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!