Now that we’re well and truly into the season of comfort eats, we’re eager to expand our typical roster of dishes in the kitchen.
Since many of us are daydreaming about the exotic destinations we hope to visit when travel restrictions come to an end, now’s the perfect time to live out even just a small part of those fantasies through at-home culinary experiences.
But we all know that finding a divine source of inspiration to whip up something seriously satisfying at the end of a long workday can be a real challenge. To find a solution and simultaneously perfect the art of making curry, we’re looking to the expertise of Narong Yumongkol, the local Thai chef behind Unchai Thai Restaurant, one of the Thai Select authentic Thai restaurants in Vancouver, certified by Thai Government.
Hold that vision of Thailand’s endless sandy beaches, opulent architecture, and ancient ruins in mind before you prepare your senses for an authentic Thai curry.
If you’re considering making a Thai curry from scratch (curry paste included), Yumongkol recommends having a mortar and a pestle on standby. In terms of pantry essentials, you’ll need oil, fish sauce, palm sugar, coconut milk, and a curry paste (if you’re not making your own) — all of which can be found easily at Asia Market, T&T, and PriceSmart Foods.
For those cooking Thai food for the very first time, Yumongkol suggests a red curry as the ideal introductory dish.
“If you want to make a paste from the ground up, I think red curry is the easiest one to make, and you can find all the ingredients in Canada,” he says. “But if you’re using a store-bought curry paste from Thailand, any curry will do.”
Beyond red curry paste, you can choose from green curry paste, yellow curry paste, and massaman curry paste. There are quite a few brands on the market, and each one packs a slightly different flavour, which is why it’s key to focus on taste and aroma when making a Thai curry sauce.
When it comes to sauce consistency, the expert chef notes that it’s all down to preference. The taste needs to be well-balanced, never too sweet or salty. He continues, “And when it’s done, it needs to be quite aromatic.”
Yumongkol’s pro tip: Sautéing the curry paste with oil at the beginning will help bring out its aroma. This works whether you’re striving for a soup-like or stew-like sauce.
We asked Yumongkol how Thai cuisine, notably curries, vary in Canada compared with ordering from a restaurant in Southeast Asia.
“In Thailand, you can easily find freshly made curry paste and fresh coconut milk, but in Canada, the majority of Thai restaurants use pre-made curry pastes and canned coconut milk, which make the curry taste slightly different than in Thailand.”
At his restaurant, Unchai, Yumongkol’s team makes their own curry pastes fresh, including Gang Kua curry paste. It comes as no surprise, then, that the most popular curry he sees customers order is the Gang Kau with Thai eggplant, gai lan (Chinese broccoli), green beans, and red bell pepper.
“I personally like Gang Kau because it has a unique taste, and it’s full of herbs such as galanga, lemongrass, fingerroot, fresh turmeric, kaffir zest, kaffir leaves, holy basil, basil, and betel leaf bush,” he says. “Not many Thai restaurants make this curry, even in Thailand.”
To perfect a Thai curry, here are some tips that you can apply:
- Sauté curry paste with a little bit of oil over medium heat until it’s aromatic.
- Add meat and sauté until the meat is cooked.
- Add coconut milk. When it’s boiling, taste the sauce and flavour it to your liking — use fish sauce for saltiness and palm sugar for sweetness.
- Then, add vegetables and simmer it for one to two minutes.
Pro tip: After turning the heat off, covering the pot for a few minutes before serving will make the curry taste even better.
- You can keep the leftovers in the fridge for five to seven days.
“When it comes to making Thai food, you just need a lot of practice and a little bit of trial and error,” Yumongkol adds.