We’re suckers for pad thai and can slurp down a plate of these tangy-sweet noodles faster than you can squeeze a lime wedge. We’d love to master making this dish at home (thus ensuring a steady supply). If anyone can break down restaurant-quality pad thai into something a home cook can duplicate, it’s Mark Bittman.
With its emphasis on fresh flavors and its quick stir-fry method of cooking, pad thai has all the key qualities of a quick, weeknight meal. Mark Bittman’s recipe is no exception. The prep work is minimal and all the vegetable ingredients get quickly sautéed until they’re just cooked through. The sauce is briefly simmered in a separate pot and then tossed together with the veggies and the noodles. Dinner is ready in 30 minutes, tops.
We were very happy to see tamarind paste in the sauce ingredients. Many home recipes leave this out, but it’s really key to the balance of sour, sweet, and savory flavors in the dish. It’s also much easier to find these days than it used to be.
Unfortunately, though, we felt like the tamarind got a little lost. Even when we were whisking the sauce together, we worried it was a little heavy on the fish sauce and honey - at least for our taste. This was true in the final dish dish as well. There was a lot of savory and sweet, but not so much balance of tangy-sour.
The final dish was also fairly wet. We probably should have let the vegetables cook for longer before adding the noodles and the sauce, but we got impatient. The cabbage lets off a lot of liquid, and it’s important to let that cook away. By the way, four cups of cabbage seems like a lot, but it cooks down a lot and ended up feeling like the right amount in the end.
Another thing we always forget when making pad thai is to be careful of over-cooking the noodles. Rice noodles are usually soaked in hot water until they’re limp, drained, and tossed into the stir-fry at the end. The problem is that if you let them sit in the water too long, they break apart and get mushy when you try to toss them with the other ingredients. Letting them soak until they’re barely al dente is the way to go.
We don’t quite have our ultimate homemade pad thai yet, but this recipe has potential. Next time, we’ll adjust the proportion of sauce ingredients and see if we can get close to our ideal.
Do you ever make pad thai at home? What’s your method?
• Get the Recipe: Pad Thai from Mark Bittman
Related: Technique: How to Use Tamarind Pulp
(Images: Emma Christensen)