Do you adore Thai food? Focusing on the perfect balance of flavours, Thai cuisine is more than just chillies, coriander and lime. Here’s why.
Cuisine goes to the heart of any country. Thailand’s cuisine is an amalgamation of rich flavours and pungent spices created from mouth-wateringly fresh ingredients.
Obsessed with Thai food and want to learn how to cook it at home? Book yourself in for a Thai cooking class. Short of that, try these brilliant Thai food recipes for you to whizz up at home.
Learning About Thai Food
I’ve taken several Thai cooking classes during my travels in Thailand, but one of the most memorable was a private class with a chef at the luxury hotel Anantara Phuket.
Phuket is an interesting place. Ask any backpacker about it and they’ll wave dismissively and mumble something about Phuket being sooo commercial and having lost its soul and then give you some advice about this absolutely stunning, untouched island they found in the Similans where they turned into Robinson Crusoe and caught their own fish everyday.
Luxury travellers, on the other hand, love Phuket – there are almost more high-end hotels here than grains of sand on the many, many beaches.
So, which is it?
Is it a commercial beach venture in danger of turning into the Costa del Sol or is it the place to go and “find yourself” when you don’t have months and months to find your own deserted island and just want a bit of sun and sand to flop and drop?
Personally my one night out in Patong was enough to put me off, but if you move further out to the other beach areas, especially Mai Khao right in the north, you can get your own little slice of Crusoe action anyway.
Irrespective of whether you love or you hate it, Phuket is a part of Thailand and I’ve yet to come across a Thai place with miserable food.
So I was pretty set, especially when I booked myself in for a cooking class in Phuket at the Anantara Thai cookery school to master some Thai food. In my humble opinion, cooking vacations are the best. thing. ever.
Like many cooking classes, the day began with a market tour of the local market.
I know it’s now quite typical for a cooking school to include this as part of their programme and almost every Phuket cooking class does a market visit. But it’s a lot of fun and I’d highly recommend it for getting to understand the local ingredients.
Once we’d bought the things that we needed, it was time to start our day cooking class with the real attraction of the day: some great cooking.
Thai Food Recipes
Chicken and Coconut Soup (Tom Kha Gai)
First dish of the day was coconut milk and chicken soup. I won’t rehash all the details but I will pass on two very sage pieces of advice the chef passed over to me.
He was very insistent that when you use the kaffir lime leaves for the soup you MUST make sure that you remove the stem because the stem makes the soup more bitter.
Remember when you were a child and you used to take the leaves from trees and strip the leaves until you were just left with a leaf skeleton?
Well, it’s playtime kids and you’re leaf stripping. The only difference is you have to chuck away the skeleton and keep the stripped leaf parts.
Now, I think that this is a matter of taste – many Thai chefs don’t bother to do this but like the faithful little sous-chef I am, I’ll relay the message and let you decide for yourself.
The second piece of advice our cooking guru gave me to make this an authentic Thai recipe was that you should smash the coriander root and put it in for extra flavour.
You know the one: your best friend’s disgusting new boyfriend who tried to hit on you in the bathroom earlier that evening; your miserable as shite workmate who you had to invite because they overheard you gossiping about this fabulous dinner you were throwing tomorrow evening who commented that they love Thai food and you’re too much of a wuss to say outright that you’d rather invite anyone else – well almost anyone else. Not Trump. Never Trump.
If there is such a person at your table, go ahead and coriander root them up – tell them it’s some kind of exotic Thai mushroom and watch them go. Otherwise, remove it before serving.
It’s the small details like these that don’t make it into cookbooks for Thai food recipes but actually make the end results taste like the real deal. This is the best cooking class in Phuket because it really focuses on the small details that make a big difference.
Thai Deep Fried Fish with Garlic and Chilli sauce – Pla Thod Kra Tiem Prick Thai
We come across the same Thai mains all the time – there are even some Phuket cooking classes regurgitating the same dishes (green curry, I’m looking at you).
That’s a shame as there are lots of Thai mains that are really easy to cook at home.
Next up on our Phuket Thai cooking academy, we picked a rather unhealthy Thai dish that was all about the deep fry. Thai deep fried fish with garlic and chilli sauce.
Irrespective of your views of deep fried food (yeah, it’s bad for us, big whoopee, so is suncream on your face, deodorant and high-heeled shoes – don’t start preaching it’s boring) there is something rather fascinating about the way the noodles puff up the moment you put them into the hot oil.
And they sizzle sizzle sizzle.
The fish itself you’ve got to tread a fine line with – too little and it’s undercooked, too much and you can use it as fuel for your next barbecue because no one is going to want to eat it.
Thai deep fried fish should be crispy on the outside and succulent and firm on the inside. It might take you a few goes to get it right, but when you do, you’ll be glad of it. Very good indeed.
200g fried fish
10g chopped garlic
10g chopped coriander root
1 tsp ground pepper
2 tbsp tamarind water
10g pickled garlic
3 tbsp fish sauce
1tbsp oyster sauce
2 tbsp sugar
5g coriander leaves
1 red chilli julienned
10g chopped chilli
Mix the coriander root, ground pepper, garlic and chilli in the mortar and pestle. Pound, pound, pound.
Heat the oil in a pan and add the garlic and chilli pastes, stir fry until brown, add the oyster sauce, fish sauce and sugar. Turn off the heat.
Coat fish in thin layer of flour, add to a pan filled with oil (medium heat) and fry until cooked (15-20 mins) – the aim is crispy outside, tender inside. Repeat with me crispy outside, tender inside. Remove from heat.
Heat up the garlic and chilli paste, add oil and stir until mixed in. Put on top of the fish.
Serve the Thai deep fried fish with fried vermicelli rice noodles. Heat oil to very high heat and add vermicelli. Remove after 10 seconds and leave on paper towel to drain.
Green Papaya Salad
To balance out this terrible feast of hellfire and brimstone preparations we had a simple Thai dish: spicily fresh and zesty green papaya salad (Som Tam Talay).
This is one of my favourite dishes and it is blessedly simple to make.
Green papayas, tomatoes, chillies, cabbage, peanuts, lime, string beans and saucy condiments.
Beware of how many bird chillies you dash in there. With 10gm (2 chillies) this salad was pretty mouthy, add more and you had better make sure you’re up for the challenge (or make sure they all mysteriously end up in undesirable’s plate – I’m sure they deserve it anyway).
Serve with some grilled prawns and noodles or other Thai mains.
Banana With Coconut Milk
Last but not least was the enticingly named Kluay Buard Chee – banana in coconut milk.
This is without a doubt one of the simplest desserts I’ve ever made but it was delicious.
Simply add the chopped banana to heated coconut milk and add lots of crushed ice.
We left ours to cool for a few minutes after adding the ice – it’s very refreshing if the sweltering heat is getting to you a bit.
And there we are. The love affair between Thailand and I is not over but it has been put on the shelf until further notice so I can explore the many, many countries that are still to come.
If you are looking for more authentic Thai recipes? Michelin-starred chef David Thompson’s Thai Street Food is hands down one of the best and is packed with amazing recipes for you try at home.
Cooking Thai food can be tough but Thompson makes it really easy with step by step instructions and delicious dishes.
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