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Cooking Thai 101 – the essentials!

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Here at LFW we love, love, love Thai food—it’s fresh, simple, and über tasty; so on our recent visit we booked into the Silom Thai Cooking School and learnt how to cook up a storm! By Aine Dowling

Cooking schoolWe met up with our class, and teacher ‘Awesome Jay’ (yes, that’s his name), at a local market to select our veggies and herbs for the day. The market is an assault on the senses—from the aroma of herbs and spices, through textures of the fruits and vegetables, to the burst of colours with bright red and green chillies, and summer yellow mangoes and bananas which smell absolutely divine!

Selecting veggies and herbs at the market

Selecting veggies and herbs at the market

Awesome Jay lived up to his name. He had the honour of representing Thailand on MasterChef Singapore and he is a terrific chef! He’s funny and really knows about cooking Thai. In all the dishes we were given the option of adding our own chilli, or not, if we didn’t like spicy food. Jay’s chillies had four rankings: 1 chilli = chilli taste, 2 chillies = hot chilli, 3 chillies = rumbling volcano, and 4 chillies (you really have to be able to cope with the heat to try this) = KAMBOOM!

Our first task was to create our own coconut milk by pouring warm water onto fresh shredded coconut and squeezing it through a sieve. There were eight of us in the class and we had to make enough for two of the dishes and the dessert. We also made our own green curry paste from scratch and we all had to take a turn at pounding the large mortar and pestle to grind the chilli and spices, and learnt a new way to squeeze limes!  Our individual cooking stations included a gas burner, a wok and utensils, and a serving plate. After each dish we moved to small dining tables to eat and comment on the food.

Chillies. Image by LFW

Chillies. Image by LFW

Cooking Thai 101 is the first in a series of our trip to Thailand, and we’ll be posting some recipes and pics in a later blog, but one thing we did learn are the 10 must haves for good Thai cooking so we’ll start with getting these into your kitchen before we do the recipes.

Ten Thai kitchen basics with Awesome Jay!

Awesome Jay explaining spices

Awesome Jay explaining spices


Cooking Oil: Vegetable oil such as corn, palm kernel, and sunflower is used in all Thai cooking. Other oils may have a more defined taste and aroma that may affect the final product.

Thai Fish Sauce: known in Thai as nam pla, this seasoning is made from fermenting fish with salt. It should contain only anchovies, salt and water and it’s very strong and salty so use it sparingly! It’s essential in only some dishes.

Thai Curry Paste: even in Thailand many cooks buy (and use) premade curry pastes. Red and green varieties can be found at well-stocked Asian supermarkets and should include galangal, lemongrass, and coriander root. Obviously green is made with green chillies, and red with red chillies.



Coconut Milk: used in Thai curries, fresh coconut milk is made by rinsing the oils out of coconut flesh with warm water and squeezing out the milk. Canned coconut milk is an easy option and widely available from supermarkets.

Rice: sticky rice, also called glutinous rice, is the staple in north and northeast Thailand and is often used in desserts. Jasmine rice is a staple in much of the country.

Chillies: fresh and dried chillies provide heat in Thai food. Fresh cayenne chilies are used in curries, and fiery-hot Thai bird chillies in sauces and stir-fries. Fresh chillies will keep in the fridge for up to a week or you can store in the freezer.

Limes: give a tart lift to grilled meats, salads and fried rice. Kaffir lime leaves are mostly used to give a floral, citrusy aroma to curries and soups.

Shallots and Garlic: Shallots (spring onions) are chopped and often used to decorate dishes or added to salads to provide a bit of crunch and bite. Garlic is crushed or minced and then tossed into hot oil with the other spices and before the stir-fry ingredients.

Lemongrass: is included in many Thai dishes and used only for flavour—not for eating.

Fresh Herbs: including cilantro (coriander), mint, Thai basil, and Vietnamese coriander add distinctive flavours to everything from salads to curries to fried rice. Thai basil has a nice sweet anise flavour but can be hard to find so substitute regular basil.

Watch this space for more to come!

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