This recipe for Pok Pok chef Andy Ricker’s “Phat Thai Ruam Mit” comes from his latest cookbook, Pok Pok Noodles. Read our interview with Ricker here, find out why he believes a dish as ubiquitous stateside as pad Thai should be approached with reverence and respect, then try to recreate his recipe below.
Makes 1 plate (1 serving)
Rich, fatty, salty, sour, sweet
- Phrik pon khua (toasted-chile powder)
- Thai fish sauce
- Sugar (preferably raw cane sugar)
- Chopsticks, fork and spoon
Rarely can you pin down the origin of a Thai dish, or any dish for that matter, with much precision. In Thailand, as everywhere, food is always changing, cooks are constantly innovating (whether from a place of creativity, convenience, or necessity), and who can say for sure when the first bowl of khao soi was born or what sage first paired wide rice noodles with duck and cuttlefish?
Phat thai is different. We can pin down the decade and inspiration, if not the date and the person so inspired. Most accounts agree that the dish was born, with much fanfare, during a competition masterminded by Prime Minister Plaek Phibunsongkhram. Although the details in various historical accounts do blur a bit, the contest seems to have taken place in the 1940s, while nationalism was on the rise, with the goal of identifying a noodle dish that was resolutely Thai. As you’re surely tired of hearing by now, most noodle dishes in Thailand are Chinese in origin, and only after the passage of time and some minor tweaks did they make the unofficial transition from foreign dish to part of the local repertoire.
Whether the winning creation, whose name literally means “Thai stir-fry,” met the standard set by the prime minister is up for discussion. Many of its reported components—rice noodles, tofu, bean sprouts, preserved radish, and garlic chives—are imports from the Chinese kitchen. The fish sauce, tamarind, and palm sugar, however, do make it taste Thai.
What isn’t up for debate is the appeal of the dish, which has become a sort of unofficial ambassador for Thai cuisine throughout the world. While I can’t tell you what the original version looked like, it’s clear that in the intervening years, one dish has forked into two. There’s the dish as it’s served to Thais in Thailand, the end to which the following recipe means to lead you. It’s beloved, to be sure, though I must mention that it is also just one great noodle stir-fry among many, rather than the main attraction it might seem to be from the view stateside. And then there’s the dish as it’s typically served at Thai restaurants in America, which is attuned, quite successfully, to local tastes. It often lacks the elements that might challenge American diners, such as salty, funky radish and chewy dried shrimp, and plays up those that entice, such as sweetness, sauciness, and portion size.
I have nothing against that preparation, but I do prefer the one you see here. It’s a composite of the phat thai from some of my favorite vendors, and like those versions, it’s rich and flavorful, cooked (more slowly than most stir-fries) in pork fat, and meant to be doled out in relatively small allotments. (To reward the home cook, this recipe yields a larger portion than the old-school Thai standard.) Still, it comes to the table tamely seasoned along with khruang phrung for adjusting the flavors. Seek out the herb pennywort and fresh banana blossom and serve them alongside, to be eaten between bites.
- 1 cup naam makham piak (tamarind water; recipe follows)
- 3/4 cup naam cheuam naam taan piip (palm sugar simple syrup; recipe follows)
- 1/2 cup Thai fish sauce
- 4 oz. / 2 cups semi-dried sen lek (thin, flat rice noodles; similar in shape to fettuccine)
- 2 Tbsp. naam man muu (rendered pork fat, or use store-bought) or neutral oil, such as canola, soybean, or rice bran
- 2 oz. / 4 medium-size shrimp, peeled and deveined
- 42 g ground pork
- 1 egg, at room temperature
- 35 g / 1/4 cup sliced (1 by 1/4-by-1/4 inch) unflavored pressed tofu
- 14 g / 1 Tbsp. shredded Thai salted radish (soaked in cold water for 10 minutes, rinsed, and drained well)
- 6 g / 1 Tbsp. kung haeng khua (dry-fried dried shrimp; recipe follows)
- 2 oz. / 1 cup bean sprouts
- 15 g / 1/4 cup roughly chopped (1 1/2 inches) garlic chives, plus a large pinch
- 20 g / 2 Tbsp. roughly chopped unsalted roasted peanuts
- Halved key limes or regular (Persian) lime wedges
- Roughly chopped unsalted roasted peanuts
- Bean sprouts
- Whole garlic chives and/or fresh pennywort
- Fresh banana blossom, trimmed and cut into 1/2-inch wedges
In an airtight container, combine the tamarind water, palm sugar simple syrup, and fish sauce and stir well. You’ll have about 2 1/4 cups. Reserve 1/4 cup plus two tablespoons for this dish. The remaining sauce will keep, covered, in the fridge for up to three months.
Snip the noodles into approximately 8-inch lengths. In a medium bowl, combine the noodles and enough lukewarm (about 100 degrees Fahrenheit) water to cover by an inch or so. Let soak until they’re very pliable, about 30 minutes. Drain them well and set aside.
Set a heavy, well-seasoned 12-inch skillet over medium-high heat (or a flat-bottomed wok over high heat) and heat until it begins to smoke lightly. Add the pork fat and swirl the skillet to coat the bottom (or swirl the wok to coat the sides). Add the fresh shrimp and pork and cook, stirring and breaking up the pork, for 15 seconds. Push them to one side of the skillet.
Crack the egg into the empty area of the skillet and turn the heat to medium (if you’re using a wok, keep the heat high). Cook, without messing with the egg, until the edges of the egg are lightly golden, about 30 seconds.
Add the tofu, radish, and dry-fried dried shrimp to an empty area of the skillet. Flip the egg (it’s okay if the yolk breaks) and cook, without stirring, for one minute, then break it into several pieces with the spatula. Stir well and cook for one minute more.
Add the noodles on top of the ingredients in the skillet and cook, without stirring, for 45 seconds. Stir everything together, add the reserved 1/4 cup plus two tablespoons tbsp sauce, and stir again. Add the bean sprouts and cook, stir-frying occasionally, until the noodles are fully tender and have absorbed the sauce and the bean sprouts are tender but still crunchy, 1 to 1 1/2 minutes.
Add the 1/4 cup chives and tablespoon of the peanuts, stir-fry briefly, then transfer it all to a plate. Sprinkle on the remaining peanuts and chives. Serve with the accompaniments and khruang phrung (condiment caddy) alongside.
Makes about 1 2/3 cups
To make the sauce for phat thai, you’ll need tamarind water, a tangy extract of the fruit. The process is too simple to settle for prepared concentrate, which lacks the bright flavor of the fresh stuff. Steep the pulp (sold in shelf-stable blocks at most Chinese or Southeast Asian markets) in boiling water, mash with a spoon, and strain.
- 2 oz. / 3 Tbsp packed Vietnamese or Thai seedless tamarind pulp (also called tamarind paste)
- 1 3/4 cups water
In a medium saucepan, combine the tamarind pulp and the water and bring to a boil over high heat, breaking up the tamarind as it softens. Immediately turn off the heat, cover the pot, and let the mixture sit until the tamarind is very soft, about 30 minutes. There’s no need to skim off any foam.
Set a medium-mesh strainer over a heatproof container.
Use a whisk or wooden spoon to mash and stir the tamarind mixture, breaking up any large clumps. Pour the contents of the pan into the strainer, stirring, pressing, and smashing the solids to extract as much liquid as possible. There may be pulp clinging to the outside of the strainer; add that to the container, too. Discard the remaining solids.
The tamarind water will keep in an airtight container in the fridge for up to one week and in the freezer for up to three months. Stir well before each use.
Makes about 1 3/4 cups
To make the sauce for phat thai, you must dissolve palm sugar in water to make this syrup.
- 10 oz. palm sugar (preferably Thai)
- 1 1/4 cups water
In a small saucepan, combine the sugar and water and bring to a boil over high heat. As soon as it reaches a boil, turn off the heat. Let it sit, breaking up chunks, until the sugar has fully dissolved and the mixture has cooked completely.
The syrup will keep in an airtight container in the fridge for up to three months.
Makes 35 g / 1/3 cup
Before you use dried shrimp for phat thai or papaya salad, you must first briefly soak and rinse the crustaceans and then slowly toast them in a dry pan until they’re aromatic and dry once more, this time with a chewy-crisp texture.
- 50 g / 1/2 cup medium-size dried shrimp
Soak the shrimp in a small bowl full of water for 10 minutes. Drain, briefly rinse, and pat them dry.
Set a small dry skillet or flat-bottomed wok over medium heat. Add the shrimp and cook, stirring frequently, until they are dry all the way through and slightly crispy, 8 to 10 minutes. Set them aside to cool completely.
The shrimp will keep in an airtight container at room temperature for up to one week.
Reprinted with permission from Pok Pok Noodles by Andy Ricker with JJ Goode, copyright © 2019. Published by Ten Speed Press, an imprint of Penguin Random House. Photography: Austin Bush © 2019.