It was full house at the Thai cooking class at the Royal Thai Embassy last Friday and I was so glad to be able to share a cooking station with a fellow writer. Chef Korn Yodsuk from the iconic Erawan Restaurant was conducting the class, themed “Thai Cooking Made Easy”, and I would have jostled for a place to learn from this talented chef.
The class was organised by the Royal Thai Embassy together with Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT) in Kuala Lumpur. There were 50 people in all, including wives of ambassadors, the president and members of Perwakilan (Ministry of Foreign Affairs Ladies Association) and the media.
Even Thai Ambassador to Malaysia H.E. Damrong Kraikruan donned an apron, ready to cook.
On the Thai Cooking Made Easy menu were Tom Yum Goong, Gai Pad Krapao (Spicy Stir-fried Thai Basil Chicken), Keow Whan Gai (Green Curry Chicken) and Bua Loy Maprow On (Dumplings in Coconut Milk).
Chef Korn kept nothing back as he got everyone acquainted with the fresh ingredients for each dish he taught us to cook, sprinkled with lots of humour.
When it came to the pounding the dry and wet ingredients for the green curry paste: “Put in the dry ingredients (spices), then the hard ones (galangal and lemongrass) and the soft ones like shallots, garlic and chillies. If you put in the shallots first you’ll cry and cry and the curry will be salty!”
And a firm, strong pounding makes you a good daughter-in-law, according to Thai belief, says the chef.
Cooking oil is not used to fry the green curry paste. Instead pure coconut cream (santan) is stirred over medium heat till the oil surfaces, and the paste is slow fried in this till fragrant. No wonder Chef Korn’s green curry chicken at Erawan tastes so good!
As for Tom Yum Goong, the heat is turned off after the cooking and the lime juice added last. “We don’t want to waste the Vitamin C.”
I learned from a Thai volunteer later that if you boil the tom yum with the lime juice, it will turn bitter. Tom yum should be finished at one seating and should never be reboiled.
Chef Korn came round to each station to taste what we cooked, together with Ahman Mad-adam, Director of Tourism Authority of Thailand (Malaysia & Brunei).
Our Tom Yum Goong was “country style, strong on chilli, lime juice, everything,” declared the chef and we could tell he was pleased with it. Our neighbour’s version was “city style, like living in a condo, with gentle flavours.”
We didn’t do so well with our Gai Pad Kraprao (Spicy Stir-fried Thai Basil Chicken), but from this I learnt pounding coriander roots with chilli and garlic, and frying over medium heat yielded a lovely aroma.
Holy basil is used for this spicy chicken dish, but sweet basil goes into green curry.
Our Green Curry Chicken passed the test! It had a green colour, and the taste was good, according to the chef.
Bua Loy Maprow On (dumplings in coconut milk) brings to mind the Winter Solstice when we rolled glutinous rice balls of different colour. We had great fun with this, using pandan juice to make green balls and butterfly pea flower juice to make blue ones.
Oh yes, I must get hold of that sticky, creamy palm sugar that adds a complex yet subtle sweetness to every Thai dish. (For me sugar is NOT a good substitute!).
Before the cooking started, H.E Damrong Kraikruan proudly informed us that Thai cuisine ranked 6th in world popularity according to the survey by the Kellogg School of Management, with Italian in the No. 1 spot.
Massaman Curry was No 1 in World’s 50 Best Foods by CNN Travel in 2011. In the Facebook poll after the same listing, Somtam was sixth, Pad Thai fifth and Tom Yum Goong fourth. In this poll Thai was by far the most favoured cuisine, with Massaman Curry (10th ), Green Curry (19th) and Moo Nam Tok (36th).
“Up to December last year there are seventeen 2-Michelin-star restaurants in Thailand, with 80 restaurants including street food recommended by Michelin.”
Chef Korn comes from a family who cooks very well, from his father to his mother and grandma who used to serve King Rama VII of Thailand. Every dish Chef Korn creates at Erawan (in DC Mall in Kuala Lumpur) is a masterpiece. “It’s the real taste of Thai with all kinds of Thai ingredients and we want the world to take notice.”
I came away from this Thai Cooking Made Easy class with invaluable cooking tips and techniques from this generous chef.
Here are the recipes for Tom Yum Goong, Gai Pad Krapao and Green Curry Chicken.
TOM YUM GOONG
8 freshwater or sea prawns (about 100g each), shelled and deveined, remove heads but keep tails intact
200g oyster mushrooms or fresh straw mushrooms
3 stalks lemongrass, cut into 1 to 2 inches diagonally, lightly pounded
5-7 slices galangal
3 shallots, lightly crushed
2-3 kaffir lime leaves, torn
5-6 bird’s eye chillies, crushed
¼ cup lime juice
3-4 Tbsps fish sauce
1 tsp sugar
4 cups stock or water
Fresh coriander leaves for garnishing
Bring a pot of stock or water to boil over medium heat
Add lemongrass, galangal, shallots and cook for a few minutes till fragrant
Season with fish sauce and sugar. Add prawns, then mushrooms. When prawns are 80% cooked, turn off heat.
Add kaffir lime leaves, chillies and lime juice.
Top with coriander leaves and serve hot.
Gai Pad Krapao – Spicy Stirfried Thai Basil Chicken
2 cups minced chicken
5 bird’s eye chillies
5 cloves garlic, peeled
1 tbsp chopped coriander roots
1 handful holy basil leaves
2-3 tbsps cooking oil
1 tsp sugar
1 tbsp fish sauce
2 tbsp oyster sauce
¼ cup chicken stock or water
1 red chilli, sliced diagonally and fried holy basil leaves for garnishing
Pound chillies, garlic and coriander roots into a smooth paste
Heat cooking oil in wok over medium fire till hot
Fry chilli mixture till fragrant. Add chicken and stir thoroughly till cooked
Season to taste with oyster sauce, fish sauce, sugar and add chicken stock
Stir thoroughly. Add holy basil and red chilli and stir again
Turn off heat. Dish out, sprinkle fried holy basil and serve.
Keow Whan Gai or Green Curry Chicken
400g chicken breast or thigh, deboned and sliced thinly
3 tbsp green curry paste
1 cup coconut cream
2 cups coconut milk (1 cup coconut cream added to 1 cup water)
3 Thai eggplants, quartered
½ cup pea eggplants
2-3 red chillies, sliced diagonally
3 kaffir lime leaves, torn
½ cup sweet basil leaves
3 tbsp fish sauce
1 ½ tsp palm sugar
Green Curry Paste
15 green bird’s eye chillies
5 large green chillies
5 shallots, sliced
10 cloves garlic
1 tsp galangal, finely sliced
1 tbsp lemongrass, sliced
½ tsp kaffir lime rind, finely sliced
2 tsp chopped coriander root
1 tbsp roasted coriander seeds
1tsp roasted cumin
1 tsp salt
1 tsp shrimp paste
Method for pounding paste
Pound peppercorns, roasted coriander seeds and cumin, chillies and salt thoroughly.
Add galangal, lemongrass kaffir lime rind, coriander roots, garlic and shallots. Pound well.
Add shrimp paste. Pound till well combined
Method for cooking curry
Place coconut cream into the pot over medium heat. Stir till oil surfaces. Add curry paste, fry till fragrant
Add chicken and kaffir lime leaves, stir well. Add coconut milk and let it boil. Season with palm sugar and fish sauce
When mixture returns to the boil, add eggplants. Cook until eggplants are done, sprinkle sweet basil leaves and red chillies and turn off the heat