When we first made the huge decision to journey around the world our route was based on a number of key experiences. We plotted these bucket list items on a map and basically joined the dots. Fairly high up on the list for me was learning to cook in Thailand and I was beyond excited when I finally got my chance.
I love to cook and as wonderful as it is eating out every day, I have really missed my kitchen. I’ve never managed to master Thai dishes and felt it was important to learn the real techniques needed so I don’t have to continue relying on ready made pastes and sauces. As you all know, Paul loves to eat . However, he is fairly allergic to cooking so I would be going to cooking school solo. The best Thai cooking courses can be found in Bangkok and Chiang Mai and since we were based in Chiang Mai for 10 days I picked one of the many excellent schools in the city. Siam Rice runs both a full day and evening only class for no more than 8 people. I opted for the full day and my group consisted of a great bunch of girls and one honeymooning couple, we had an absolute blast.
The day starts with a trip to the market to pick up supplies and educate the group about the vegetables and spices we would be using that day in our different dishes. It was amazing to learn about the subtle differences certain Thai ingredients have. Thai ginger for example tastes completely different to what we get in the UK.
On arriving at the school we were presented with an extensive menu of dishes to choose from. We had 6 courses to cook and each course had a minimum of 4 options (the curry course had 10!) We all decided to make as many alternatives as possible so we’d get a decent variety of tasting samples. We’d cook 2 courses at a time and then sit and sample the wares. Anything we didn’t eat could be packaged up and taken away, Paul was a happy boy when I turned up with a full bag of Thai takeout later that day!
I opted for Tom Yum soup, hot and sour with either chicken or shrimp. The first thing that amazed me was the speed in which it could be created. The preparation takes a little time but my soup was ready in 15 minutes, when I make soup at home it can take hours! Tom Yum is spicy and flavoursome but really light and refreshing.
I opted for Pad Khee Moo or drunken noodles as our chef called them. They were a delicious concoction consisting of chicken with a ton of vegetables in a yummy sauce made from soy and oyster sauce with a loads of fiery chillis. It was absolutely scrumptious and ready to be served in 5 minutes. The big surprise with drunken noodles is that we had to heat the wok to smoking at the end of cooking and then splash a little water in to produce ridiculous flames, it gave the dish a wonderful char-grilled taste.
Most people went for medium spicy curries but I decided to go the whole hog and cook the spiciest on the menu, the jungle curry. This is chicken based with a lot more veggies than some and I added 17 additional Birds Eye chillis (our instructor told me that traditionally they would add up to 40 chillis!). The unique thing about this curry is it has no coconut milk which is featured in most Thai curries.
You can easily make a curry paste in a blender but we did it the old fashioned way with a pestle and mortar and man it was hard work. A good 15 minutes pounding away resulted in a fiery paste that made my hands feel like they were ablaze. It wasn’t as horrendously hot as I expected but still a bit too much for a whole bowl full. I love really spicy food but 17 chillis is quite a lot!
I opted for chicken in cashews which is one of Paul’s favourites and I couldn’t believe how easy it was to make, another 5 minute dish and this ended up being my favourite of the day. Again the main wet ingredients are soy, fish and oyster sauces – so simple to recreate.
Next up were spring rolls which were actually a lot easier to make than expected. Most of the work is in the preparation of the vegetables but the rolling and cooking was pretty simple and they tasted amazing. I also imagined having to deep fry something like this but we simply put a few centimetres of oil the wok and cooked them on a high heat. When I get home I’m going to make large batches of spring rolls to freeze for snacks.
I choose probably the most famous Thai dessert of all, mango with sticky rice. It’s like the most decadent rice pudding you will ever taste, sticky rice cooked with coconut milk and served with a side of sweet mango, mmm. Again, I was pleasantly surprised at how easy it was to make. The most challenging bit is getting the rice to the right level of stickiness, you have to steam the rice for around 25 minutes but apparently it can be very easy to overcook.
Key points I have taken away from my course
- Most of the dishes are incredibly simple and you don’t need to be Nigella to recreate them, the depth of flavour is deceptive as to how much works goes into the dish.
- I need to cook Thai food on much higher temperatures for a lot less time
- Many dishes use the same ingredients so you don’t need to spend a fortune. For instance, most curries use exactly the same base with a few extra ingredients added to make them unique.
- Balance of ingredients and understanding them individually is key. To make something saltier, spicier or sweeter is very easy you just need to experiment with the various sauces.[/list]
We had such a great time, our instructor was young and so much fun but also really knew his stuff. I now feel like I could comfortably recreate all of these dishes at home and plan on many a Thai banquet on our return.
I didn’t receive any discounts or freebies from Siam Rice, I just loved my experience!
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