Genius Recipes

This Simple, Genius Pad Thai Is All Thanks to a Chef’s Grandma

If you're not sure you'll be able to find all the ingredients, stop right there.

January 15, 2020

Every week in Genius Recipes—often with your help!—Food52 Creative Director and lifelong Genius-hunter Kristen Miglore is unearthing recipes that will change the way you cook.


Photo by ROCKY LUTEN. PROP STYLIST: BROOKE DEONARINE. FOOD STYLIST: AMELIA RAMPE.

For determined but schedule-strapped home cooks, there’s little better than discovering that a trusted recipe recommendation is telling you: Do less.

Home cook friends, this is one of those moments.

The trusted expert here is third-generation chef Kris Yenbamroong of Night + Market restaurants in L.A., where his pad Thai could have easily involved any number of ingredients and steps—the grocery-ordering pathways are there; the line cooks are deft and committed.

Join The Conversation

Top Comment:
“Used instant noodles, broccoli instead of shoots, almonds instead of peanuts, threw in cooked shrimp at the last minute and red pepper flakes were just fine. A new favorite! Would definitely make again! Brilliant and so easy!!! This recipe is a GIFT for which I am very grateful. Next time I will shop ahead and try to do it *right*. 💜”
— RedFoxCooks
Comment

But Yenbamroong’s ingredient list is surprisingly short, and could be found at virtually any grocery store in America. His steps are minimal and precise, too. The active cooking won’t push past two minutes; and even the prep time is meager (just a rough 30-minute noodle soak while you gather yourself).

All of this convenience is simply because it’s the pad Thai he grew up with—and how he wants it to taste.

“I like my sauce to be direct and sharp, which is why I use white sugar and white vinegar as opposed to the subtler (and harder to find) palm sugar and tamarind water,” he writes in the Night + Market cookbook. He learned his technique from his grandma Vilai, the first chef at his family’s restaurant Talésai that would lead to Night + Market as it exists today.

When I asked Yenbamroong if his grandma had always done the sugar and vinegar swap, he said he’d asked her the same thing a number of times and still wasn’t certain—and at this point it doesn’t really matter. Her simple sauce ratio—conveniently measured in equal portions of fish sauce, vinegar, and sugar—works out to be salty, sour, and sweet in balance, and entirely traditional for him.

The rest of Yenbamroong’s ideal pad Thai is equally streamlined and precise: He prefers dried noodles to fresh as he finds them more consistent, plumped and then stir-fried in the bubbling sauce. He scrapes the noodles to the side to quickly scramble an egg so you find it scattered in soft pockets, instead of as a slick of carbonara-like sauce. He throws the bean sprouts and thinly sliced scallions into the wok just at the end, off the heat, to keep their crunch but to let them mingle.

So next time you're near a store that carries Thai ingredients, feel free to pick up some palm sugar and tamarind (and dried shrimp and salted radish, while you're at it) so you can try other styles of pad Thai whenever the mood strikes.

But this one is altogether perfect as is. And, thanks to Yenbamroong and his grandma, there’s nothing to keep you from making it tonight.

Got a genius recipe to share—from a classic cookbook, an online source, or anywhere, really? Perhaps something perfect for beginners? Please send it my way (and tell me what's so smart about it) at [email protected]. Thank you to super-tipster, editor, and stylist Ali Slagle for this one!

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See what other Food52 readers are saying.

  • BillinStL
    BillinStL
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    Picholine
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  • Julie Bodnick
    Julie Bodnick
I'm an ex-economist, lifelong-Californian who moved to New York to work in food media in 2007, before returning to the land of Dutch Crunch bread and tri-tip barbecues in 2020. Dodgy career choices aside, I can't help but apply the rational tendencies of my former life to things like: recipe tweaking, digging up obscure facts about pizza, and deciding how many pastries to put in my purse for "later."

56 Comments

BillinStL September 8, 2020
I have made (and really like) this Pad Thai recipe per the instructions and resulting 1-2 servings. A question though about making a larger batch (for like 3-4 people or more). Trying to find out if you simply multiply all of the base ingredients x2 or x3 etc.? ... primarily concerned about the amount of fish sauce (using Red Boat) as I know a little goes a long way. Any tips personal experiences would be appreciated. Thanks.
 
cyndi September 8, 2020
I've made this several times for a family of four and I've doubled the ingredients. As for the fish sauce, I love the taste but have never used more than 2 tablespoons even for 4 servings. I think the most important thing is that you have a wok that can accommodate all of the ingredients and still be able to toss it around while on high heat. I love the wok that Kristen uses...but it's really too small for 4 servings... My wok is 14" and I feel like I can go even bigger to feed my family.
 
BillinStL September 8, 2020
Thanks cyndi ... I do have an old large 6 quart Calphalon (for lack of a better term) flat bottom wok-like pan that works well with stir frying, etc. It definitely should be able to handle the larger amount of ingredients.
 
Picholine March 12, 2020
Hi Kristen
Love watching you cook and I plan to make this ! Love Pad Thai.
 
Author Comment
Kristen M. March 13, 2020
Thank you so much, Picholine!
 
Lu January 27, 2020
I am planning to make this for 4 people on Thursday night. How many servings are there in this recipe?
 
tracy O. January 27, 2020
This definitely serves four people, but I would also make a side dish of some kind.
 
Author Comment
Kristen M. January 27, 2020
On the recipe page, you'll see it serves 1 to 2, but agree that it depends on what else you're serving! The video and photos will also give you a sense of how much it makes.
 
Terry K. January 19, 2020
Is this recipe one serving?
 
Author Comment
Kristen M. January 27, 2020
On the recipe page, you'll see it serves 1 to 2 as a main, but agree with others that it depends on what else you're serving! The video and photos will also give you a sense of how much it makes.
 
Julie B. January 17, 2020
I am always leery about fish sauce and tend to cut it in half the first time I make a recipe. Can those of you who have made the dish confirm the recipe has the correct amount?
 
RedFoxCooks January 17, 2020
I liked it but it's pretty salty. You could definitely start with half then add more if desired.
 
Dbons January 17, 2020
Oh geez. Yes, it's the correct amount.
 
Kestrel January 24, 2020
Not sure why Dbons said, "Oh geez." I think this is a good question, because that is a lot of fish sauce in one serving (and it is for one serving - I had to double the recipe to serve two.) While this was very delicious pad Thai, I share Julie B.'s concern about so much fish sauce - a tablespoon of fish sauce has 1360 mg of sodium, and the American Heart Association recommends no more than 2300 mg a day. Just good to be aware of that.
 
Kathleen D. January 25, 2020
I just made it this evening and felt the fish sauce flavor was a little strong. Think it varies by brand, but next time I make it, I’m going to halve it. Otherwise a great recipe!
 
Author Comment
Kristen M. January 27, 2020
Kathleen, great point that fish sauce saltiness and intensity will vary by brand, so it's good to get to know the brand you have and adjust for next time.
 
Kestrel January 27, 2020
My goodness - how disappointing to have to read a remark that is both unkind and snobby on FOOD 52. I know being uncivil is the current way of the world, but one would hope a food site like this one would weed out that type of person. I sincerely doubt that sweet and kind-hearted Kristen Miglore would respond in this way to any question.
 
Don February 19, 2020
Absolutely agree
 
FrugalCat January 16, 2020
I used turbinado sugar and Taijin for the roasted chili powder.
 
eirroc January 16, 2020
Does anyone have a recommendation for a vegetarian substitute for fish sauce?
 
Natasha S. January 18, 2020
Mushroom boullion, (Better than boullion brand is what I use) soy sauce and a touch of white or rice wine vinegar. Should be salty/tangy.
 
Susan C. January 21, 2020
I use coconut aminos - I am going to try the mushroom bullion. Wonder about combing them. Both umami flavors
 
Francesca S. January 16, 2020
Thank You for sharing this recipe 💜
What kind of Wok are you using?
 
Author Comment
Kristen M. January 27, 2020
This one! And it was a dream to cook in: https://food52.com/shop/products/5107-japanese-carbon-steel-wok
 
cyndi January 16, 2020
Kristen - I adore the giggle! Thanks for making this recipe!
 
Author Comment
Kristen M. January 27, 2020
:) Thank you, Cyndi!
 
Alexandra S. January 16, 2020
So excited to make this!!
 
Author Comment
Kristen M. January 27, 2020
It's so good!
 
JESSICA January 16, 2020
I dry roast some cayenne powder in place of the Thai chili powder. I also sub coconut sugar for white sugar. Turned out perfect.
 
Author Comment
Kristen M. January 27, 2020
Love these tips, Jessica!
 
Parvin January 15, 2020
Thai roasted chili powder:

https://www.messyvegancook.com/thai-roasted-chilli-powder-recipe/
 
RedFoxCooks January 15, 2020
Just made this with what I have on hand taking great license with substitutions. It turned out fine and was even pretty! I figured a stir fry would be pretty forgiving. Used instant noodles, broccoli instead of shoots, almonds instead of peanuts, threw in cooked shrimp at the last minute and red pepper flakes were just fine. A new favorite! Would definitely make again! Brilliant and so easy!!! This recipe is a GIFT for which I am very grateful. Next time I will shop ahead and try to do it *right*. 💜
 
Author Comment
Kristen M. January 27, 2020
Love this! Thanks so much for sharing.
 
tracy O. January 15, 2020
I'm allergic to cane sugar and was wondering if there was an alternative I could substitute. Would honey work? thanks!
 
Parvin January 15, 2020
I think anything sweet would work... Agave, maple syrup, coconut sugar, date sugar, rice syrup, palm sugar...even Splenda or Truvia if you were avoiding added sugar. It's just the sweetness to counterbalance the sour and salty that is important.
 
tracy O. January 16, 2020
Thank you!! I've noticed there are some Asian recipes that don't work as well if you sub cane sugar w/ alternatives, which is why I asked :)
 
some1105 January 16, 2020
I’m going to try it with Swerve, and will try to report back. Totally fair question!
 
Skip R. January 16, 2020
I’m anxious to hear the results of this!
 
Marcie January 23, 2020
It's better anyway with real thai palm sugar. You can find it on Amazon under "pure palm sugar", and buy a Thai brand. The jars of paste or syrup are easier to use, avoid the hard chunks that have to be hammered down. Delicious subtle flavor to use this instead of cane sugar and healthier. It has some of the zing of cane sugar and a lovely flavor. The more common coconut palm sugar has a harsh flavor with chemical overtones for me, and I've tried several brands.
If you use it in this recipe (and I've studied authentic Thai cooking), taste the sauce and adjust if needed to your preferred balance of sweet, sour, and salt. Well, I've eaten at this restaurant and didn't care for it. So I plan to use these great speedy tips to make pad thai faster, but use jarred tamarind paste (Amazon) and pure palm sugar to enjoy all the luscious subtle layers of flavor that Thai cooking offers.
 
tastysweet January 28, 2020
Marcie, do you have a favorite brand for the Palm Sugar?
 
HalfPint January 15, 2020
For those looking for the dry roasted chili powder, here's a recipe: https://healthythairecipes.com/thai-chili-powder/

Apparently, you can take dry Thai chilis and dry fry in a skillet or pan until fragrant and then grind it.
 
some1105 January 15, 2020
This I can do! Thank you!
 
Lori O. January 15, 2020
Same question about roasted chili powder...is it some kind of Asian chili powder?
 
HalfPint January 15, 2020
I would use dry red pepper flakes.
 
Author Comment
Kristen M. January 27, 2020
Lori, in case you missed them, lots of great ideas for the roasted chile powder in this thread! (Dry-toasting cayenne in a pan, making your own from toasting dried chiles, subbing chile flakes or other ground chiles).
 
some1105 January 15, 2020
What is roasted chile powder? I have about ten different kinds of chile powder, none of which I associate with Thai flavor profiles, as well as whole dried Thai chiles, but I’ve never Seen them in powder form. Any hints much appreciated!
 
tastysweet January 15, 2020
I have same question.
 
violist January 15, 2020
My thought was to dry roast Chile powder in a small skillet like a dry roasted spice. Haven’t tried it yet, but any other ideas?
 
Author Comment
Kristen M. January 27, 2020
Hi all, in case you missed them, lots of great ideas for the roasted chile powder in this thread! (Dry-toasting cayenne in a pan, making your own from toasting dried chiles, subbing chile flakes or other ground chiles.)
 
tastysweet January 28, 2020
Thanks Kristen M
 
Joan S. January 15, 2020
Wow, that not only looks good but it seems easy to make.
 
Author Comment
Kristen M. January 27, 2020
:) it is!
 
HalfPint January 15, 2020
Looks scrumptious! I think I have all the ingredients too :)
 
tastysweet January 15, 2020
Where did you get the roasted chili powder
 
HalfPint January 15, 2020
I use red pepper flakes, like the ones from the little packets that you get with pizza :)
 
Author Comment
Kristen M. January 27, 2020
tastysweet, in case you missed them, lots of great ideas for the roasted chile powder in this thread! (Dry-toasting cayenne in a pan, making your own from toasting dried chiles, subbing chile flakes or other ground chiles.)