Published July 1, 2002.
Ordered out, this Thai restaurant favorite is often greasy, soggy, and candy-sweet. Made at home, it can taste fresh and vibrant . . . and it cooks in minutes.
Home cooks rarely make pad thai because of its imposing ingredient list--and because the occasional attempt usually produces a mixture of dry, undercooked noodles and unbalanced flavors with rubbery shrimp. Restaurant pad thai is often no better, tasting weak and flat, suffering from indiscriminate amounts of sugar, from slick, greasy noodles, or from bloated, sticky, lifeless strands that glom onto each other to form a chaotic skein.
When perfect, pad thai is a symphony of flavors and textures, balancing sweet, sour, and spicy, and the tender, glutinous rice noodles ensnare curls of shrimp, crisp strands of bean sprouts, soft curds of fried egg, and sturdy bits of tofu. Pad thai should feature clean, fresh, not too sweet flavors, perfectly cooked noodles, and plenty of plump, juicy shrimp with tender bits of scrambled egg.
Soak rice sticks in hot tap water for 20 minutes before stir-frying for tender but not sticky noodles. To create the salty, sweet, sour, and spicy flavor profile of pad thai, combine fish sauce, sugar, ground chiles, and vinegar. Add tamarind paste for a fresh, bright, fruity taste that is essential to the dish. Toss with fresh and dried shrimp and eggs, and garnish the dish with scallions, peanuts, and cilantro.list of recipes