Ever since I came back from my New Year’s trip to Thailand I’ve been searching for a Thai restaurant that could recreate some of the culinary magic I experienced there. So when my friend Chris told me that he had opened a Thai restaurant in Kerikeri and that he had found an amazing Thai chef to head his kitchen I couldn’t wait to pay him a visit. The opportunity finally presented itself a few weeks ago and what an experience it was!
We were not only treated to some of the most delicious Thai food I’ve ever tasted but also to a very special behind-the-scenes look at the Chang Siam kitchen. Head chef Andy and his team kindly shared some of their cooking secrets with me and I’m so excited to be able to share them with you now. They’ve certainly improved my Asian cooking abilities and my Honey even started cooking stir fries since our visit, Win!
Here are a few tips to help you cook Thai food like a pro:
1- Use the right equipment
Woks are the cornerstone of Thai cooking and will instantly give you that authentic feel. I know that they can sometimes be a little cumbersome in small kitchens but they really do make a difference! They are also reasonably cheap to buy (generally between $15 and $25).
However, if you really don’t feel like getting a wok, then a deep frying pan will still do the job really well.
A little food processor is also a great investment if you plan on making curries. My one is called the ‘mini whizz’ (yep, I basically bought it for its cute name) and it was very cheap.
2- Stir fry basics
Stir fries are incredibly quick and easy to make as long as you’re prepared and follow these basic rules:
♥ Try using as many fresh ingredients as possible. I know it’s incredibly tempting to just use a packet and call it a day but fresh herbs, ginger or chillies will truly add another dimension to your dishes. They will also be much more nutritious. Chang Siam actually grows their own chillies and they sure are fiery! They also source the majority of their produce locally so that everything is fresh.
♥ Make sure that you have all your meat and vegetables already chopped up and ready to go before you start cooking. Chop your items as finely and evenly as possible as it will make the stir frying process much easier. (note: you do not need to chop up shrimps as they will already cook really fast)
♥ Likewise, have all your sauces and spices ready by your side. Some essential Thai items are soy sauce, fish sauce (which replaces salt) and oyster sauce. Andy did say that one of his secret additions was shrimp paste, which gives some of his dishes an extra savory kick, so I’d say it’s worth a try too!
♥ Stir fries are meant to be cooked really fast so your pan should be nice and hot.
♥ When making rice based stir-fries make sure that you use day-old rice, otherwise you will end up with a mushy mix. Alternatively, you can make your rice in the morning of the day you need it, spread it on a plate, and leave it to dry in the fridge until cooking time.
♥ If making a Pad Thai or any other noodle based stir-fry make sure that you leave the noodles to soften in the pan first before adding in your sauce as otherwise you might end up with dry, hard noodles. Keep moving them around the pan to avoid them ‘clumping’ together.
♥ It’s always a good idea to keep a little bit of broth (or water) next to your pan in case your dish gets too dry at any stage. Just add very little at a time.
♥ Don’t worry if your vegies are slightly crispy – that’s the way they should be! However, if you want them a bit softer then I’d recommend cooking your meat/protein first and putting it aside whilst you cook your vegetables. Then simply add the meat back in before adding your sauces.
Andy understandably keeps his secret family recipes pretty closely guarded but here are a few great stir-fry recipes I found on the net and that seemed to use many similar ingredients.
- Chef McDang’s Spicy beef stir fry with basil
- Donna Hay’s delicious Pad Thai
- Thai stir fry vegetables with garlic, ginger and lime
- Fried Tofu with spicy peanut sauce
- Thai chicken satay with peanut sauce
3- Achieving the perfect balance and fixing common mistakes
Thai cooking is all about striking the right balance between sweet, spicy, sour and salty. It’s not always that easy though and when I first tried my hand at Asian cooking I certainly served up a few too salty or spicy dishes! (Thankfully Mark likes it hot. Either that or he’s lost all sense of taste).
Here’s how to fix common little mishaps:
♥ If the dish is too salty try adding a little palm (or brown) sugar and a squeeze of lemon juice
♥ If you’ve been a bit too heavy-handed with the chilli try adding a little broth or a teaspoon of palm/ brown sugar. You could also try adding a few more veggies to soak up the heat. For curries, try adding a touch of coconut milk or some cubed potatoes.
♥ If you have a dish that’s too sweet then simply correct the imbalance by adding a touch of fish sauce or soy. A squeeze of lemon might help here too.
♥ For dishes that taste too sour just add a little brown/palm sugar.
At the end of the day though, the best way to prevent these mistakes is to taste, taste, taste! It’s one of the cook’s little pleasures to get first taste on everything so get in there!
4- Presenting your food with style
Thai people take food presentation very seriously and even the smallest restaurants present their meals with some sort of garnish. Here are a few ideas to try at home:
♥ Top up your creations with fresh herbs, chillies, bean sprouts or crushed peanuts. A pop of color is always pleasing to the eye and these garnishes will also an extra texture to your dish.
♥ Jazz up your rice presentation. Firmly pack your cooked rice into a little oiled bowl or cup and then gently turn it over onto your guest’s plate (it’s just like making sand castles again!)
♥ Use fruits as plating devices. For examples hollowed pineapple or coconuts make for beautiful food vessels and instantly make the dish more attractive. They also enhance the dishes flavor.
♥ Create an egg net. This is one of Andy’s specialties and it can be achieved in less than 5 minutes
- Put two beaten eggs in a sauce dispenser
- Squeeze out the egg mix onto a heated/oiled pan and create a ‘criss-cross’ pattern enclosed in a circle
- Remove the omelet sheet and nestle over your stir fry (it looks great over a Pad Thai). Top with bean sprouts and peanuts and, voila!
♥ Finally, if you’re feeling even more creative, how about trying to make carvings out of vegetables? Andy’s team can create all sorts of shapes from butterflies to flowers but their technique requires advanced knife skills so I’ve found a little video that shows you how to make simpler (but still impressive) carrot flowers.
What are your favorite Thai dishes? Have you ever tried making them at home?
A very special thanks to Charles & Christopher Timm and the rest of their team at Chang Siam. If you are ever in Kerikeri make sure to pay them a visit!