{  Dining Out  }          {  Ingredients  }          {  Recipes  }          {  Blast from the Past  }            

Friday, February 26, 2010

Ingredients: What's in Thai Cooking

Each Thai chef uses basic ingredients that match his or her credo. Vegetarian-friendly and preservative-free ingredients place the greatest restrictions on what a chef offers. I learned about Thai cooking from Chef Ped in his restaurant kitchen in Lakeway, TX, while working with him on his cookbook. He believed that dishes should be made fresh and modified to match the customer's preference -- mild or spicy, peanut free, egg free, or vegetarian. So that dishes could be made vegetarian-friendly, he only used Maesri Brand curry pastes. Unlike the competing Mae Ploy Brand curry pastes, most Maesri curry pastes do not include shrimp paste. Unfortunately, in most Asian groceries, you're now more likely to find Mae Ploy curry pastes than Maesri curry pastes - Maesri costs almost three times as much ($2.99 for 4 oz versus $3.35 for 14 oz) and most consumers aren't aware that one brand is vegetarian-friendly. Maesri curry pastes can still be found online although they are frequently out of stock. If you're going to be making Thai food for vegetarians, be sure to stock up.

One thing to note is that many Thai chefs claim their food is preservative free. If a chef is using premade curry pastes and sauces, this is a hard claim to prove or disprove as guidelines for ingredient labeling differ between the U.S. and Thailand where the base curry pastes and sauces are produced. Chef Ped, as well as many other Thai chefs I've met, used Kwong Hung Seng (aka Dragonfly) Brand Soy Sauces as they're "preservative free." Online markets include sodium benzoate (E211) in the list of ingredients. According to Wikipedia, it is a preservative that prevents bacteria or fungus from forming. Also, the two brands of coconut milk, Mae Ploy and Chaokoh, widely used in restaurants include either sodium metabisulfite (E223) or potassium metabisulfite (E224) as a preservative. NOTE: If you have a sulfite allergy, it's best to avoid Thai curries as well as Tom Kha soups as the preservatives used in coconut milk are the same as those used in wine production.

Also beware of claims that Thai food is MSG free. Some common ingredients that contain or create processed free glutamic acid (MSG) during manufacture and in "MSG Free" curry pastes and soy sauces include autolyzed yeast, hydrolyzed pea protein, carrageenan, sodium caseinate, disodium-inosinate, and disodium-guanylate. So, if you have an MSG sensitivity, be cautious with Tom Yum soups and stir fries made with Oyster Sauce or Golden Mountain Soy Sauce.

Eden’s Thai Pantry
My preferences for ingredients align with the overall resulting taste I want when I tuck in to my Thai meal. When cooking for myself I don't omit pastes that include oyster extracts, fish sauce, or shrimp paste, and I don't substitute soy sauces that include MSG. What follows is a listing of what’s typically found in my pantry or fridge. For each ingredient I’ve tried to identify local sources as well as online sources.

V denotes the sauces and pastes that are Vegetarian friendly.

Two things to note:
· For curry pastes, I prefer the Mae Ploy Brand to the Maesri Brand as the Mae Ploy Brand tends to have more heat (roughly 3 Tbsp of Mae Ploy Brand curry paste to 6 Tbsp of Maesri Brand curry paste). However, when cooking for vegetarians, I solely use Maesri as taught by Chef Ped as it does not include shrimp paste - this is also why my vegetarian curries are milder than my regular curries.
· For Tom Yum pastes, I prefer the Por Kwan Brand with Monosodium Glutamate (MSG) over alternatives as the resulting soup includes all five tastes - sweet, salty, sour, spicy, and umami or savory. My preference is so strong here that I do not make the soup if this brand is unavailable.
Vegetarian Ingredients

Vegetarian Ingredients

Vegetarian/Vegan Ingredients

Coconut Milks
When buying coconut milk, it is a good idea to shake each can to find the ones with the most cream – the more sloshing, the less cream. The Mae Ploy Brand typically has more cream than the Chaokoh Brand. I tend to use Mae Ploy, falling back to Chaokoh when I'm unable to find Mae Ploy.

1 comment:

  1. This is an incredible compilation of ingredients you've put together. Thank you for sharing!


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...