One thing people ask me regularly (if not all that frequently) is, how can they get authentic Thai flavours in their home-made Asian dishes? The secret is simple: Start with the proper ingredients and make the effort to seek out a few special Thai components that scream ‘authentic’!
Don’t cook Thai without these! (l-r) Back: Fish Sauce, Sweet Chili Sauce, Red and
Green Thai Chili Pastes. Front: Coriander Seed, Tamarind Paste, Cumin Seed.
Where do I start?
How about the Noodles and Rice?
For true Thai-style results, use only flat or round Rice Noodles. Don’t overcook them, especially if you will be Wok-frying. A few minutes in boiling water is usually enough to soften them properly and heat them through.
Rice is a little more complicated. ‘Sticky’ Rice is called for often in Thai dishes. Thai Sticky Rice is a distinct type that can be obtained easily at Asian Grocery Stores or in the Asian Foods departments of many larger mainstream Supermarkets. Cook as instructed. A steamer or Asian Rice cooker is recommended. It really is sticky, but it’s not overly sweet by itself – just highly starchy – and it’s popular in both savoury and sweet dishes.
Jasmine Rice is also used in some dishes. It’s regular Long-Grain Rice infused with a Jasmine scent. It’s best for Wok frying, as its grains remain separate when cooked properly.
Firm Tofu is also Thai staple. It’s called for in traditional dishes such as Pad Thai, which is usually served on flat Noodles.
Spices and Chilies
Thai Chili Peppers – Small and really pungent. They’re available in Green or Red at most Asian groceries, these days. They form the basis of all Tahi Chili pasts and blends.
Thai Chili Paste – Ground Thai Chili Peppers blended with spices and pureed in oil. Comes in a number of varieties, but Rd and Green are the most popular. No Thai kitchen is without ’em.
Sriracha Sauce – The national Hot Sauce of Thailand, it’s now a global favourite. Very hot! Aficionados say the ‘Rooster’ brand bottle is the one to grab if you want the most authentic version this side of the Pacific. I particularly like an Aioli made with a dash of Sriracha and a couple of tablespoons of Mayo on any red meat or alongside Dim Sum, even though that’s anything but traditional!
Sauces and Oils
Fish Sauce (Nam Pla) – This is one of those ingredients, like Thai Peppers and Dried Shrimp, that defines Thai flavours. It smells weird and tastes ditto by itself, but it is essential in building classic Thai flavour profiles.
Sesame Oil – Your go-to oil for both flavouring and frying Thai food. We all,know that Sesame oil is very strongly flavoured, but it is surprisingly unobtrusive when used in pan frying or Wok frying.
Coconut Milk – This is the creamy component in all creamy Thai Curry Sauces. It’s no accident that most of the Coconut Milk brands on your Asian Grocery or regular supermarket shelf come from Thailand!
Sweet Thai Chili Sauce – A Thai specialty, specifically intended to embrace Chicken but great with a whole lot of things. Keep a big bottle in your fridge! It’s like a sweet-hot glaze based on Thai Red Chilis and Lime Juice. I like it with fried Eggs and Hash Browns for breakfast. Put it on a burger. Make an Aioli with a dash of Sweet Chili Sauce and a couple of tablespoons of Mayo and try it on… Everything!
Limes – The only Citrus flavour you’ll ever need in Thai Cooking. One of the additions that transforms Fish Sauce from ugh to umami in classic Thai blends.
Dried Shrimp – These guys are little dried mini-shrimp which are netted by the billions off the shores of Thailand every year and sun-dried. Everybody there uses them to put some delicate punch into Fish and Seafood dishes. Get ’em in big bags at the Asian grocery.
Coriander / Cilantro – There’s a specific variety that’s favoured in Southeast Asia, but any kind will do. Just make sure you get the fresh stuff and, if possible, a bunch with the roots still on. Many Thai and Caribbean cooks claim those little white carroty-looking things are the best part of the plant!
Lemon Grass – More a woody stalk than a grass, you can use it to bolster the citrusy high notes in light Thai Curries. Especially those using Cumin and Coriander. never levee it in the dish for service. It’s like chewing Sugar Cane. To use, cut off a three- or four-in. (7-10 cm) piece and whack with the back of your chef knife. Available in most supermarkets, alongside the Asian Eggplants and other specialty Produce.
Tamarind Paste – You’ll have to go to an Asian grocery for this one. It’s a thick paste, about the consistency somewhere between a thick compote and a brick of butter. Tamarind is a very sharp citrusy flavour and its colour is like a dark blue Plum. Another one of those ingredients that define Thai flavours.
So there you have it! Go to town (Bangkok) and try real Thai!
~ Maggie J.