Oh, have I missed Phad Thai. Why do you ask? Because I didn’t know the depth of that loss until I whipped up some spaghetti squash Phad Thai last night. Now, that’s not to say that I didn’t fall victim to the pre-packaged “phad thai” sauce sold at your local grocery store. But that’s not really Phad Thai…in fact, I’d argue it tastes more like sweet fish goo. Suffice it to say, I threw the entire thing down the sink after suffering through the noodles I’d stir fried it with for dinner that fateful night.
I’m talking about the Phad Thai you get at your favorite hole-in-the-wall Thai restaurant, with that perfectly choreagraphed ballet of salty/sweet/sour and yum on your blessed tastebuds. That flavor you get only from a pinch of a Thai grandmother’s magic Phad Thai fairy dust and Thai unicorn breath. Of course, I’m not a Thai grandmother, nor have I had the pleasure of meeting a Thai unicorn.
But I’d say I got pretty close.
Or at least as close as a plebian can after an hour of research on the internet. The secret is in understanding the culture of Asian cooking. And the basis of that culture is balance: sweet, sour, salty and, to a lesser extent (and usually as a result of the balance of the first three) umami. In Thai cooking, the sweet comes just from sugar (if you wanted culturally accurate, you’d probably use palm sugar). In this recipe, I used brown sugar—to contribute a depth of flavor you can’t get from regular white sugar, and that-in my opinion-most closely replicates palm sugar. Then comes the salt: fish sauce. Please don’t smell it.
Just trust me. I also added a splash of regular old soy sauce for that added umami factor.
And finally, the sour comes from tamarind paste. However, since I didn’t have tamarind paste (and hadn’t the will to venture out to my favorite Asian store and retrieve it) I used rice wine vinegar. You can also use lime juice, but I find the limey-ness to be overwhelming. And remember: the idea is balance. Note, though, that every Phad Thai you’ve ever gotten at any self-respecting restaurant offers you the option of limey-ness with a couple of wedge garnishes.
The other important concept is preparation and order of stir fry. Oil first, then meat-remove the meat-, then egg, then garlic and scallion, then noodles, then the sauce. All at a very high temperature, and all while your well-muscled arm continuously stirs, agitates and flips.
It comes together magically. Magic in that (despite there not being a unicorn) there are so few ingredients, yet the flavors seem complex enough to persuade you otherwise.
1 ½ tablespoons Fish sauce
1 teaspoon Soy sauce
2 ½ tablespoons Rice wine vinegar
2 tablespoons Brown sugar
1 tablespoon neutral-flavored Oil
2 cloves Garlic, minced
2 Scallions, sliced
1 ½ cups-2 cups prepared Spaghetti squash or cooked bean thread noodles
1 egg, beaten
- Combine fish and soy sauce, vinegar and brown sugar—stir to dissolve sugar
- Preheat skillet/wok to high and add oil
- Add egg and scramble, then nudge to the side of the pan
- Add squash/noodles and stir fry until slightly browned
- Add garlic and scallions and stir fry until fragrant (about 1-2 minutes)
- Add sauce and stir fry until most of the liquid has evaporated
- Enjoy with traditional garnishes (if you had the will to retrieve them from the grocery store)
- Bean sprouts
- Lime wedge
- Shredded carrot