Tips For Cooking Authentic Thai Food

By Napatr Lindsley

Like Thai Food? Love to cook? Perhaps your first attempt did
not turn out like in the picture or taste like at the
restaurant. Well, do not give up on cooking Thai food. Some Thai
dishes may seem difficult because of a long list of ingredients
and instructions. Thai cooking is all about ingredients and
preparation. In Thailand, frozen or canned food is not very
common. Thais love fresh ingredients. Thailand is one of the
lucky countries in the world that has abundant vegetables,
exotic fruit, seafood, etc. There is a well-known verse in
Thailand describing abundant food resources: "Nai Nam Mee Pla
Nai Na Mee Khao" which means "In river, there is fish, in the
field, there is rice." This article will start with some general
tips and then move in to specific tips for each food category.

Ingredients

Ingredients are the most important part of authentic Thai
cooking. If you live in Thailand or in Southeast Asia, finding
fresh Thai ingredients is easy. But if you live somewhere else,
finding fresh ingredients can be difficult or troublesome
especially for those who do not live in a city. If you decide to
make Thai dishes, first invest a little of your time getting to
know the ingredients. Then find the nearest Asian grocery store.
If you like, call to see if they carry ingredients you are
looking for. For instance, if you are looking for "Winter
Melon", not all Asian grocery stores carry it. If you prefer,
buying online can safe you driving time. If you cannot find
fresh ingredients, try frozen and canned foods. In my opinion,
most frozen products are the next best thing to fresh food. For
instance, stir-fried shredded ginger with pork has two main
ingredients: shredded ginger and pork. Shredded ginger? Sounds
like lots of work to use fresh ginger. One might try a jar or
can, but the taste and aroma of the ginger are not the same as
the fresh version. It is not difficult to make shredded ginger
if you have the right peeler. Try your best to find fresh
produce, as it will be a good start to cooking authentic Thai
dishes.

Equipment

Thais use a wok and pot in most dishes with the exception of
desserts. For desserts, it is not required but it is recommended
to use a bronze wok (Ka Ta Thong Lueng). Other common equipment
includes a mortar and pestle. In Thailand, gas stoves are the
most commonly used. Electric stoves are uncommon and not very
popular because heat may not be distributed evenly. Regarding
the mortar and pestle, it depends on one's desire. If you are
going to cook Thai dishes very often, a mortar and pestle can
become handy in your kitchen. Otherwise, using typical kitchen
tools like a knife and cutting board can accomplish the same
goal. Food processors or blenders are another option when it
comes to making pastes.

Preparation

Preparation is also one of the keys to authentic Thai cooking.
As mentioned above, Thai food focuses largely on ingredients and
preparation. Preparation in particular is essential to authentic
Thai food. You may spend more time preparing ingredients than
you actually spend cooking. For instance, it may take about 30
minutes to prepare all ingredients for Tom Kha Gai but you only
spend about 15 minutes cooking. A typical Thai dinner consists
of 4-5 communal dishes. It may take up to 2 hours to prepare all
ingredients, but only 1 hour to make. A few reasons follow
regarding why Thais spend more time on preparation. Thais like
their meat in bite size pieces. Fresh vegetables require time to
wash, cut and maybe pad dry. Pounding spices and fresh herbs is
also common for many dishes. Some desserts like Ta Go (sweet on
the bottom layer with salty coconut topping in a pandanus
basket) require lots of time in preparation starting from
cleaning and cutting leaves and then making baskets. Depending
on the amount of Ta Go you are making, it can take up to hours
just to make those tiny baskets. Don't be discouraged by this
because after preparation, the wonderful dishes are right around
the corner!

Cooking to Your Taste

The art of Thai cooking has placed emphasis on the harmonious
blending of various ingredients, particularly as the individual
ingredients can vary by freshness and so on. Without harmony the
taste and the dish fall short. The five elements of taste in
Thai food are: sweet, salty, sour, spicy and bitter. When
cooking Thai dishes, one may follow a recipe, but use it as a
guideline when it comes to taste. Taste varies for each
individual, sometimes in response to variables such as
ingredient quality or occasion, and thus the tastes of the
recipe author may or may not reflect one's own taste. Following
a recipe is a good idea, but when it comes to taste follow your
own preference. Know your ingredients and start adding flavorful
items in small amounts. For instance, when it comes to curry
pastes and fish sauce, some brands are saltier than others. Most
Thai dishes can be fixed to some extent. If it is too sweet,
adding a little bit of fish sauce will fix the problem and vice
versa. If it is too sour, add a little bit of water; sugar or
fish sauce will help.

Coconut Milk

Thai food and coconut milk almost always go together. Many
dishes require Hua Ka Ti (first pressed coconut milk or creamy
coconut milk) and/or Hang Ka Ti (second or third pressed milk or
water-like coconut milk). To make fresh coconut milk, finely
grated coconut meat is still steeped in warm water, not hot
water. It is then squeezed until dry. The white fluid from the
first press is called "Hua Ka Ti". Warm water is then added
again to make the second and third pressed coconut milk, which
is called "Hang Ka Ti." Finely grated coconut meat is generally
used about 3 times and then discarded. Freshly pressed coconut
milk has a better taste and aroma than commercial coconut milk
in a can.

If you use canned coconut milk, you will need to have a can at
a cold temperature because cold temperatures help separate the
creamy coconut part and the water-like part. The creamy coconut
milk will float to the top of the can. During hot weather, you
may want to leave a can of coconut milk in the refrigerator for
a few hours or overnight.

Fried Rice

Good fried rice is not difficult to make. The most important
part is the steamed rice. The rice should be cooked but firm,
not mushy and soft. If steamed rice is soft and mushy, when it
is stir-fried it will all stick together. Good rice in fried
rice should be easy to break up and the grains should stay
intact. So to make the steamed rice, make sure you use a little
less water than normal so that the rice is dryer than normal.
Keeping rice in a refrigerator for 2-3 days is another
alternative, but if your rice is mushy and soft after those 2-3
days, the fried rice will also still clump together. Other keys
to making good fried rice are using a wok and high heat. Heat
must be evenly distributed and consistently hot all thel time. A
wok is recommended for making fried rice but not required.

Curry

There are two main types of Thai curries: coconut-based and
non-coconut based. Those which use coconut milk mostly have
similar initial steps which include separating the coconut oil
and mixing curry paste into coconut milk. These first 2 steps
are keys to perfecting your curry dishes. For instance, if you
are making green curry, red curry, matsaman, or kaeng kari, the
very first step is bringing Hua Ka Ti (first pressed milk or
creamy coconut milk) to a boil until the oil starts to separate.
You do not want to boil too long because you will break Hua Ka
Ti and it will look like little white balls. After adding curry
paste into the coconut milk, stir until the green or red oil
separates and floats to the top. Frequently stirring curry paste
is required because you do not want to burn the paste. Curry
paste may stick to a cooking spoon, so make sure to remove it
from the spoon. During this process, if Hua Ka Ti is getting
dry, add 3-4 tablespoons of Hua Ka Ti at a time to keep the
curry paste from burning. After adding vegetables, do not
overcook them.

Stir-fried

Most stir-fried dishes take a short time to cook, especially
stir-fried vegetables. The main key to most stir-fired dishes is
heat. Heat must be evenly distributed throughout the wok or pan.
Most recipes will suggest to heat up vegetable oil. In this
step, one must make sure that the oil is hot and spread all over
the wok (up to the side) or pan. In some dishes, after adding
meat and/or vegetables, the pan or wok starts to get drier, so
one may add a little bit of water so that the food won't get
burned. For vegetables, make sure they are not overcooked.

Desserts

Thai desserts are not too difficult to make. Some may be easier
than others. Some require more patience and time than others.
Many Thai desserts require one to use the same ingredients, and
substitutes are not recommended. For instance, if Khanom Ta Go
asks for mung bean flour, other flour substitutes usually won't
work well. Khanom Bua Loy requires sticky rice flour, and one
may not use multipurpose flour or tapioca flour or some other
types of flour. In some desserts like potato in ginger syrup,
one can use mixed types of potatoes. Khanom Kaeng Buat can
consist of taro, potato and/or pumpkin. When making Thai
desserts, read instructions carefully.

Ingredients and preparation are the keys to cooking authentic
Thai food. Some of the first few dishes in particular may
require patience. However, once you have gotten to know Thai
ingredients more and more, you will find how easy it is to cook
authentic Thai food. As for Thai desserts, some are very simple
and easy to make and you can perfect them the first time you
try. Some desserts may take practice and time to develop certain
skills. Do not be discouraged by recipe directions or how
beautiful a picture of a dish might be. When you decide to cook
authentic Thai food, gather up some friends and enjoy your
cooking. Have fun!

Napatr Lindsley

About the Author: Get Authentic Thai Recipes at
http://thaicookinghouse.com

Source: http://www.isnare.com

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