A 10-ingredient pad thai recipe that works for shrimp or chicken
Less is more when it comes to cooking fish (and shellfish), but that doesn't mean it comes naturally to many of us.
I grew up watching "Great Chefs" on PBS — this was before the Food Network debuted in 1993 — where fancy chefs from around the world would often sauté whole fish over a commercial-grade gas stove. Sometimes, they'd intentionally catch the sauce on fire like some kind of magician in a white coat.
That particular show had very little dialogue or instruction from the featured chefs, and my main takeaway from seeing how they cooked was, "Wow, I could never do that at home." I was a kid, of course, but those early impressions of "chef food" versus "home food" stuck with me over the years, particularly when it came to fish.
The only fish I dared to cook as a young adult living on my own was tilapia, or maybe salmon, seasoned with salt and pepper and either sautéed or baked in butter. Those are still some of my favorite ways to cook fish, but thanks to books like the new "Foolproof Fish" from America's Test Kitchen, I'm getting more adventurous.
Mussels steamed in a curried broth. Seared tuna steaks or scallops. Pistachio-crusted halibut. DIY lox. Adventurous, I'm learning, doesn't mean complicated, but there are some tricky elements of cooking fish that I sometimes have to learn over and over again. Like the importance of soaking in water scallops that have been treated with that sodium solution to remove that soapy taste. Or that it takes longer than I remember to peel and devein shrimp (and that I'd usually just rather pay extra to buy them already processed).
This new America's Test Kitchen book covers all the basics and offers dozens of recipes that even beginner cooks can tackle, including this one-pot shrimp pad thai. The simplicity of the sauce makes this recipe a keeper, even if you're using chicken instead of shrimp.
The book includes a number of whole fish recipes, including a salt-baked cod and several grilled fish recipes, but for the most part, the dishes are targeted toward home cooks who are looking for pescatarian-friendly weeknight dishes or slightly more upscale dishes that you could make for date night.
One-Pan Shrimp Pad Thai
With its sweet-and-sour, salty-spicy sauce; plump, sweet shrimp; and tender rice noodles, pad thai is Thailand’s best-known noodle dish. But making it at home can be a chore, thanks to lengthy ingredient lists with hard-to-find items. We found we could achieve just the right balance of flavors for a satisfying supper even after streamlining the recipe to its most crucial components. There’s no tamarind required in our sauce, which uses a simple combination of fish sauce, lime juice and brown sugar. And shrimp alone was enough to give this dish heft — no need for dried shrimp in addition, or eggs. The dish boasts great texture as well, with crisp-fresh mung beans and chopped peanuts providing crunch against the juicy shrimp and just-chewy-enough rice noodles. To get the texture of the rice noodles just right, we first soaked them in hot water so they’d start to soften, then stir-fried them in the pan. Do not substitute other types of noodles for the rice noodles here. This dish progresses quickly after the first step, so have your ingredients ready to go by then.
— America's Test Kitchen
8 ounces (3/8‑inch-wide) rice noodles
1/3 cup lime juice (3 limes)
1/3 cup packed brown sugar
1/4 cup fish sauce
1 pound extra-large shrimp (21 to 25 per pound), peeled, deveined and tails removed
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
4 garlic cloves, minced
8 ounces (4 cups) mung bean sprouts
1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro
1/4 cup dry-roasted peanuts, chopped
Soak noodles in 3 quarts boiling water until softened and pliable but not fully tender, stirring occasionally, about 15 minutes. Drain noodles and rinse under cold running water until water runs clear. Drain well and set aside.
Whisk lime juice, sugar and fish sauce together in bowl. Pat shrimp dry with paper towels. Heat oil in 12‑inch nonstick skillet over medium heat until just beginning to smoke. Add shrimp and garlic and cook, stirring occasionally, until shrimp are just opaque, about 4 minutes. Transfer to plate and tent loosely with aluminum foil.
Add noodles and lime juice mixture to now-empty skillet and cook over medium heat until sauce is thickened slightly, about 4 minutes. Add sprouts and shrimp to skillet and cook until shrimp are opaque throughout and noodles are well coated and tender, about 3 minutes. Sprinkle with cilantro and peanuts and serve.
— From "Foolproof Fish: Modern Recipes for Everyone, Everywhere" by America's Test Kitchen (America's Test Kitchen, $35)