the pan. (I didn't have shallots, chives or peanuts on hand, so that's why you might not see it in there, but I usually add those)
Have you ever attempted to make Pad Thai?
3 months ago