This chicken pad thai recipe keeps your prep and cooking to under an hour, and with a few new pantry purchases, it’s a pretty affordable meal to make at home. This classic meal is a stir-fried noodle dish. While this recipe uses chicken, other popular proteins include tofu, pork and shrimp. Whether you’ve had it at a Thai restaurant or have been lucky enough to travel to Thailand to enjoy it there, it’s worth learning how to make it at home.
What Is Pad Thai?
Pad thai fuses a fun combination of flavors and textures like tanginess, caramelly sweetness and salty notes, thanks to the peanuts and fish sauce. And while flavorful, it’s not spicy unless you add your own heat to it. Tang and hints of lime are prevailing notes that are essential to a chicken pad thai recipe. These flavors make it distinguishable from its more savory and soy-based stir-fried noodle siblings, such as pad see ew or pad kee mao.
Key Ingredients in Pad Thai
There are many essential Thai ingredients, and this dish uses a few that you’re not going to want to skip.
Rice noodles are quintessential to Thai cuisine, and there are so many kinds! Pad thai is made with a flat rice noodle, which gives a nice bite and natural sweetness to the dish. It’s similar to the shape of linguine or fettuccine. This makes the dish naturally gluten-free. Once you’ve added these flat rice noodles to your pantry, there will be endless ways to use them in your cooking (like this tasty rice noodle salad recipe!).
Tamarind Paste or Concentrate
Tamarind is a fruit pod whose flavor can be comparable to biting into a lime. It’s very tangy with caramel notes, and a great alternative to using lime if you don’t want to add too much liquid to a dish. It comes in either a packed square or jar of concentrate. You can always make your own seedless concentrate from the tamarind pack, but for beginners, I think the concentrate is a great shortcut as it’s consistent and there are many uses for it.
Fish sauce is a standard condiment used in Thai cooking and a must for making pad thai. It’s a lovely alternative to using salt when making stir-fries, curries and sauces. If you are vegan or vegetarian or prefer not to use fish sauce but something that has a similar taste, there are great alternative fish sauces on the market.
Mung Bean Sprouts
Mung bean sprouts are not your usual sprouts—they have a juicier crunch than standard sprouts you’d use for your sandwiches. These are commonly used in a lot of Asian cooking because of their health benefits and great bite they give to noodle soups or saucy dishes. You can find them at most standard grocery stores in their specialty produce section. A tasty substitute is shredded cabbage.
How to Make Pad Thai with Chicken
I use my own special technique of making the sauce pretty silky by adding the pre-whisked eggs into the wok the same time as the tamarind base. I recommend having everything already prepared as described from the ingredients list so you don’t have to pause mid-recipe to slice. This recipe makes three to four servings.
7 ounces flat rice noodles (most packages are 14 ounces, so use half)
1/3 cup tamarind concentrate
1/2 cup fish sauce
3 tablespoons brown sugar
2 tablespoons paprika (optional, for color)
1 chicken breast, sliced into 1/2 inch strips
3-4 tablespoons high heat cooking oil, plus more if needed
2 eggs, cracked and whisked
1 small yellow onion, sliced
2-3 garlic cloves, minced
2 cups bean sprouts
3-4 green onions, using only the green portion, cut into 3-inch strips
2 teaspoons lime juice
1 cup peanuts, roughly chopped (use cashews or another nut if allergic)
2-3 tablespoons dried chili flakes, optional
2-3 limes, cut into wedges
Step 1: Soak noodles
Soak rice noodles in a large bowl of warm water for at least 30 minutes prior to cooking. Strain out from the water and set aside until ready to cook.
Step 2: Make the tamarind sauce
Mix your tamarind concentrate, fish sauce, brown sugar and paprika together in a small bowl. Set aside.
Step 3: Cook the chicken
Heat your wok or frying pan to a medium-high temperature, add your oil and let it coat the surface, then add your onions and chicken. Let the onion sweat and chicken partially cook, about two to three minutes, then add your garlic and stir.
Step 4: Stir in the rice noodles
After the garlic has been added, let it cook with everything for a minute. Add your rice noodles, and cook until it’s partially softened. Then you can finally add half of the peanuts, half of the green onions and about half of the mung beans. Using tongs, give this a toss so that it’s thoroughly mixed in with the rest of the stir-fry.
Step 5: Add the tamarind sauce
Finally, pour in the tamarind sauce and whisked eggs over the stir-fry until it’s well-coated. Stir it around until it looks like the eggs are cooked, and the sauce has absorbed into the noodles. This should take another three to four minutes.
Step 6: Serve
Plate the chicken pad thai with the rest of the fresh veggies and peanuts. Serve it with lime wedges and red chili flakes on the side.
Tips for Making Chicken Pad Thai
Is there a substitute for tamarind paste in chicken pad thai?
The tamarind can be substituted with most things that have a very tart lime flavor; it’s the tang that you are looking to replace. Start with an equal amount of lime juice to the tamarind concentrate as the recipe calls for. I’ve also known folks to use blended dates and lime juice as an alternative!
What other noodles can I use for chicken pad thai?
To keep the dish gluten-free, I would try bean-thread noodles as they are great for stir-frying as well. For noodles that are similar in shape and form but wheat-based, try using fettuccine or linguine. Use the cooking directions on the box or cook until al dente.
What other proteins can I use in pad thai?
The classic proteins used in pad thai are usually shrimp, pork and tofu. Our shrimp pad thai recipe serves four and cooks up in 30 minutes. Not a seafood fan? Opt for a pork pad thai. The pork tenderloin has a strip of fat along the length of it that adds delicious flavor to the dish as it cooks.
How should you store leftover chicken pad thai?
Thankfully, pad thai is pretty easy to store! You can just toss it in an airtight container or a resealable plastic bag and store for three to four days.