Pad Thai is one of our favorite take-out dishes, but I figured it was one of those dishes best handled by professionals, and not possible to replicate at home. Then I ran across a recipe on Big Bowl’s website, and thought it looked doable. I needed a trip down the ethnic food aisle to find the fish sauce—I never did find the ground dried shrimp (which I’ve never heard of before), so I didn’t use that. Big Bowl’s recipe was poorly written, making it a little hard to follow, so it took some studying to figure out the process and order of ingredients. They also use a full cup of peanut oil for frying and flavor, which I thought would make for a pretty greasy dish. I subbed in some sesame oil, which is a healthier option, and has a great, nutty flavor.
The Big Bowl recipe also had waaaaaay more chili powder and Sriracha sauce than I thought was necessary, so I cut the heat in half the first time I made it. My son Justin and husband liked it, but it was still too much for me because you couldn’t taste the lime and fresh herbs. So the spices you see below are in amounts that hopefully don’t overpower the dish. (If my nose is running the whole time I’m eating a dish, I figure that’s more heat than needed.)
Since rice noodles are gluten-free, I can finally get a “pasta” fix with this dish! But it doesn’t have much vegetable nutrition, with scallions and bean sprouts being the only veggies in it. I might add in some grated carrots and maybe some green peas next time I make it, just to make it more nutritious. Or maybe not! It’s pretty dang good the way it is.
1 (14-ounce) package dried rice noodles (also called sitr-fry rice noodles)
4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts or 8-10 boneless, skinless chicken tenderloins, julienned
2 tablespoons cornstarch
6 tablespoons sesame oil, divided
1 teaspoon salt
¼ cup fresh lime juice
2 tablespoons brown sugar
2 teaspoons smoked Spanish paprika
½ teaspoon ground chipotle powder
1-2 teaspoons bottled chili sauce, like Sriracha sauce
¼ cup fish sauce
2 eggs, lightly beaten
1 cup thinly sliced scallions, using both white and green portions
¼ cup Thai or sweet basil, chopped *
¼ cup cilantro leaves, chopped
2 tablespoons ground dried shrimp (optional)
½ cup roasted peanuts, chopped
2 cups fresh bean sprouts (1 bag)
Lime wedges for garnish
Put rice noodles in large bowl, and pour very hot tap water over noodles to cover. Let sit for 20-30 minutes, until softened but not mushy. Drain thoroughly, rinse with cold water, and set aside.
Mix the cornstarch, salt, and another 2 tablespoons of the sesame oil together in medium bowl, and add chicken. Toss to coat meat. Put large frying pan or wok on stove and turn heat on high. Add 2 tablespoons of the sesame oil to pan. Lay chicken strips in hot oil and cook until golden brown on one side, then turn and cook on other side until no pink remains. Remove from pan. Once cooled, cut into bit-sized pieces, and set aside.
In small bowl, mix the lime juice, brown sugar, chipotle powder, paprika, chili sauce, and fish sauce together. Set aside.
Heat remaining 2 tablespoons sesame oil in pan. Add the scallions and stir briefly just to coat with the oil, then add the noodles. Toss the noodles in the pan for 15 seconds or so and then add the chicken. Toss continually until the noodles soften and are coated with the oil, and the chicken and scallion are incorporated. Drizzle the egg into pan and stir to combine.
When the pan is piping hot again, drizzle in the lime juice and brown sugar mixture. After 5 seconds, pull the pan from the heat and toss vigorously to coat. Add most of the basil and cilantro leaves (saving a pinch of each for garnish), the ground dried shrimp (if using), and the peanuts; toss to combine. Add the bean sprouts and toss again. Transfer to a serving plate and serve with a couple wedges of lime on the side. Squeeze fresh lime juice on top before eating.
*NOTE: Thai basil has an anise-like flavor, which is the flavor in black licorice. I only grow sweet basil in my herb pots, so that’s what I used to make this dish. You will probably have to hit a farmer’s market if you want the Thai basil. Sweet basil is the only option in main-stream grocery stores.