Image: Mai Siam

Hints and Tips

Cutting vegetables
All vegetables should be cut up into uniform small pieces.  This allows them to cook quickly and it also means they absorb the flavours of oils, seasonings and/or sauces.  Some vegetables are cut according to their natural shapes (i.e. cauliflower and broccoli) and some are sliced, shredded or diced depending on cooking method.   When stir frying, chunky vegetables such as broccoli and cauliflower may be blanched first.

As aubergines discolour quickly, add salt to the soaking water to prevent this happening.  A squeeze of lime or lemon juice is also a good way to prevent discolouration.

Store chopped garlic in vegetable oil in a screwtop jar in the refrigerator.  This saves time when cooking as a large portion can be prepared in advance, thus saving time and effort.  A bonus is that the oil used to preserve the garlic can also be used.  Keep for 2 - 3 days.

Freezing Herbs
Lemon Grass, galangal, ginger and kaffir lime freezers well.  Do cut the galangal and ginger into 3 - 4 cm lengths, so that they are easier to handle and defrost quicker than the whole root.  Lemongrass and kaffir lime leaves can be used straight from the freezer.

Cutting meat
Because most Thai dishes are cooked rapidly, any meat used should be cut up into thin slices, matchstick strips or cubes.  This way it will cook quickly (as in a stir fry).  As a rule, beef and pork should be cut across the grain and chicken along the grain.  

Because high heat is essential, gas is preferable to electricity.  Prepare all ingredients before starting to cook.  Heat the oil in a wok (if using a cast iron wok, heat the wok first then add oil to the wok) and cook onions, garlic or ginger.  Garlic and ginger burn quickly so as soon as it starts to sizzle add meat.  Slide ladle under the meat and turn food over.  The secret is to move the food around in the pan so that it is in contact with the wok.   Add sauce at this stage and then vegetables.  Ensure that food is evenly coated in the sauce and not swimming in it.

Cooking Rice
In Thailand, jasmine rice is the most popular type of rice used, never easy-cook rice.  Remember rice needs to be rinsed before cooking to wash away dust and starch that might have been picked up in the milling and packaging process. Rinse until the water runs clear, usually 2 -3 times. Use equal amounts water to rice i.e. 1 cup rice to 1 cup water.  Combine rice and water in a saucepan and bring to the boil.  Lower heat and allow rice to boil gently (uncovered) until water has evaporated and steam holes appear in the rice. Cover pot with a tight fitting lid, turn down heat to lowest possible and allow rice to continue cooking (usually 5 – 10 minutes depending on the amount of rice).  Resist the temptation to lift the lid to check if rice is cooked because you will release the steam needed to cook the rice. Turn off heat and allow rice to continue cooking in its own steam.   Remember to always refrigerate leftover rice and use within 48 hours.

Coconut Milk & Coconut Cream
Coconut milk and cream settle in their tins, so do remember to shake them well before opening.  Mix equal amounts of coconut cream to water to obtain coconut milk.  Treat coconut milk and cream as you would in fresh cream, it splits if bubbled too furiously.  When cooking a curry with coconut milk, allow the curry to cool without its lid off or with the lid partly covering the pot.  This prevents the curry spoiling, especially in hot weather or a warm kitchen.

Thai Curries
Thai curries are a little thinner than other curries, in fact some people may find them to be the consistency of a thin soup.  This is because the Thai curry base is made up of roots and herbs instead of the ground spices found in Indian, Malaysian and Indonesian curries.  However, a little cornflour mixed with water and added at the end of cooking will result in a thicker consistency, if desired.

Palm Sugar
This usually comes in solid blocks or cakes.  Break up sugar with a mallet or back of a large wooden spoon and store smaller pieces in an airtight container.  A suitable alternative to palm sugar is light brown sugar.

Preparing Squid
To prepare squid, pull out the tentacles and cut free from the head and insides, which should be discarded.  Pull out the pliable backbone (discard) and wash out the body. Peel away the skin and cut to open up the squid pouch.  Score lightly and cut into bite size pieces.

Most prawns in Thai cooking are usually raw.  However if raw prawns are unavailable, cooked prawns can be substituted but do add them to the dish in the last minute of cooking.  Frozen cooked prawns often contain a lot of water.

Fish Sauce
Do use fish sauce sparingly as over seasoning can put paid to many hours of hard work.  It can be overpowering and salty and as a rule should be added at the end of the cooking process to add flavour.