Medicated Pad Thai: A Chef Scott Peabody Collab
Photography by Monica Lo
Words by Chef Scott Peabody
The first time I really had pad Thai was at culinary school, prepared by my friend and classmate Nan, a Bangkok native. Despite its popularity in the states, very few places get it right. The version you’re most likely to encounter is a bowdlerized dish of sweet peanut noodles, dumbed down for the American palate by erasing the tangy, savory, funky charm of the genuine article. When done right, it’s a testament to the brilliance of Thai cuisine—a simple dish that tastes complex, thanks to the harmonious balance of contrasting flavors.
If you’ve been to Bangkok, chances are you’ve witnessed street vendors stir-frying individual portions of pad Thai to order in small jury-rigged stands throughout the city. There’s no denying the charm of having a dish tossed together before your eyes, but practically speaking, it’s not so easy to pull off at home. Without a properly seasoned wok and ample BTUs, you’ll find it difficult to get good results—not to mention the trouble of preparing 1-2 orders at a time if you’re serving a larger group. To avoid these issues, I use an unorthodox approach: a large cast-iron skillet combined with cooking the ingredients in batches, rather than trying to fit everything together in a pan, resulting in the smoky, caramelized flavor found in any good stir fry. If you can’t get your hands on the salted radish or dried shrimp (though they are readily available at markets that stock Thai ingredients), these noodles will still be delicious, but don’t forgo the tamarind or fish sauce, which form the backbone of the dish.
Medicated Pad Thai
• 1 (12 or 14-oz) package dried rice stick noodles
• 1/3 cup prepared tamarind pulp*
• 1/3 cup fish sauce (plus additional to taste)
• 1/3 cup palm sugar, loosely packed, or substitute ¼ cup light brown sugar
• 1-2 teaspoons dried Thai chili flake, or other red chili flake (plus additional to serve)
• 4 large eggs, at room temperature
• ½ cup (8 tablespoons) lard or peanut oil
• 12 oz extra firm tofu, sliced into ¼” X ¼” X ½” batons (thin bite-sized strips)
• ¼ cup shredded salted radish, optional
• ¼ cup very small dried shrimp**, optional
• 4 cups bean sprouts
• 3 cloves garlic, chopped
• 1½ cup Chinese chives (flat-leafed garlic chives), cut into 1-inch lengths
• ½ cup unsalted roasted peanuts, crushed or ground
• 1-2 tablespoons medicated peanut oil
• 6-8 lime wedges, from 1 or 2 limes, for garnish
1. Prepare the noodles by soaking them in a bowl of lukewarm water until slightly softened and pliable, 30-40 minutes. Drain and set aside.
2. Prepare pad Thai sauce by combining tamarind pulp, fish sauce, and palm sugar with ½ cup water in a small sauce pot. Bring to a boil over medium low heat, reduce heat and simmer until the sugar is fully dissolved. Remove from heat, stir in chili flake, and set aside.
3. Beat the eggs together in a small bowl with 1 tablespoon of water, until smooth and slightly foamy. Set aside.
4. Heat a large cast iron pan over medium high heat. Add 3 tablespoons of the lard or oil and heat until it begins to shimmer and send off wisps of smoke. Add the tofu and cook, stirring occasionally, until the tofu is golden brown, 2-3 minutes. Add the salted radish and dried shrimp, if using, and the bean sprouts, and cook 1-2 minutes more, stirring occasionally, until the bean sprouts have wilted and begun to color. Transfer the mixture to a large bowl, wipe your skillet clean, and return it to the heat.
5. Add 4 more tablespoons of the lard or oil and heat until it begins to shimmer and send off wisps of smoke. Add garlic, which should immediately sizzle and turn fragrant, followed by the soaked noodles and the prepared sauce. Toss and stir to coat the noodles, and cook, stirring frequently, until the noodles have softened, absorbed the sauce, and begun to caramelize in spots, 3-5 minutes. If the noodles haven’t fully softened, add a splash of water and continue to cook until they have reached the proper springy soft consistency. Add additional fish sauce to taste, stir in the chives, then transfer to the large bowl with the other ingredients, tossing to distribute all the ingredients. Wipe your skillet clean, and return it to the heat.
6. Add the final tablespoon of lard or oil, heat until it shimmers, and tilt your skillet so that the bottom is coated. Add the egg mixture, again tilting the pan so that it spreads to evenly coat the bottom of the pan. Lower heat to medium low, and cook until just set, about 1 minute. (If you prefer, you can also scramble the eggs until fully cooked, for the more typical small bites of egg). Flip the cooked egg “crepe” onto a serving platter, brown side up.
7. To serve, spoon the cooked noodles on top of the crepe and place the lime wedges on the side. Drizzle with the medicated peanut oil, then sprinkle with half of the ground peanut and allow guests to add additional chili flake or ground peanuts onto their portions, along with a squeeze of lime, to taste.
*I use a Thai brand of ready-to-use prepared tamarind pulp, sometimes sold as concentrate or soup base. If you buy the kind with seeds in it, you’ll have to prepare it by cutting it into cubes, steeping it in boiling water, and straining it to remove the strings and seeds.
**I like using really tiny dried shrimp (the size of rice grains), because they require no additional preparation. If you can’t find them, you can substitute larger varieties of dried shrimp, but they need to be pounded in a mortar and pestle to break them up.