Upon reflection, I realize the first Pad Thai I ever tasted was my own. The recipe came to me via The Splendid Table at NPR. I used to be on the mailing list and receive a recipe a week. When Pad Thai hit my in-box, despite never having tasted it, just reading the recipe made my mouth water. I set about cooking my first batch only a day or so later. A search of the Splendid Table site just now didn't turn up that original recipe and, while I may have it on a jump drive somewhere, it would take considerably more effort to locate it than I am willing to devote to the search.
I know that my first attempts at the dish suffered mightily from my lack of understanding of how to deal with the rice noodles. I think I may have actually boiled my first batch. Oy. Do not make this mistake. Thai noodles are meant to be stir fried to doneness. But I'm getting ahead of myself.
First, you'll need a pound of rice noodles. I throw mine in my pretty serving bowl, run water over them, and leave them to soak for one hour:
Meanwhile, prepare the rest of the ingredients:
Marinate a pound of peeled, deveined, raw shrimp or a pound of chopped boneless chicken breasts in a mix of: Olive oil (about half a cup), hot pepper flakes (amount depending on how hot you like it--I like it pretty hot), a few splashes of soy sauce, a squeeze of (fresh) lime juice, a tsp of red curry paste and a dash of salt. If you're missing one of these ingredients--eh--don't sweat it. Whisk everything together and throw in the meat. Most recipes don't call for the marinade. I just find plain meat needs a little more umph in most dishes and this one is no exception. Use what you have on hand.
Chop a lime into wedges for juicing on to the finished dish.
Scramble two eggs.
Chop a bunch of fresh cilantro.
Open a bag of bean sprouts.
Chop one bunch scallions.
Chop a large handful of cashews (most, recipes call for peanuts. the cashews deepen the flavor noticeably).
Have on hand a metal slotted spoon.
A cup of water.
Two envelopes sauce poured into a measuring cup (I discuss the particulars below).
Always use a wooden spoon with a long handle for your stir-frying utensil
Once your noodles have soaked for an hour, drain and set near the stove.
It is important that you have ALL ingredients on hand before you start. The cooking process is quick: less than 10 minutes. You'll not have time to gallop around and chop or locate stuff once you get started.
You're ready to begin. You'll need a large wok. Most importantly: put your wok on the stove and turn the burner to HIGH. Add a quarter cup of oil (I use olive) and let it heat up. Put away your dogs and your kids and forget that you're in Western Kentucky (if you are), home of cooked-to-death food. Wok cooking is all about QUICK and HOT and DANGEROUS. You should never, repeat, never wok cook with the burner on anything but the highest setting. No kidding.
Once the oil is hot, pour in the egg and stir cook until done. Less than a minute.
Next, add in the shrimp and stir-fry. It will only take two minutes or so to cook the shrimp to doneness. When the shrimp is opaque, remove it from the wok with the metal spoon and set aside. Some, if not all, of the egg will come with. This is okay. It took me a while to catch on to this removing step. Most recipes don't call for it, but if you leave delicate shrimp throughout the stir-fry it will get overdone and rubbery. It's worth the trouble to remove it.
Add another quarter cup of oil and then the noodles.
Stir-fry away. You'll need to put some muscle into the stirring here. This is the longest process of the whole deal and it can take 5-7 minutes. Like regular noodles, you want the noodles done but not done to death. Stir vigorously, add more oil if necessary. If, after 2-3 minutes, the noodles aren't coming along (tell by taste), throw in a half cup of water. It will sizzle madly (and satisfyingly) and provide some steam and speed up the process a little. Keep stirring. You'll have to taste the noodles several times in order to know they've reached the right consistency: al dente. Sometimes you'll throw in more water. Don't leave it to chance. Taste. Know for sure.
Once the noodles are there, add in the scallions, half the cashews, and two envelopes of sauce. Oh...did I not discuss sauce?
Sorry. Yah. I cheat the sauce. I wouldn't tell just anybody this, but it's just us, right? I buy the stuff, literally, by the case from the Amazon Grocery. If you're a purist, you can make your own, but you'll have to chase down some palm sugar and tamarind. And fish sauce (which I have, but I've been at this a while).
Two envelopes is good for a large batch like this.
Okay, back to the cooking, pour in the sauce, scallions, half the cashews. Stir fry until combined and then add the shrimp back in, stir fry until combined. (this all takes about a minute).
Add in the bean sprouts. Stir fry just until the bean sprouts are combined and cooked a little, you want them to retain their crunch.
Okay...DONE! The finished dish looks like this in the wok:
Pour into your large serving bowl, sprinkle the cilantro and remaining cashews on top. Serve with soy sauce and lime wedges on the side.
Since I started cooking this dish myself, I've had a chance to order it in at least three restaurants. It tasted entirely, wildly different at all three places and none even approached as delicious as home made.
Once dished up, finish by juicing a lime section over your portion, followed by a few splashes of soy sauce. The recipe I've given you here will easily feed four with some left over. Save it, the stuff is even better the next day after a quick heating in the microwave.