Pad Thai is one of my favourite meals. I used to make it from a Thai cookbook recipe that called for more than half a cup of oil, so I was very happy when the July 2002 issue of Cook’s Illustrated ran this version, which uses less than half of that.

Pad Thai

The secret to this dish is using tamarind paste, which is becoming more widely available. I’ve tried the substitutes and there really is no comparison. I’ve also seen recipes that use ketchup instead of tamarind. Don’t go there. I haven’t been able to find dried shrimp or preserved radish, but the dish is fine without them.  The ingredient list may seem long, but if you get everything ready in advance the actual cooking goes very quickly.

Assemble the ingredients in advance

To avoid additives and preservatives in this dish, use fish sauce without MSG or Sodium Benzoate, such as Thai Kitchen brand. I use Marukan rice vinegar, which has no added preservatives.

The actual cooking takes only 10 minutes


2 tablespoons tamarind paste

¾ cup water (boiling)

3 tablespoons fish sauce

1 tablespoon rice vinegar

3 tablespoons granulated sugar

¾ teaspoon cayenne pepper

4 tablespoons peanut oil or vegetable oil 8 ounces dried rice stick noodles , about 1/8 inch wide (the width of linguine)

2 large eggs

¼ teaspoon table salt

12 ounces medium shrimp (31/35 count), peeled and deveined, if desired

3 cloves garlic , pressed through garlic press or minced (1 tablespoon)

1 medium shallot , minced (about 3 tablespoons)

2 tablespoons dried shrimp , chopped fine (optional)

2 tablespoons Thai salted preserved radish (optional)

6 tablespoons chopped unsalted roasted peanuts

3 cups bean sprouts (6 ounces)

5 medium scallions , green parts only, sliced thin on sharp bias

¼ cup fresh cilantro leaves (optional)

Lime wedges


Soak tamarind paste in 3/4 cup boiling water for about 10 minutes, then push it through a mesh strainer to remove the seeds and fibers and extract as much pulp as possible. Stir fish sauce, rice vinegar, sugar, cayenne, and 2 tablespoons oil into tamarind liquid and set aside.

Cover rice sticks with hot tap water in large bowl; soak until softened, pliable, and limp but not fully tender, about 20 minutes. Drain noodles and set aside. Beat eggs and 1/8 teaspoon salt in small bowl; set aside.

Heat 1 tablespoon oil in 12-inch skillet (preferably nonstick) over high heat until just beginning to smoke, about 2 minutes. Add shrimp and sprinkle with remaining 1/8 teaspoon salt; cook, tossing occasionally, until shrimp are opaque and browned about the edges, about 3 minutes. Transfer shrimp to plate and set aside.

Off heat, add remaining tablespoon oil to skillet and swirl to coat; add garlic and shallot, set skillet over medium heat and cook, stirring constantly, until light golden brown, about 1- ½  minutes; add eggs to skillet and stir vigorously with wooden spoon until scrambled and barely moist, about 20 seconds. Add noodles, dried shrimp, and salted radish (if using) to eggs; toss with 2 wooden spoons to combine. Pour fish sauce mixture over noodles, increase heat to high, and cook, tossing constantly, until noodles are evenly coated. Scatter ¼ cup peanuts, bean sprouts, all but 1/4 cup scallions, and cooked shrimp over noodles; continue to cook, tossing constantly, until noodles are tender, about 2-½  minutes (if not yet tender add 2 tablespoons water to skillet and continue to cook until tender).

Transfer noodles to serving platter, sprinkle with remaining scallions, 2 tablespoons peanuts, and cilantro; serve immediately, passing lime wedges separately. Serves 4.

From the July 2002 issue of Cook’s Illustrated

Pad Thai