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Every year Sydney is hijacked by some of the leading chefs from across the globe. After devouring most of the food Sydney has to offer, they sharpen their knives (and their minds) at the Crave Sydney International Food Festival.
Before serving up a jungle curry to the insatiable crowd, David shared the essentials of Thai cooking with FDL.
“A cuisine can only succeed on the quality of ingredients it employs and due to the amount of ingredients used in South-East Asian cooking, it’s even more important. Once you have the right quality ingredients, you really need to make everything from scratch. I wish there was an easier way - if I could find a great pre-made curry paste, then I would happily use it, but currently they are all adulterated full of salt and preservatives. And it’s the same with coconut cream, unless you make it yourself, you are simply not going to get the right balance of taste and texture.”
David’s tips for making your own coconut cream:
- Buy a fresh, heavy, coconut. Heavier coconuts will generally have thicker flesh and will produce more coconut cream. One coconut will generally make one cup of coconut cream.
- Hold the coconut firmly with your thumb and little finger, don’t rest the base of the coconut in the palm of your hand as it will pinch when the shell opens.
- Hold the coconut over a bowl and crack the shell with the back of a cleaver. Rotate the coconut as you crack the shell, until it splits in half. Discard the coconut water inside.
- Use a coconut grater to grate the coconut flesh.
- Mix grated coconut with a small amount of warm water.
- Strain the coconut mixture through a muslin cloth into a clean bowl, squeeze all the moisture out of the grated coconut and discard.
- Allow the strained coconut liquid to rest. The thicker coconut cream will rise to the top and the remaining liquid can be used for coconut milk.
“Luckily for Thai food there’s not a lot of equipment required - you need a pestle and mortar, a coconut grater, a wok - preferably carbonated steel as it conducts heat more evenly - and a wok stand. Most restaurants have immersion cookers and pacojets, whereas at Nahm [Bangkok] we’ve just bought a large wooden pestle and mortar that’s over a meter high - that’s our latest equipment!”
“First you’ve got your larder, then you’ve got your hardware, now you need your technique. This one is tough because you need to know what taste you’re aiming and that takes a while to develop. Thai food is a culinary chess match - an interplay between texture, taste, seasoning and styling. Every dish should have a balance of sweet, sour, hot and salty which you can only achieve by tasting, tasting and tasting.”
“Thai food requires a balance of taste and textures in each individual dish, but it also requires a balance of flavours across a combination of dishes. So you should never have too many repetitions - be it too many spice dishes or too many dishes with coconut cream. You also want to achieve a balance of techniques, so you wouldn’t serve five different curries at once. The entire meal should center around the rice, this is the most important element, so it’s crucial that you get the best quality you can.”
“No recipe is gospel, but start with something that you can trust. Try and find a good authority because very often Thai recipes are compromised to acclimatise to a western kitchen and that’s a shame. Start with something really bloody simple. Don’t try to conquer the world on your first attempt. Try a simple stir fry, or a sour orange curry, or a jungle curry.”
Curious to try at home? Don't miss chef Thompson's recipe for a Southern Coconut Curry of Crab.