Far greater than the gamut of your local restaurant menu, Thai food is diverse in form and flavour. Carrying a symphony of sweet, spicy and tangy notes, dishes vary from the lightness of green papaya salad to the meaty intensity of Massaman curry. These are our tips to sharpening your Thai cooking skills.
By
Siobhan Hegarty

17 Jul 2018 - 12:49 PM  UPDATED 17 Jul 2018 - 11:43 AM

Lumping “Thai food” into one culinary category might be handy for ordering takeaway, but this pigeon-holing approach overlooks the diversity, complexity and sheer personality of Thai food’s many facets. In the south you’ll find tropical flavours, coconut cream curries and plenty of seafood, while the North-Eastern Isaan cuisine is on the spicy side. Along the Northern Burmese border, Thai cooks prefer thinner curries with glutinous rice, and use garlic, ginger, tamarind and turmeric habitually.

The key to Thai cuisine is striking that perfect balance between sweet, sour, spicy and salty flavours. There are plenty of tricks for achieving this. Fresh herbs, such as lemongrass and galangal, tone down overpowering spices, while salty sauces are tempered with sugars and offset by acids, such as lemon and lime.

 

Pantry essentials

Stock up on fish sauce and shrimp paste (salty perfection); tamarind and kaffir lime (sour power); palm sugar for sweetness; plus the fragrant freshness of holy basil, Thai sweet basil and lemongrass. Grab some galangal, chilli, banana blossom and Thai eggplant, too. Don't forget the noodles and rice

 

Fast five

1. Blame the onions: Soak shallots in water for 10 minutes before cutting and the tears won’t flow.

2. Wok on: These round-bottom pans aren’t just for stir-frying; use them to deep-fry, braise, stew or smoke, too.

3. H20 is a no: Milk, cucumber or tomato will stop chilli burn; water will amplify it.

4. Get handy: Use a mortar and pestle to grind chillies, garlic and herbs, and pound salad-y fruits, like green papaya.

5. Hot stuff: Preheat your wok for 5+ minutes before cooking then add your oil and ingredients.

 

View our Thai recipe collection here.

Have we got your attention and your tastebuds? The Chefs' Line airs weeknights at 6pm starting August 6. Check out the program page for episode guides, cuisine lowdowns, recipes and more! 

Get cooking: Thai
Pad kee mao (stir-fried rice noodles with beef, holy basil and chilli)

Sticky sweet oyster sauce, bright holy basil, a hit of chilli - just try and make a mediocre version of this Bangkok-in-a-bowl street food classic. Pickled bean sprouts take these noodles to the next level. 

Chicken, coconut and galangal soup (tom kha gai)

Tom kha gai is the coconut-based soup common in the central part of Thailand. Simply made with coconut milk, herbs, chilli and fish sauce, some areas do not add lime juice but use tamarind puree instead to add that vital hint of sourness. Chilli powder can be added to increase the heat, if you like more spice.

Carrot and cucumber som tam

Som tam is best known outside Thailand as green papaya salad, but it is actually less about the papaya and more about the process. Lightly pounding vegetables releases their juices which mix into a fresh, flavourful dressing. This carrot and cucumber version is light and delicious, and you don’t need to track down green papayas, which aren’t always available.

Southern Thai coconut curry of mashed prawns (aaeng gait gung)

Australian chef and Thai food expert David Thompson shares his take on a seafood specialty in Southern Thailand. This curry is filled with fragrance from glangal, lemongrass, turmeric and kaffir lime leaves.

Thai stir-fried rice (khao kuk grapi)

This deconstructed fried rice is presented with all its elements separated so you can combine each mouthful to your taste, combining just enough heat and freshness to the sticky caramelised pork belly.