As it turns out, the PERFECT Phat Thai is homemade. MauiJim swears that THIS is the BEST Phat Thai he has ever eaten. I think he’s right.
Phat Thai is perhaps the most well known and loved of Thai dishes that have made it to the West. It’s a simple dish really–thin, flat, chewy rice noodles, stir-fried with a salty, savory, sweet, and sour sauce that gives the dish its distinctive flavor.
I’ve eaten A LOT of Phat Thai over the years, all of it in restaurants until just recently. I keep ordering it, even though it is often mediocre and occasionally downright disappointing. I’m eternally hopeful that the PERFECT Phat Thai is waiting for me in the next Thai restaurant that pops up in town. There’s something about this dish that promises so much.
First, the noodles. They should be springy and chewy, not mushy. (You’ll learn how to easily and confidently accomplish this in the recipe below. It isn’t difficult.)
Next, the sauce. It should be full flavored and complex with a caramel undertone when cooked. The savory, salty, sweet, spicy, and acidic notes should be in perfect balance. I worked diligently on the sauce for this recipe, because it makes or breaks the dish.
On early tests, I created sauces that tasted fabulous BEFORE they were added to the stir-fry. Then the noodles absorbed the sauce, and the wondrous flavor became so subdued that I could barely taste it. So then I amped up the flavor until it was so assertive that I winced when I ate it. That’s the trick! It must be too strong to eat on its own. The flavor softens considerably when absorbed, and thus diluted, by the noodles.
And finally, the other important flavor elements: shallots, garlic, garlic chives, cilantro, chiles, peanuts, and lime.
This dish is a symphony of harmonious flavors. When the composition is right, and all flavors in tune, the result is memorable and very pleasing indeed.
As it turns out, the PERFECT Phat Thai is homemade. MauiJim swears that THIS is the BEST Phat Thai he has ever eaten. I think he’s right. My search is over.
Phat Thai (Stir-Fried Rice Noodles with Tamarind Sauce, Peanuts & Lime)
As with all Asian dishes, don’t begin to prepare this dish without completing all of the prep steps (mise-en-place). Gather, clean, cut, and measure all ingredients. Also grab pans, bowls, and other utensils you will need to complete the stir-fry. And set the table and alert your eaters, so they’re ready with chopsticks poised when you present the dish.
In this recipe, you will make the sauce, soak the noodles, set the stir-fry ingredients and utensils next to the stove, and arrange the embellishments, plates, napkins, chopsticks, and so forth on the table.
If you do all that, the dish is a breeze to prepare. Otherwise, you’ll curse me for a week. J
Ingredient Note I tested this dish with both 1/8-inch thick and ¼-inch thick rice noodles. I prefer the latter, as they stay separate than the thinner noodles, which tend to get mushy and clump together.
Ingredient Note You can add 4-8 peeled, deveined, medium prawns to the stir-fry if you like. Add at Step 6, sprinkle with a little fine sea salt, and make sure the prawns get plenty of contact with the hot wok to cook through completely.
Tamarind Sauce (½ cup)
2 tablespoon fish sauce
2 tablespoons hot water
2 teaspoons tamarind paste
2 teaspoons Korean hot pepper paste
1 teaspoon Chinkiang vinegar (or rice wine vinegar)
3 tablespoons palm sugar (2 ounces) (or golden brown sugar)
3 cloves garlic, peeled and minced (1 teaspoon minced)
8 ounces fresh or semi-dried, ¼-inch wide rice noodles, cut into 8-inch lengths, and soaked in warm water for 20 minutes, until pliable but not fully soft
6 ounces dried, ¼-inch wide rice noodles, soaked in warm water for 30 minutes, until pliable but not fully soft
3 tablespoons vegetable oil, and perhaps a little more
4 shallots, chopped (¼ cup chopped)
2 cloves garlic, peeled and minced (1 teaspoon minced)
2 large eggs, beaten lightly
¼ teaspoon fine sea salt
large handful bean sprouts
¼ cup sliced Chinese garlic chives (or green onions)
2 Thai red or green chiles, stemmed and thinly sliced, optional (wear disposable rubber while handling these very hot chiles and then discard) gloves
2 tablespoons crushed peanuts
small handful bean sprouts
¼ cup cilantro leaves
¼ cup sliced Chinese garlic chives (or green onions)
2 tablespoons coarsely chopped roasted peanuts
4 lime wedges
- To make the sauce, in a small mixing bowl, combine fish sauce, dissolved tamarind paste, palm sugar, garlic, and vinegar. Whisk until the sugar is dissolved. Reserve.
- To prepare the noodles, see basic directions in the ingredient list. Drain the noodles and then blanch them for a moment only in boiling water. And drain again. This prevents them from clumping together later.
- To complete the stir-fry, heat a large, heavy wok or Lodge 17-inch Cast Iron Pan over high heat. Add the oil and swirl to coat the sides of the wok.
- Add shallots and garlic and stir-fry for until fragrant and just beginning to color.
- Add the eggs and stir briefly as they begin to set.
- If using prawns, push partially set eggs to the side. Add a little more oil and add the prawns. Toss the prawns repeatedly and season with salt.
- When prawns are cooked through, toss with the eggs and add drained noodles. Stir-fry for about 30 seconds while continuing to break up the eggs.
- Add the tamarind sauce, and toss to coat the noodles. Continue cooking and tossing until liquid evaporates and wok is almost dry.
- Add the bean sprouts, garlic chives, chiles, and peanuts, and toss to combine.
- To serve, quickly pile onto a platter or 2 individual plates and embellish with cilantro, green onion, peanuts, and lime wedges.
Note Although the lime is listed as an embellishment, it’s actually imperative to the play of flavors in the dish. Be sure to squeeze a goodly amount over the noodles before you dig in.
More Asian-Inspired Recipes from LunaCafe
- Asian Potsticker Dough (for Jiaozi & Gyoza Dumplings)
- Asian Pancakes (Beijing Pancakes)
- Asian Tacos with Prawn & Shiitake Filling & Cabbage Slaw
- Chinese Cracker Jacks
- Chinese Good Fortune Cookies
- Home-Style Chinese Fried Rice
- Pok Pok’s World Famous Vietnamese Chicken Wings
- Pork & Prawn Potstickers (aka Asian Dumplings)
- Spicy Korean Noodle Soup (Jjambbong)
- Spicy Pork Wonton Soup
- Thai Red Curry Paste
- Thai Red Curry Soup
- Vietnamese Crispy Crepes (Banh Xeo)
Cookin’ with Gas (inspiration from around the web)
- Joy’s Thai Food: Pad Thai: Thai Style Noodle Stir Fry
- Savory Sweet Life: A Favorite Thai Stir Fry Noodle Dish at Home: Pad Thai
- She Simmers: Pad Thai Recipe – Part One: The Pan
- She Simmers: Pad Thai Recipe – Part Two: The Noodles
- She Simmers: Pad Thai Recipe – Part Three: The Notable Ingredients and Garnishes
- She Simmers: Pad Thai Recipe – Part Four: Pad Thai Sauce
- She Simmers: Pad Thai Recipe – Part Five: Making Pad Thai
- She Simmers: How to Prepare Tamarind Pulp for Thai Cooking
- The Guardian: Word of Mouth: How to Make Perfect Pad Thai
Asian Markets in or near Portland, Oregon
- Uwajimaya (Beaverton)
- Oriental Food Value (Southeast)
- Fubonn (Southeast)
- An Dong Market (Southeast)
- Om Seafood (Southeast)
Copyright 2014 Susan S. Bradley. All rights reserved.