Pad Thai is a beloved Thai dish that no one can get enough of! When you get a great plate of these noodles and take a bite, it’s an explosion of salty, sweet, and sour - perfectly balanced. Getting the complex flavors is actually incredibly easy… once you know the key ingredients!
Key Ingredients for the Best Ever Pad Thai Recipe
Creating the Signature Tanginess
Tamarind is an essential ingredient to pad thai. Some recipes suggest vinegar as an alternative but I HIGHLY recommend using tamarind concentrate. It has the authentic tangy Pad Thai flavor that just can’t be replaced.
Two popular options for tamarind are either the tamarind pulp or tamarind paste / concentrate. Tamarind pulp typically comes in block form, made of tamarind and its pulp. To use it, you’d need to soak it in water, squeeze its juices, and strain the pulp. While this is still flavorful, I find it to be extra work and it doesn’t seem to have as long of a shelf life compared to tamarind concentrate.
For tamarind concentrate, the work is pretty much done for you and has a better shelf life! It may be trickier to find at the store, however, I always get mine from (tried and true) Amazon. Tamarind can have a very very sour flavor, so I recommend diluting it in water.
This may be another unique ingredient to your pantry, but it’s an absolute flavor bomb! I’ve tried making Pad Thai with and without the ground dried shrimp. Let me tell you, there was a significant difference!
Adding ground dried shrimp is like cooking with anchovies. It brings another layer of saltiness and umami, without a prominent fishy flavor. The shrimp just melt together beautifully with the other flavors. SO good!
Essential Depth of Flavor
Fish sauce is another essential ingredient to Pad Thai. You might be thinking, we’re already adding ground dried shrimp, why fish sauce too?! To that I say, adding these two ingredients allows you to build layers of complex flavors! If you’re looking to make the best Pad Thai ever, don’t skimp!
Adding the Right Sweetness
Traditionally, Pad Thai recipes call for palm sugar, however, you can easily substitute that with brown sugar. Both will balance the sourness and saltiness of the other ingredients.
Typically, I reach for the large dry rice stick noodles because I love thicker noodles. Every packaging is different when it comes to preparing. Some suggest soaking the noodles in water for 1 hour, others, maybe 30 minutes. Make sure to read the packaging ahead of time to prepare.
Why Pad Thai Isn't Traditionally Orange
This may come as a surprise, but traditionally, Pad Thai doesn't have an orange color like many Western restaurants serve it.
As we discussed, tamarind is a prominent ingredient in Pad Thai, which is a brown color and that's why the finished noodles tend to be brown. To get that orange color, restaurants usually use an ingredient like Sriracha to give it that vibrant shade to make it look more appetizing.
Either way, your Pad Thai will be absolutely delicious and this is one consideration you can experiment with in your kitchen!
Preparing Chicken Pad Thai Like a Pro
Like all stir-fries, this easy Chicken Pad Thai recipe cooks very quickly! It’s important to have all of your ingredients ready before turning off the stove.
Also, cooking with a wok makes a big difference as well! With a wok, you’re able to push ingredients over to the sides so it doesn’t overcook while cooking the eggs. You have much more flexibility with a wok!
There you have it, ALL the essentials to make the BEST EVER Pad Thai! It’s FULL of umami, tangy goodness and you’ll be surprised how incredibly quickly it all comes together. Enjoy!
Let's Get Cooking!
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BEST Ever Pad Thai Recipe
- 4 oz dried rice stick noodles
- ½ pound skinless chicken thigh sliced thinly
- ½ tablespoon cornstarch
- ½ tablespoon light soy sauce
- 2 shallots minced
- 5 garlic cloves minced
- 2 tablespoons medium-sized dried shrimp roughly chopped, optional
- 1 carrot julienned
- 2 eggs
- 1 cup bean sprouts
- 3 green onions green part only cut into 2-inch slices
- 1 tablespoon peanuts roughly chopped
- 1 lime cut into wedges
- Soak dry noodles according to the package’s instructions. Drain and set aside.
- In a bowl, combine chicken, cornstarch, and soy sauce. Set aside to marinate while preparing the rest of the ingredients.
- In a small bowl, combine the Pad Thai sauce ingredients. Set aside.
- Heat a large wok or pan on medium-high heat, then add about 1 tablespoon of oil. Add in shallots and cook for about 1 minute, or until they become golden. Add in garlic and dried shrimp and saute for a couple more seconds, or until fragrant.
- Add carrots and cook until it’s tender but still crunchy.
- Toss in the noodles, pour sauce on top, and gently stir until the noodles are well coated.
- Push ingredients to the side of the wok, pour about a tablespoon of oil to the empty side of the wok, and crack 2 eggs. Let it cook for about 1 minute or until the whites begin to set, then scramble them and combine with the rest of the ingredients.
- Turn off the heat, then mix in bean sprout and green onions. Serve with lime wedges and chopped peanuts on the side. Enjoy!
- Protein: Feel free to swap out the chicken for thinly sliced pork, beef, or fried tofu.
- Dried Shrimp: This is optional but the dried shrimp adds an extra depth of flavor to the dish. You can find it local Asian markets in the refrigerated section.
- Tamarind Concentrate: This creates the distinct Pad Thai flavor, so I don't recommend skipping it! You can typically find it at local Asian markets or Amazon.
- Color: Because the tamarind paste is brown, your noodles will have a tan-ish color but if you prefer for it to have an orange/red color, you can add a bit of sriracha.
Exact calculations may vary. For the most accurate nutritional information, use your preferred nutrition calculator, actual ingredients, and quantities used for the recipe. Please consult with your physician or registered dietitian if more precise nutrition calculations are needed for health reasons.