Yesterday I taught my sixth Cook Thai Class at Get Cooking. Thai classes have turned out to be a favourite. And I can understand why so many people want to learn more about Thai cooking, because I’ve been intoxicated by the flavours of Thailand myself, for most of my adult life.
I first visited Thailand in the mid-1990’s, and fell in love with the country and its people then. And with the exquisite food. Thai food is an artful and delicious blend of five elements: salty, sweet, sour, bitter and hot. And Thai cooks are masters at balancing these five elements to achieve perfect results. Fish sauce, or nam bplah, provides much of the salt flavour in Thai cuisine. Made from fish, most commonly anchovies, that have been fermented with salt for a year or more, fish sauce is one of the essential ingredients in your Thai store cupboard. And the sweetness in Thai dishes often comes from sugar, either processed cane, or coconut or palm sugar too. I like to use palm sugar when I’m cooking Thai, for the hint of caramel that it lends to my food. The sour element can be achieved with lime juice, or with tamarind, its seedy pulp massaged with warm water then strained to make a thick and tart tamarind water. And the hot? From chillies of course! Of all shapes and sizes. But my favourites are the searingly hot red and green bird’s eye chillies for sure. And finally the bitter element, which can be achieved with herbs and with bitter green vegetables, like the crunchy and flavourful Thai eggplants that I love so much.
When I teach Thai cooking I like to take things back to the basics. So I usually include a home made curry paste in every Thai class. There’s no question that there are some very good commercial curry pastes available on our supermarket shelves, and I often use them myself for a fast and easy meal. But there’s nothing like grinding your own curry paste in a Thai granite mortar and pestle to understand the complex and exotic blend of flavours that make up a fresh Thai curry paste. My curry pastes are a mixture of spices, chillies, cilantro roots (or stems), kaffir lime leaves, shallots, galangal, lemongrass and, last but not least, a pungent dollop of Thai shrimp paste, more fermented fish to help balance those five Thai flavour elements for you.
And I always include some seafood in my Thai classes too. Yesterday we made Thai Fishcakes, which we served up with a homemade pickle of carrots, cucumbers and shallots. And we steamed some Sea Bream, after we’d pan-fried it gently to add some flavour to its skin. Then we adorned it with a medley of Thai aromatics, like garlic, ginger and chillies, and some fish sauce, sweetened with a hint of palm sugar. After 10 minutes of steaming the Sea Bream is incredibly aromatic, and melt in your mouth tender: it’s always a hit.
As if that’s not enough, I don’t think any Thai class is complete without noodles of some kind. I love the hot and sour tang of a Thai Glass Noodle Salad: Mung Bean Vermicelli dressed with fish sauce, chillies and lime and mixed with lots of flavourful herbs plus some slivers of pork tenderloin with a few just-cooked shrimp, or seared but rare fillet of beef. But yesterday we cooked up a classic Pat Thai: rice noodles with wok fried egg, tofu and dried shrimp, seasoned with tamarind water, fish sauce and sugar and finished with Chinese chives, preserved radish and bean sprouts. Then a final sprinkling of toasted, chopped peanuts and some bird’s eye chillies in fish sauce on the side. Heaven!
Usually I finish up my Thai class with some fresh fruit: some Asian mangoes from Lucky 97; or some sweet, juicy rambutan. But yesterday, inspired by my dessert-loving colleague Michelle, we conjured up a yummy Coconut, Peanut Butter & Chilli Ice Cream. I’m pretty proud of this one and if Michelle and I ever find the time to put together a Get Cooking cook book, it’s going to be dessert number one.
If you haven’t been to a Cook Thai class at Get Cooking and you’re hoping to fit one in soon, put May 20th in your calendar, because that’s when I’m planning to hold the next class. I’m hoping to have it available for booking by the end of this week.
If you have any thoughts or comments, or just experiences with Thai food that you’d like to share, please leave them below. I’d love to hear form you!