Pad Thai is one of those beloved dishes either for eat-in or takeout at Thai restaurants. Happily, it’s not hard to pull off at home. You can find all the nitty-gritty details and instructions in our How to Make Pad Thai recipe.
Americans in particular love pad Thai with chicken, so we set out to adapt our master recipe, which calls for shrimp, to make it with chicken instead. The same method applies for both versions of pad thai, so if you haven’t made pad Thai before, it’s worth reading the first recipe for some great pointers.
What is in Pad Thai?
Pad Thai is a rice noodle-based dish that’s often served with chopped peanuts, bean sprouts, scallions, and sometimes carrots, cilantro and/or a wedge of lime. The proteins often include tofu, shrimp and, here, chicken.
And the sauce, well that’s another delicious balance entirely! It consists of sugar, fish sauce, rice vinegar, and tamarind (which is a sweet-and-sour fruit that is available both as a pulp and as a concentrate).
We’ve focused on tamarind concentrate for this recipe, as it’s more widely available. It gets whisked in with the other sauce ingredients really easily, no prep work needed.
If you buy tamarind pulp instead of concentrate, take it out of the package, soak in a bowl with warm to hot water (enough to cover, maybe three to four cups) and let it soak for 30 minutes. Then, using your hands, break up the pulp to separate the large seeds and fibrous parts. Run the remainder of the pulp through a fine mesh sieve, into a bowl, scraping the underside of the sieve to remove any pulp that may have gotten stuck. You should have about 1/2 cup of pulp—it will be velvety and look like apple butter. You use all of it in the sauce, with the other ingredients—it will just result in a slightly thicker, less watery sauce.
What’s the story with the noodles?
Rice noodles about the width of fettuccine are optimal for pad Thai. You can usually find them in the international aisle in the supermarket or Asian grocery, in nondescript looking plastic bags. We recommend the longer noodles, preferably an Asian brand (this is the kind I use).
We recommend soaking them two to 12 hours in cold water to soften them. Softening the noodles ahead of time means it’s a lot easier to cook them when it’s time to do so—they are boiled very quickly, right before they’re incorporated into the other ingredients.
Soaking noodles longer and/or using shorter, thicker noodles can sometimes result in noodles that break apart in the pan.
What kind of chicken should I buy?
Typically, you’ll want to use chicken breast tenders and cut them into small pieces, about a couple inches in length. Even better, if you can find it, is chicken that’s labeled for stir fry. It’s the ideal thickness and length, and it cooks incredibly quickly, which is well-suited for the high heat you need for pad Thai.
You could also use boneless chicken thighs and cut them into small, 1/2-inch pieces.
How to Cook Pad Thai
I had the best results with this dish when I made it in two batches, by breaking the recipe in half and then repeating the process. It’s much easier to manage the ingredients in the wok or skillet this way, and it more closely mimics the way pad Thai is prepared in restaurants and by street vendors in Thailand, which is one serving at a time.
PAD THAI MAKES GREAT LEFTOVERS!
In the process of developing pad Thai recipes, I have made this dish a lot in the past few months. I can attest that pad Thai keeps well for four to five days and reheats beautifully in the microwave. (Sometimes I like to add a little bit of extra sauce.)
I was initially skeptical of using the microwave for noodles, but this direction came straight from the Thai chef from whom I adapted this recipe. And it works! Pad Thai does not, however, freeze well. It’s so good, though, that you won’t need to freeze it—it’ll be gone before that’s even a question!
Here are more Thai Recipes to Try!
Chicken Pad Thai Recipe
If your pan cannot accommodate the eggs and chicken simultaneously, cook the chicken for about 3 to 4 minutes first; remove it from the pan and set aside (it does not need to be cooked all the way through). Add 2 to 3 tablespoons of oil for the eggs; cook them, and then add the chicken back into the pan once the eggs have absorbed the oil and cooked. Proceed with the recipe, adding the noodles, sprouts, etc. as directed.
For the pad Thai:
- 1 (14-ounce) package flat, wide rice noodles
- 6 to 8 tablespoons fish sauce
- 3/4 cup rice vinegar
- 1 to 2 teaspoons tamarind paste/concentrate
- 1 cup granulated sugar
- Pinch of paprika (or cayenne powder)
- 10 to 12 tablespoons canola or vegetable oil, divided
- 4 large eggs
- 1 pound chicken tenders, cut into bite-sized pieces
- 1/3 cup roasted, unsalted peanuts, chopped roughly
- 1 cup bean sprouts
For garnish (optional):
- 1 lime, cut into quarters
- 2 tablespoons roasted, unsalted peanuts, chopped roughly
- Chopped cilantro
- Red pepper flakes
1 Soak the rice noodles: In a large container, preferably one with a lid, soak the noodles in cold water, enough to cover so that no noodle is poking out. Soak for at least 2 hours or up to 12 hours. It can be refrigerated, or not—it doesn’t matter.
2 Make the sauce: In a shallow bowl, whisk together the fish sauce, rice vinegar, tamarind concentrate, and sugar until smooth. Taste. Adjust the sauce as needed. Add a pinch of paprika or cayenne powder for color.
You’ll only need about 1/2 cup of sauce for this recipe (1/4 cup per batch). Any extra sauce can be stored in the fridge for up to three months—and/or used on leftovers to spruce them up during reheating.
3 Bring a large pot of water to boil.
4 Divide all of your ingredients into two batches: Arrange them near your stove. You’ll prepare each batch completely, one after the next.
WORKING ONE BATCH AT A TIME:
5 Cook the eggs: Heat a wok or other large pan with high sides over high heat, which you will maintain throughout cooking the pad Thai. Add 2 to 3 tablespoons of oil. When the oil starts to shimmer a bit, it’s ready.
Crack the eggs for this batch into the pan, and using the tip of a wooden spoon, gently loosen the yolk. You want to have enough oil in the pan so it looks as though the egg is floating, or suspended, in the oil. This gives you more surface area to cook the egg without it burning.
Gently shake and flip the egg around in the pan. Break it up a bit with the spoon, but don’t scramble it by any means. This should take about a minute. Push the eggs off to the side of the pan to make room for the chicken.
6 Cook the chicken: If the pan seems too dry because the eggs have absorbed all of the oil (not likely, but possible), add 1 to 2 more tablespoons of oil to the pan. Add the chicken for this batch. Cook the chicken for 4 to 5 minutes, turning to make sure it cooks most of the way through.
7 Soften the noodles: Take several handfuls of your noodles (about half the total amount) out of the water they’re soaking in, and transfer to a fine mesh sieve. Hold the sieve over the pot of hot water and gently dip the noodles up and down, in and out of the water, to soften them but not cook them per se. (Using the sieve saves you from having to cook and then strain the noodles—and makes the process move more quickly.)
Shake out the excess hot water and taste to make sure the noodles have softened but still have a little give.
8 Add the noodles to the pan: Transfer the noodles to the hot pan; they don’t need to be completely cooked at this point, because they will continue to cook in the wok.
Toss them gently in the pan and stir them briefly to keep them from sticking together. When the noodles look shiny, it’s time for the sauce.
9 Add the sauce: Add about 1/4 cup of the sauce to the pan, and gently toss and flip the noodles in the pan. Stir them quickly to integrate the sauce; you’ll know it’s ready when you can’t see any more sauce in the pan because the noodles have absorbed it. If it seems like it needs more, add a little more, and cook until it’s absorbed. Taste.
10 Add the peanuts and bean sprouts: Add the peanuts and the sprouts, and toss all ingredients together quickly. Cook for 2 to 3 minutes altogether until everything is heated through. The noodles will begin to soften and look more translucent.
11 Taste and serve: Turn the heat off the pan and taste the to make sure there is enough sauce to flavor the dish. Serve immediately in individual bowls with wedges of lime, along with additional peanuts, chopped cilantro, and/or red pepper flakes, if desired.
12 Repeat steps 5 through 11 for making the second batch of pad Thai.
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