Most Pad Thai in America is too sweet. The noodles are gloppy and glued together. There’s no complexity, and none of that magical blend of salty, sour, hot, sweet we love in Thai food. This recipe changes all that.

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Classic Pad Thai with shrimp

Classic Pad Thai with Shrimp

  • Author: Tania Van Pelt
  • Total Time: 55 minutes
  • Yield: 6 1x



  • 5 tablespoons tamarind paste or concentrate
  • ¾ cup water (boiling)
  • 5 tablespoons fish sauce
  • 3 tablespoon rice vinegar
  • 3 teaspoons palm or coconut sugar (or dark brown cane sugar)
  • 1 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • ¼ cup peanut oil or vegetable oil
  • 1 pack or 16 ounces dried rice stick noodles (about 1/8 inch wide (the width of linguine))
  • 1 pound (16 ounces) extra firm tofu (baked or pan-fried)
  • 3 large eggs
  • ½ teaspoon sea salt
  • 6 ounces medium (wild-caught Gulf or Atlantic shrimp (31/35 count), peeled and deveined)
  • 4 cloves garlic (minced)
  • 1 medium shallot (minced)
  • 2 small Thai bird red chiles (crushed or finely diced)
  • 5 tablespoons Thai salted preserved or pickled radish (chopped)
  • 3 tablespoons peanut butter
  • 4 cups mung bean sprouts, rinsed and dried
  • 5 medium scallions (green and white parts, sliced thin on sharp bias)
  • ½ cup fresh cilantro (stems and leaves, chopped)
  • Lime wedges (for serving)


  1. Soak tamarind paste or concentrate in 3/4 cup boiling water for about 10 minutes. Stir fish sauce, rice vinegar, palm or coconut sugar, cayenne, and 2 tablespoons oil into tamarind liquid and set aside.
  2. Cover rice sticks with hot tap water in large bowl; soak until softened, pliable, and limp but not fully tender, about 20 minutes. Drain noodles and set aside. Beat eggs and 1/8 teaspoon salt in small bowl; set aside.
  3. Heat 1 tablespoon oil in 12-inch skillet (preferably nonstick) over high heat until just beginning to smoke, about 2 minutes. Add shrimp and sprinkle with remaining 1/8 teaspoon salt; cook, tossing occasionally, until shrimp are opaque and browned about the edges, about 3 minutes. Transfer shrimp to plate and set aside. If you’re frying the tofu in the skillet, do so now. Slice tofu into thin slabs, cook until each side is golden, about 2-3 minutes. Transfer tofu to a plate and set side. Or, bake the tofu for 45 minutes, marinating if first and then baking it. Crispy Baked Tofu (recipe on this site) can be done a day ahead, and it is an excellent addition to this dish. If you wish to skip the shrimp, this dish can be vegan, by using a fish sauce substitute, like kombu.
  4. Off heat, add remaining tablespoon oil to skillet and swirl to coat; add garlic and shallot, set skillet over medium heat and cook, stirring constantly, until light golden brown, about 1 1/2 minutes; add eggs to skillet and stir vigorously with wooden spoon until scrambled and barely moist, about 20 seconds. Add noodles, and salted radish to eggs; toss with 2 wooden spoons to combine. Pour fish sauce mixture over noodles, add the peanut butter, and increase heat to high, and cook, tossing constantly, until noodles are evenly coated. Scatter the bean sprouts, all but 1/4 cup scallions, and cooked shrimp over noodles; continue to cook, tossing constantly, until noodles are tender, about 2 1/2 minutes (if not yet tender add 2 tablespoons water to skillet and continue to cook until tender).
  5. Transfer noodles to serving platter, sprinkle with remaining scallions and cilantro; serve immediately, topping each dish with 2-3 squares of crispy baked tofu or pan-fried tofu. Serve with a lime wedge.


Though the prep for Pad Thai takes time, mostly because the ingredient list is quite long, the dish cooks very quickly. And the recipe is actually quite simple – just a series of steps, nothing tricky about any of them. Bake the tofu a few hours before and the dish is even better tasting and easier to make. Everything must be prepared and within easy reach at the stovetop once you begin the actual cooking. For maximum efficiency, use the time the noodles soak to prepare the other ingredients. Marinate and bake the tofu ahead of time and keep it warm in a toaster oven set to a low heat. Or pan fry the tofu with the shrimp, set aside and add back to the pan once everything is cooked. Tamarind, pickled/salted radish, rice noodles, fish sauce, and coconut or palm sugar are all relatively easy to find these days. Most small to mid-sized cities have Asian markets and most supermarkets now have aisles dedicated to Asian foodstuffs.

Adapted from Cook’s Illustrated

  • Prep Time: 40 minutes
  • Cook Time: 15 minutes