A True Thai Food Lovers Lament
Written by Fritz Kraft
This article is the entire contents of an email sent to us by one of our members who only joined about a month ago. (email held on file and consent to publish gained) He goes into great detail with an intelligent dialogue of what he has learned, so much so that, it is quite clear that he has been cooking and studying Thai food for quite some time….
Fritz Kraft wrote:
Just want to take a moment to say you guys are awesome and give you some positive feedback.
Jules, it’s rare than someone with your class and good character (hey, just let me believe it!) has the guts to go live the dream and then be generous enough to share it with those of us stuck out here in the safe, secure and thoroughly BORING, bland and spirit sucking West.
Khwanjai is a lovely, very funny lady with a wonderful skill. Again, kudos to you both for having the cajones to leave the “comforts” of the UK for a real life doing what you love in Thailand.
My name is Fritz Kraft and I live in San Jose, CA in the “South Bay” (aka Silicon Valley) region of the San Francisco Bay Area.
I’ve been to Thailand twice and have been an amateur Thai food cook for 5 years. The frustration I’ve had getting good instruction and inside tips has been indescribable at times; cobbling together recipes from different cookbooks, the web and lots and lots of trial and error. I’ve been able to master a few dishes but with red curries in particular, I felt I’ve never been able to nail it.
I’ve been very hard core when trying to execute these properly but I always felt there was just that missing something. I’ve made my own pastes in a granite mortar and pestle (brutal and time consuming!), used dried red chilies from Thailand, cultivated my own Kaffir limes/leaves, and chased down coriander root only left on the plant by Hmong/Lao farmers from California’s Central Valley who sometimes frequent local farmers markets.
I’ve even procured flash frozen coconut milk/cream from the Philippines only available at one SEA (South East Asia) market 10 miles from home. With these efforts, I’ve come close to mastering curries to the level I’ve experienced in Thailand. While, I finally was able to turn out an authentic green curry with fish balls and banana blossoms and a very good mussaman curry with beef and sweet potatoes after years practice and failures, my red curries have always been overly strong “tasty messes”.
After taking out a Silver Membership at Thai Recipe Videos, it turns out, the only things I needed to do were:
-Use ONE THIRD the amount of red curry paste that my recipe books called for
-Put the Kaffir limes leaves in early and let them boil in the mixture, NOT just use finely shredded leaves as a finisher
-Use a flavor enhancer/catalyst and mild thickening/emulsification agent like processed chicken stock powder.
I really have gotten hooked on the “natural”, minimally processed coconut milk/cream I buy frozen but of course the problem is oil separation, which my usually less hard core “tasters” always found a little weird. Not only that, the oil slick would hold all of the aromatic flavors and constantly having to remix the curry while serving got tiresome. The chicken powder method allows for partial emulsification to evenly spread texture and flavor throughout the mixture without the deadening effects of homogenized, canned coconut milk. All the while allowing for some shiny, gem like drops of oil to give visual pop to the surface of the curry. Brilliant solution to this vexing dilemma.
-For that naturally, fruity sweetness, using sweet red peppers in the red curry instead of saccharine-sweet white sugar or additional overly rich palm sugar- this was a real revelation.
In my experience, using palm sugar as base is essential, adding more to accentuate the “high notes” in final flavor balancing can be like two steps forward, two steps back while all the while re-balancing with more fish sauce to offset the increasingly overworked curry and slowly destroying the thing.
As the resources I have to draw Im sure are very much like other fellow Thai food cooks in the States, perhaps a little better living in CA, I’m sure we have shared many of the same problems the further down the rabbit hole we’ve gone with this hobby. I humbly submit the above as ideas to incorporate on the website
Admin wrote: Thank you Fritz for your excellent comments and insightful, well written article. We’re confident that our visitors will find it extremely useful and publish with great pride
This article was originally published at Thai Recipe Videos which was our first website.