SPONSORED POST: This is a paid post. The Road to The Good Life chose to work with La Crema Winery for their dedication to handcrafted wines at reasonable prices. All opinions presented are my own.
Thai cuisine is notable for its unique flavor profile, a balanced meal delighting the taste buds with a myriad of sweet, sour, salty, spicy, and earthy or bitter. In many dishes, from curries to stirfries to soups, the taste begins with a curry paste, some fish sauce, and a little Thai soy sauce.
I originally thought I'd put together one post filled with all of the basic ingredients for Thai food. However, as I started doing that as well as answering questions that you suggested I realized that would be a very long post. So instead, I'll be talking about the ingredients as follows: pre-made ingredients today; coconut milk, herbs, and spices at the end of the month; and substitutions for fish sauce in July.
Are you ready to get started? Well then, let's dive in.
Pre-made Curry Pastes
If you believe that fresh is always better than canned, this post is not for you. (Remember Round Table's "One of the Last Honest Pizza" advertising campaign from the 1980s? If you don't, search YouTube to find an example) that showcases Round Table's product differentiation.)
I learned to make curry paste from scratch when I was working on a Thai cookbook. But, as I was testing variations of the recipe and troubleshooting what home chefs might do, I realized it's hard to get the same flavor profile each time, and it takes time. Most home chefs don't have hours to spend blending their pastes with a mortar and a pestle. As the goals of the cookbook and the cooking classes derived from it were to make Thai cooking accessible to cooks of all skills, all of my recipes leveraged available pre-made curry pastes.
There are two primary brands of curry paste that I use: Maesri and Mae Ploy. Maesri is a little harder to find stocked in Asian markets, it costs more. (If you live in The Mission, you can find the Maesri pastes at Valencia Farmers Market at the corner of Valencia and 24th.) Depending on where you live, you'll even find Mae Ploy in the International aisle of your grocery. Maesri is available from a number of online retailers: Grocery Thai; ImportFood.com; TastePadThai.com; and Temple of Thai. Another brand that I've never seen in stores, just online, that is recommended is the Hand Brand which ImportFood.com carries. (I first discovered this brand when my Thai roommate in college brought some back from summer vacation for me.)
The main difference between the Maesri brand and the Mae Ploy and Hand brands is that only one is Vegetarian (Maesri) with the exception of their green curry paste and the others are not (Mae Ploy). What I'm about to say may seem obvious, but it's important. Simply using only vegetables in your Thai curry or substituting Tofu for Shrimp or Chicken does not make your curry Vegetarian. Also, it does not make your curry safe to eat for those with shellfish allergies. Most curry pastes are made with shrimp.
Not all pre-made curry pastes are created equal. Some brands include sugar; for example, the Maesri Red Curry paste does but the Mae Ploy Red Curry paste does not. Some brands have coconut milk already mixed in. If you can't find Maesri or Mae Ploy, look for curry pastes without coconut milk and that have little to no sugar. I'm sensitive to refined sugars so when I'm not cooking for vegans or vegetarians I opt for the sugar-free curry pastes.
When it comes to heat with curry pastes, I was always told that heat increases as the color gets lighter, so your yellow curries bring more heat than green which are hotter than red.
My Preferred Curry Pastes
My go to curry pastes are:
- Pad Prik King Curry Paste
- Panang Curry Paste
- Red Curry Paste
- Green Curry Paste
- Yellow Curry Paste
Thai Soy Sauces
There are three "soy sauces" used in Thai stirfries and noodles: Thin, Black, and Sweet. Thai soy sauce is NOT the same as the soy sauces you find in Chinese or Japanese cuisine.
Never substitute Kikkoman for a Thai soy sauce. Here's why. The primary difference between Thai soy sauce and Chinese or Japanese soy sauce is the level of saltiness and the sweetness.
Two of the Thai soy sauces have sugar in them. They add the sweetness to Thai dishes that balances out the saltiness of the fish sauce and the shrimp paste. The viscosity of the Thai soy sauces also differs from Kikkoman, being either thinner (Thin) or thicker (Black and Sweet).
Pop Quiz: Identify the Soy Sauces
Credits: All layouts designed by and images taken by Eden Hensley Silverstein for The Road to the Good Life.
My Girls Night In Thai Cooking Class and the posts leading up to it about the ingredients, the the planning, and execution tips are all sponsored by La Crema Wines, as part of their Make Any Moment a Great Moment campaign. La Crema Wines are my go to choice for celebrations big or small; I know I can always count on La Crema, which is why I served their Chardonnay and Pinot Noir at our 10/10/10 wedding. Ever since 2000 when I helped a chef open a Thai restaurant and ghost wrote a Thai cookbook as part of his branding, I've been serving Pinot Gris with my Thai food. I'm excited that La Crema has added Pinot Gris to their line up this year. All opinions presented in this series are my own.