Pad Thai doesn’t travel so well. There’s only so much time from skillet to table before tender, perfectly sauced noodles turn chewy and dry. Not to mention the fact that, packed into a sealed container, bright, fresh flavors can quickly lose their pizazz.
The solution? Make pad Thai at home. Because in the time that it takes to have an order delivered, you can have a lighter, brighter, better version of the easy stir-fry. All you need are the following Asian pantry items and 22 minutes.
Rice noodles are the standard for pad Thai—look for the dried, flat, linguine-width sorts (often labeled as pad Thai or stir-fry rice noodles). Two brands that have the Epi Test Kitchen seal of approval: Annie Chun’s and Thai Kitchen, both of which soak to perfect pre-cook doneness in under 10 minutes, with no gumminess or sticking.
The pulp inside the pod of this fruit is what gives pad Thai its unique tangy brightness. To keep pad Thai a weeknight reality, skip the fibrous blocks of tamarind pulp, which require a soaking and straining process. Instead, opt for tamarind juice concentrate or the thicker tamarind concentrate paste. Both are sold in plastic jars and are readily available at good supermarkets or online. But though both are labeled concentrate, the paste is darker, thicker, and more concentrated. Use half as much paste as you would liquid concentrate, and dilute the paste with an equal amount of water.
THE CHILI-GARLIC SAUCE
Many pad Thai recipes include ground dried chilies and garlic or garlic chives. But chili-garlic sauce provides the same fiery, tangy elements of both ingredients in one easy dollop. And serving extra sauce with the finished pad Thai lets eaters spice up the dish to their taste. (Prefer to use garlic and chili flakes? Just use a generous pinch of red pepper flakes plus a finely chopped garlic clove or two and add it with the shrimp and eggs.)
Since peeling and deveining shrimp takes up valuable time, I wrote this recipe to use the pre-peeled and deveined stuff. Pad Thai can also be made with shredded, cooked skinless chicken breast, diced firm tofu, or a shrimp-chicken-tofu combo.
Palm sugar, a common Asian sweetener, is often called for in pad Thai recipes. The good news? Dark brown sugar has the same molasses-y quality, and works just as well.
THE FISH SAUCE
Also called nam pla or nuoc nam, this quintessential pungent brown liquid gives pad Thai its fabulously funky beat. After the dish is cooked, bump up the funk by adding more fish sauce (a teaspoon at a time, please—this stuff is serious).
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