This easy chicken pad thai recipe is ready in just 30- minutes! For extra protein, stir-fried rice noodles are combined with tender chicken pieces and tossed in a tangy, sweet, and savory sauce for a delicious meal.
Table of Contents
A steaming plate of pad thai noodles is popular at Thai restaurants. If you haven’t tackled making it home, it’s surprisingly simple! I break the process into three steps; soak the noodles, cook protein, and toss the sauce. If you are a fan of my shrimp pad thai, this recipe is easy to make with chicken.
To make an authentic pad thai, you’ll need to gather a few unique ingredients for the sauce to deliver the bold and savory taste. Don’t worry. I provide plenty of substitutions if needed. These wok-fired noodles are perfect for your favorite curries and pineapple fried rice.
What is pad thai?
A popular Thai street food. The word “pad” translates to “fried,” using white rice noodles as the base. It’s paired with a bold sauce that’s exceptionally savory, tangy, and subtly sweet.
You can make the dish with proteins like scrambled eggs, tofu, pork, shrimp, chicken, or a combination. It’s commonly served with beans sprouts, green onions, and crunchy peanuts for extra flavor and texture.
Use boneless skinless chicken breasts for quick cooking and lean protein. If you prefer dark meat, use trimmed chicken thighs, but cut them into strips, about ¼-inch thick and 2-inches long. Simply season with salt and pepper. It will get coated with more flavor from the sauce later.
Rice noodle selection
You will need 14 ounces of dried rice noodles. Depending on the brand, they are labeled stir-fry rice noodles, rice sticks, or pad thai rice noodles. The noodles are flat and come in different widths, about ⅛ to ¼-inch thick for a fettucini-style. It’s up to you on the preference in size. I typically see the wider ones served most often in Thai restaurants.
Soak the rice noodles
Don’t boil the noodles! Instead, heat a pot of water to lukewarm, about 80 to 90°F (27 to 32°C). Add the rice noodles and let them soak. It will take about 10 minutes to soften and become pliable yet firm. You can increase the heat slightly if needed, but not to an aggressive boil.
The noodles can become very sticky due to the release of the rice starches after cooking. Simply drain and rinse with cold water. The noodles will cook more when stir-fried, so you want the texture after soaking to be al dente.
Make the pad thai sauce
Pad thai sauce is made from just five ingredients; fish sauce, tamarind paste, lime juice, rice vinegar, and palm sugar. The combination gives the characteristic spicy and savory taste of the Thai dish. Fish sauce adds an intense umami taste and shouldn’t be skipped. Tamarind paste (also labeled as concentrate) is a deep reddish-brown, thick, spoonable, tart, and citrusy puree made from dried pods of the tamarind tree.
Palm sugar is made from palm trees. It’s not as sweet as granulated sugar, but has a more caramel-like flavor, similar to golden brown sugar (which is a great substitute). They are sold in pressed discs, so you’ll need to chop them down with a chef’s knife to make them easier to dissolve. If you can’t find some of these exotic items at the grocery store, I’ve had a lot of luck purchasing them online.
Stir-fry the chicken
I like to use a wok for cooking the pad thai, but a nonstick pan or cast iron skillet works well. Cook the chicken in a single layer with the hot oil over medium-high heat. I like to let it sit for about 30-seconds to develop some golden color and flavorful crust on the surface.
Then stir-fry it for another minute until no longer pink. Make sure not to overcook the pieces. It will continue to heat during the stir-frying process. If desired, transfer the meat to a clean bowl to ensure it doesn’t dry out, then add it back later.
Fry the egg
Like my fried rice recipe, a whole egg is added to the dish for extra protein. I like to fry it in garlic-infused oil. Work quickly to break the yolk, mixing with the whites. The goal is to get little pieces of scrambled eggs. It’s a pleasant texture surprise! You can always whisk the egg beforehand if you prefer a more consistent texture.
Stir-fry the noodles and sauce
The soaked noodles are added straight to the pan to warm and soften them further. This process takes just a few minutes. The pad thai sauce is poured on top and tossed to combine evenly. Some of my readers say they love to double the sauce for an extra coating of the noodles.
Pad thai noodles have a reddish hue, traditionally from the tamarind, and Thai chili paste adds heat. My version is not spicy, so I sprinkle on a little sweet paprika. The deep red hue and earthy taste are an excellent addition to the dish. However, it can be skipped.
Add the garnish
Sliced green onions are stirred into the hot noodles to wilt them slightly. They add a nice pop of color and gentle allium flavor. Crisp bean sprouts add refreshing crispiness to the dish. I like to serve them on the side and mix them right before serving, so they stay snappy.
Roasted and chopped peanuts are sprinkled on top for extra crunch. Make sure to serve the pad thai with extra lime wedges for guests to squeeze on top. The mild acidity and citrus taste add a pleasing tanginess to the savory noodles.
Serve this with
- Chicken satay
- Crunchy Thai salad with peanut dressing
- Pineapple fried rice
- Coconut rice
- Instant Pot Thai chicken curry
All of the ingredients in chicken pad thai are gluten-free. However, check the label for the fish sauce. Some products may use wheat extracts. Brands like Thai Kitchen, A Taste of Thai, and Red Boat sell gluten-free fish sauce.
They are all Asian stir-fried noodle dishes. However, low mein and chow mein use egg noodles with a soy sauce and oyster sauce mixture thickened with cornstarch. Pad Thai consists of flat, gluten-free rice noodles coated in a sweet and tangy sauce made from lime juice, rice vinegar, tamarind, palm sugar, and fish sauce.
No, unlike traditional Thai cuisine, pad thai is not spicy. The sauce is made from fish sauce, tamarind paste, and palm sugar. Chili products like red chili flakes, hot paprika, sambal oelek, or Thai chili paste can be added or served on the side for guests to adjust the heat to their liking.
Soak instead of boil the rice noodles
Typically wheat-based noodles are boiled to absorb water and tenderize the dried pasta. However, rice noodles don’t contain gluten. Therefore, they are more fragile and may break apart when stir-fried. It’s best to soak them in lukewarm water until they are soft and pliable and have a slight chew but not a sticky mass. They become very mushy in texture when overcooked, fall apart easily when stir-fried, and absorb too much of the flavorful sauce.
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Chicken Pad Thai
- ½ pound boneless skinless chicken breast, or thigh
- ½ teaspoon kosher salt
- ⅛ teaspoon black pepper
- 14 ounces dried rice noodles
- 2 tablespoons palm sugar
- 2 tablespoons fish sauce
- 4 ½ teaspoons tamarind paste, or concentrate
- 1 ½ teaspoon lime juice
- 1 ½ teaspoon rice vinegar
- 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
- 1 tablespoon minced garlic
- 1 large egg
- ½ teaspoon paprika, optional
- ⅓ cup green onions, 2" long
- 2 tablespoons unsalted roasted peanuts, chopped
- ½ cup bean sprouts
- 1 lime, cut into wedges
- Prepare the Chicken – Cut the meat against the grain into strips, about ¼-inch thick and 2-inches long. Combine with salt and pepper. Set aside.
- Warm the Water – Heat a large pot of water until it becomes lukewarm, about 80 to 90°F (27 to 32°C), then turn off the heat.
- Soak the Noodles – Soak the rice noodles until flexible but not thoroughly cooked, al dente, about 5 to 10 minutes. If needed, slightly increase they aren’t softening. Drain and rinse with cold water.
- Make the Sauce – In a medium bowl, whisk together the palm sugar, fish sauce, tamarind paste, lime juice, and rice vinegar. Set aside.
- Cook the Chicken – Heat a wok or large saute pan over medium-high heat. Once hot and shimmering, carefully add the chicken in a single layer. Sear without moving until browned, about 30 seconds. Stir-fry until no longer pink, about 1 to 2 minutes, do not overcook! Push meat to the side of the pan.
- Cook the Garlic and Egg – Add the garlic and stir-fry for 15 seconds. Add the egg and quickly stir the yolk. Mix to scramble and break into smaller pieces.
- Cook the Noodles – Add in the soaked noodles and stir to combine. Cook for 2 minutes to soften and warm.
- Add the Sauce and Seasonings – Add the sauce and stir to combine. Turn off the heat. Add the paprika (if using), and toss until the noodles turn slightly red. Add the green onions and allow them to wilt slightly.
- To Serve – Transfer to a plate, top with bean sprouts and chopped peanuts, and serve with lime wedges.
- Recipe Yield: 8 cups
- Serving Size: About 1 cup
- Sauce Yield: ¼ cup
- Palm Sugar Substitute: Brown sugar, granulated sugar, coconut sugar, honey, or pure maple syrup.
- Tamarind Paste Substitutes: Fruit jam, preserves, or marmalades like guava, strawberry, or orange. Tangy pomegranate molasses syrup. Dried fruit like apricots, dates, raisins, pineapples, and prunes soaked in warm water, drained and pureed into a paste. Balance the taste with lime juice and rice vinegar as needed.
- For Saucier Noodles: Double the sauce for more of a coating on the noodles.
- For a Spicier Sauce: Use hot paprika (reducing the amount of sweet paprika), sambal oelek, or Thai chili paste. Start with ¼ teaspoon and increase to desired spice level.
- More Protein: Use 16 ounces of chicken for a heartier dish.
- Storing: Store in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 3 days.
- Reheating: Cover and cook inside the microwave on the high setting in 15 to 30-second increments until hot. Reheat in a pan on the stovetop over medium heat, stirring until hot. If needed, add water, one tablespoon at a time to soften the noodles.
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