Skip the takeout and meet your new favorite weeknight meal – Easy Pad Thai. With all the sweet, tart, savory flavor of the original, these addictive noodles are made using ingredients you can find at any grocery store (and may even have in your pantry right now). Make it with chicken, shrimp, or tofu. Takeout fake-out indeed!
Is it just me or can you never have too many weeknight-friendly take-out-inspired recipes? I’d happily eat Asian-inspired takeout every night of the week, but that doesn’t seem very…well…balanced.
I’ve always hesitated to create an “easy” Pad Thai recipe because it’s totally worth the time and effort to make Pad Thai with all of the authentic ingredients (I have a version here if you’re interested in seeing the difference). But if there’s one thing I’ve learned while living with three kids under the age of six, and during a pandemic no less, it’s that there’s absolutely a place for an easier version of this delicious family-friendly noodle dish.
This is the Pad Thai that you make when you really want to order take-out but are trying to cook more at home. A Pad Thai that can be thrown together even while hungry kids are pulling on your leg. A Pad Thai made with ingredients you can find at any grocery store.
And I’m so loving this recipe right now that I wanted it to be the kick-off for Thai Food month. The world is a complicated place. Your Pad Thai doesn’t have to be. If you only make one dish with me this month dedicated to celebrating Thai food, make it this one.
- Honey and Lime Juice – These are the key ingredients that give the Pad Thai sauce the sweet-tart flavor that traditionally comes from tamarind. Even though many other sweeteners would work here, honey gives the sauce a thick sticky texture that helps it to coat the noodles.
- Soy Sauce – This adds savory flavor to the sauce. Any brand will work. If you need this to be gluten-free, just use Tamari instead of soy sauce.
- Fish Sauce – I know this ingredient can feel intimidating if you’ve never used it. Fish sauce is made just from fish and salt, but it has an undeniably stinky smell straight from the bottle. If you’ve ever had any type of Thai food, you’ve probably had fish sauce. I love it in this Pad Thai because it gives the noodles an authentic Thai take-out flavor. Feel free to just use soy sauce if fish sauce isn’t your thing.
- Chili-Garlic Sauce – I like to use either a Chinese-style chili garlic sauce or Sambal Oelek (some brands include garlic and others are just chilis, vinegar, and salt). A bit of Sriracha works well here too. Be sure to adjust the amount used since all of these chili sauces vary in the amount of spice they add. Adding a bit of spice to the sauce adds another layer of flavor to the noodles, but feel free to skip it or just serve it on the side.
- Pad Thai Rice Noodles – In most Western grocery stores these are labeled as “Pad Thai” noodles. They are made entirely of rice and are similar in shape and thickness to fettuccine.
- Cooking Oil – Use any type of neutral oil here. Peanut oil is great since the dish is finished with peanuts. Grapeseed and avocado oil are my other go-to cooking oils.
- Protein – You can use cubed tofu, thinly sliced chicken breast, or shrimp in this noodle dish. You can also skip it and serve the noodles on their own.
- Red Bell Pepper – I love thinly sliced bell pepper for the color and flavor it adds to the noodles. Slice it super thin so that it just melts right into the noodles. Feel free to skip it or use another vegetable.
- Eggs – Eggs add another texture to Pad Thai and give the dish some extra protein as well. Sometimes in Thailand they make eggs into a very thin omelet and serve the Pad Thai inside of it. But no need to get fancy here. Just gently scramble the eggs in the pan before adding the noodles.
- Roasted, Salted Peanuts – Don’t skip these! They add so much great crunchy texture to the noodles.
- Green Onions, Lime Wedges, Hot Sauce / Red Pepper Flakes – These garnishes add some extra dimension and color and allow you to customize the dish a bit at the table. They’ll add flavor but aren’t totally necessary.
What Makes Pad Thai Red?
If you’ve ever had Pad Thai with a red tint, the source likely depends on where you’re eating it. If you’re eating an authentic version in Thailand, the color most likely comes from tamarind paste / concentrate. Tamarind is a fruit with a sweet and tart flavor and a brownish-red tint. If you’re eating Pad Thai in other parts of the world where tamarind is not common, the red color often from ketchup or another tomato-based product which also has a sweet and tart flavor.
I’ve seen some recipes online that use paprika, chili powder, or cayenne in Pad Thai which would also give the dish a reddish tint, but these are not flavors that are traditionally found in Pad Thai.
Pad Thai made with the recipe below will have a pale golden from honey, soy sauce, and fish sauce. If you add chili-garlic sauce, Sriracha, or another type of Asian hot sauce, that may give the noodles a red tint.
Is Pad Thai Spicy?
Most Pad Thai is not spicy on its own. The main flavors are sweet, sour, and savory. However, like many dishes in Thailand, Pad Thai is usually served with garnishes so that you can customize the noodles yourself making it spicy (with red chili flakes or chili-laced fish sauce), more sweet (with sugar), more savory (with fish sauce), more sour (with limes), or more herbal (with cilantro or green onions / Chinese chives).
Is Pad Thai Made with Peanut Butter?
Commercial peanut butter is not a common ingredient in Pad Thai. However, it’s very common to add chopped peanuts for texture and flavor.
If you want to add peanut butter to the sauce, go for it! A tablespoon added to the sauce would be delicious. When I think of peanut butter and noodles together, I picture a dish that’s not as sweet and tart as Pad Thai – something more like these Thai Peanut Noodles.
Why Add Sauce in Multiple Parts
Adding the sauce a little at a time throughout the cooking process insures that it has a chance to flavor all of the ingredients without just ending up in a puddle at the bottom of the pan. You want to give each component of this dish time to soak up and brown gently in some sauce, so add a bit of sauce with the protein, a bit more when the noodles are first added so that they soak it up, and then the rest at the end so it coats all of the ingredients.
If you were working over a restaurant-style wok that cooks over very intense heat, you wouldn’t need to do this, but this adaptation is the best way to make a homemade stir-fry noodle dish look and taste like restaurant takeout.
This is the same method I use to make Honey Ginger Chicken coated in a thick layer of sauce with plenty of extra for spooning over rice.
What if I Want More Sauce?
I see you sauce-lovers! I love some saucy noodles, but Pad Thai is not usually a dish with pools of sauce at the bottom. Using the method above to add the sauce in several increments, the noodles should soak most of it up with a thin layer of sauce coating the outside of the noodles which is how it’s most commonly served both in and outside of Thailand.
If you want more sauce, go for it! Feel free to increase the sauce ingredients listed, or add a couple Tablespoons of water to the sauce which will increase the volume without intensifying the flavors.
- Make it Gluten-Free – Just use Tamari instead of soy sauce. If using hot sauce, be sure to use one that is gluten-free.
- Make it Vegetarian – This recipe is great with tofu, but you can also skip the protein entirely and / or add extra vegetables. Broccoli florets make a great vegetable sub for the protein and can be cooked the same way.
- Add Vegetables – Any vegetables are great in this dish. Using shredded cabbage / coleslaw mix or zucchini noodles in place of some of the rice noodles is a great way to increase the veggies here.
More Thai Noodles
- Thai Noodle Mason Jars with Peanut Dressing
- Thai Curry Noodle Soup with Chicken
- 20 Minute Thai Chicken Peanut Noodles
- Paleo Pad Thai with Zucchini Noodles
- Thai Soba Noodle Bowls
- Simple Thai Peanut Noodles
- All Clad Saucepan
- Wooden Citrus Reamer
- Anchor 3-Piece Glass Mixing Bowls
- Skillet or Wok
- Wok Spatula
Easy Pad Thai
- Wok or Large Nonstick Pan
Pad Thai Sauce:
- 3 Tbsp Honey (sub brown sugar)
- 2 Tbsp Lime Juice (sub rice vinegar)
- 2 Tbsp Soy Sauce (use Tamari for gluten-free)
- 1 ½ Tbsp Fish Sauce (see note)
- 2 tsp Chili-Garlic Sauce (optional; see note)
For the Noodles:
- 8 oz Pad Thai Rice Noodles
- 3 Tbsp Cooking Oil, divided
- 8 oz Extra-Firm Tofu, Chicken Breast, or Shrimp (if using tofu or chicken, chop into pieces)
- 1 Red Bell Pepper, finely sliced
- 2 large Eggs, whisked
- ⅓ cup Roasted, Salted Peanuts, roughly chopped (see note)
- 4 Green Onions
- Extra Peanuts, Lime Wedges, or Hot Sauce / Red Pepper Flakes (optional, for topping)
- Bring a pot of water (for noodles) to a boil.
- While water is heating, stir together sauce ingredients. Taste the sauce and adjust, adding more honey if you'd like it more sweet, more soy sauce or fish sauce if you'd like it more salty. (Tasting and adjusting the sauce at this stage is important; some limes are more sour than others, so you may need to balance it out.) Set aside.
- Cook noodles according to package directions. (Be sure not to overcook them since they will continue to cook a bit when added to the stir-fry.)
- Set all of the ingredients out near the stove. Put a Tablespoon measuring spoon in the sauce so you can add it to the noodles a little at a time.
- Heat a large nonstick pan or wok over medium heat. Add 2 Tbsp oil.
- To heated oil, add tofu / chicken / shrimp and saute. When protein is cooked on the outside, add bell pepper and 2 Tbsp of sauce. Continue cooking until protein is nearly cooked through.
- Move protein and pepper to one side of the pan and add 1 Tbsp of oil to the open space. Pour eggs over oil. Scramble gently, 2 to 3 minutes.
- Add noodles and 2 Tbsp of sauce to the pan and stir until the noodles have absorbed the sauce. (If the noodles are stuck together, they should loosen up as they cook in the sauce.)
- Add all remaining sauce and continue cooking everything together until sauce cooks down and coats noodles, 2 to 3 minutes more.
- Stir in green onions and about half of the peanuts (reserve the rest for sprinkling on top).
- Divide between bowls and serve with any extra toppings you’d like!
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