Pad Thai with salt and pepper tofu recipe

Two bowls of noodles with tofu

I’ve been cooking Pad Thai regularly over the last few months to try to pin down a version that’s not miles away from the delicious restaurant Pad Thais I’ve eaten where the noodles are perfectly al dente and the sauce is sweet, salty and sour.

While I’ve found that wok-ready udon noodles are pleasantly chewy and firm, sadly the same can’t be said for wok-ready rice noodles. No matter how quickly I stir fry them they always end up soft and squidgy. After a lot of experimenting and eating my way through many under and over cooked noodles, this is what I’ve settled on:

  • Add 110g dried 5mm rice sticks to a large bowl that will fit approximately 2 litres of water
  • Add salt to the bowl
  • Fill the kettle with 1.7 litres of water (or whatever the maximum is that your kettle will hold) then pour the boiled water over the noodles and set a timer for 8 minutes, stirring the noodles every minute or so
  • When the timer goes off, taste a noodle and if they haven't quite softened enough, leave them for another minute or two. At this stage they might seem under-cooked but bear in mind that they’ll get cooked again in the wok. When you're happy with the texture of the noodles, drain them then rinse them thoroughly with cold water.

For the sauce I use tamarind paste, sugar and fish sauce. Two tablespoons seems like a lot of fish sauce but the sugar takes away the fishiness and the tamarind adds the much needed sour tang. I’ve tried decreasing the sugar and I wouldn’t recommend it.

To me, the noodles and sauce are the foundation of a good Pad Thai and whatever else I add depends on what’s in my fridge. My current favourite protein is tofu coated in salt, pepper and cornflour then roasted until it’s crisp and chewy. The tofu can be cooked in a wok but I find it easier to throw in the oven so it can roast whilst I get on with the sauce and veg.

This recipe is my quick and somewhat lazy version of Pad Thai that I can just about manage during the week. I use a bag of prepared stir-fry vegetables but if I have more time I’ll add a couple of beaten eggs, maybe some king prawns, sliced spring onions, mange tout, broccoli and chopped coriander. Regardless of whether I make the quick or long version the dish is always finished with lime and toasted peanuts.

As a side note, I just bought a new wok from Ikea (OUMBÄRLIG) and I’m really pleased with it. I had been using a large, deep Le Creuset frying pan which is a great pan but not ideal for stir-frying. It takes ages to heat up and retains heat so any food that gets left in it continues to cook. The Ikea wok is incredibly light, big enough at 32cm (although I wish they’d do a slightly larger version, say 36cm) and pretty cheap at £22. I’d been eyeing up the 36cm Ken Hom wok but was put off by my mum and other reviewers finding that the non-stick coating eventually bubbles and peels. I’ll report back on how Oumbärlig is holding up but the reviews on the Ikea website seem promising so fingers crossed.

Ingredients

Serves: 2

Tofu

  • 1 block firm tofu (I used a 280g block of Tofoo)
  • 2 tbs cornflour
  • salt and pepper
  • flavourless oil (I used light olive oil)

Pad Thai sauce

  • 1 tsp tamarind paste
  • 2 tbs sugar (I used golden caster sugar)
  • 2 tbs fish sauce

Stir-fry

  • 110g dried rice noodles
  • 1 bag mixed vegetables (I used a 320g bag of beansprouts, cabbage and carrots)
  • Small handful toasted, crushed peanuts
  • 1 lime

Method

  1. Tofu: Preheat your oven to 200°C (180°C fan) and line a baking tray with greaseproof paper. Drizzle the paper with a little oil.
  2. Add 2 tablespoons of cornflour, ¼ teaspoon of salt and a pinch of black pepper into a medium sized bowl and mix well.
  3. Cut the tofu into 2cm cubes, add it to the cornflour and mix until the tofu is completely coated. 
  4. Spread the tofu cubes over the prepared baking tray and roast in the oven for 20 minutes then set to one side.
  5. Noodles: Fill and boil the kettle with as much water as the kettle will hold.
  6. Add 110g dried rice noodles and a good pinch of salt to a bowl that will fit 2 litres of water. Pour the boiled water over the noodles and set a timer for 8 minutes.
  7. Once the timer sounds, drain the noodles, rinse them well with cold water and set to one side.
  8. Sauce: Combine 1 teaspoon of tamarind paste, 2 tablespoons of sugar and 2 tablespoons of fish sauce in a small bowl and mix well. Taste to check that the salt, sweet and sour flavours are balanced.
  9. Stir-fry: Place a wok over a medium heat and add a good drizzle of oil. 
  10. Add the vegetables and stir-fry for a couple of minutes then add the noodles. After another minute add the sauce to the wok and keep stirring until the vegetables and noodles are coated.
  11. When the noodles are cooked through but still have bite, add the tofu cubes to the wok, squeeze over the juice of ½ a lime then transfer to 2 bowls.
  12. Top with a small handful of toasted, crushed peanuts and add a lime wedge to each bowl.

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