Cooking the Thai Way-Our day at Thai Farm Cooking School
November 9, 2016
We booked last Friday to spend Tuesday cooking the Thai way. We chose the Thai Farm Cooking School initially from our Frodors guide-book on Thailand. There are dozens of schools in Chiang Mai, but this company picked us up at our hotel, and drove us to Ruam Chok market for a tour. We continued to the farm where we had a chance to see herbs, rice and vegetables growing. The rest of the day was spent cooking 5 different Thai dishes at individual cooking stations.
We liked the idea of getting to see more of the area, especially the countryside. A tour of a market would make our shopping easier while we are here so we can better identify fruits, vegetables and other products. There were 11 in our class today. Two were retirees from Australia and the others were all younger people from the USA who are avid travellers.
Ruam Chok Market is located just north of the city and was clean and well laid out. It was inside a building but was packed with stalls. Our guide, Garnet, grew up in Chiang Mai. She was so personable as well as being an accomplished cook and master teacher. We began by learning about the differences between coconut water, milk and cream. The water is the liquid found inside the coconut itself. The milk and cream come from the coconut meat that is grated and pressed. The cream is the thickest and the milk is diluted with water.
They had buckets of rice for sale. We discussed the difference between jasmine rice (khao jaw), which is the kind most often used in Thailand, and sticky rice (khao neow). Jasmine is long grain and cooked in water. It is served with most meals we have had here. Sticky rice is very starchy and has to be soaked overnight then steamed until it is translucent. It will stick to itself and is rolled into balls and dipped into sauces or mixed with coconut milk and served with mango for dessert.
We saw packages of dried tamarind for making Pad Thai sauce. Garnet showed us the different forms of palm sugar they use. One was soft like fudge and the other dried like lumps of brown sugar. Many items in the market are more familiar now, but there are still hundreds of items that I have no idea about.
Our group had a short time to look around. I saw enormous bags of dried chilis, dried and grilled fish, fruits like durian and dragon fruit, vegetables too numerous to count and more eggs than I know what to do with. Eggs are just set out on shelves here. They are not found in the refrigerator section.
The farm was northwest of Chiang Mai. The van took us down a few windy roads to get there. I wouldn’t be able to find it on my own. Many of the ingredients we were going to use are grown on the farm. We inspected and tasted Thai basil and Holy basil, Thai parsley, coriander and Kafir lime leaves. We saw papayas, pandan leaves, bitter eggplants and sweet ones which grow on small bushes, as well as different kinds of peppers growing on the plants. A field of rice was growing there and we could see the seeds forming. They grow all of their crops organically so we were encouraged to taste everything, or at least pick it and smell it.
We got to select whether to make green, yellow or red curry paste for our first project. I thought the different colors represented different amounts of heat, but each color can be as hot as you want to make it by the number of bird’s-eye peppers added. The kinds of peppers used determine the color and the flavor. Yellow and red also contain Indian curry powder to brighten the color. Yellow has the addition of a chunk of yellow turmeric root. All of the pastes had shallots, kaffir lime rind, galangal, lemongrass, Thai ginseng, cumin seeds and coriander seeds. We used a large stone mortar and pestle to crush the ingredients together. It took about 5 minutes of hard work to make a nice smooth paste. We moved it to a small bowl and added some vegetable oil to it which helps it keep its color. The layers of flavour in this curry paste was like tasting the reserve red wines at Beringer a couple of weeks ago.
Thai cooking strives to create dishes that are sweet, sour, salty, spicy, chewy and crunchy. Since so many fresh herbs are used, cooking needs to be done quickly to preserve the essential oils and flavors. In restaurants we have had my meal cooked, and then Peter’s brought out a few minutes later so the meals are cooked one at a time. Rice is cooked in the morning and eaten with every meal.
We each had our own cooking station. There were 2 ladies who prepared all the ingredients for us and kept all the dishes washed. It was a perfect kitchen. Garnet showed us the cooking steps outside around a table, then gave each of us a tray of ingredients. She talked us through the steps as we all cooked together. We made Tom Yam and Tom Kha soups with shrimp. The curry we made went into a fantastic chicken curry and coconut milk dish. Everyone made a stir fry with chicken and basil that included nice crunchy green beans. This dish included some excellent stir fry techniques.
We stopped to eat this set of dishes and have a rest. We’re not as used to being on our feet all day, and having to pay attention so carefully.
Our last dishes were Pad Thai and Bananas in Coconut milk. The pad Thai used tamarind sauce made by boiling dried tamarind from the market as well as several other asian sauces. Garnet made us a traditional green papaya salad as well to taste.
The coconut milk for dessert was cooked with pandan leaves to make it a lovely green color. We ate the bananas but had to bring the pad Thai home. We were just too full. Take home bags were available and Garnet showed us how to fill and tie them so they looked like goldfish bags. Many take out foods are packaged that way, including soups or carrot juice in the markets.
We had to taste everything before we plated it to be sure it had all the components of sweet, sour, salty and spicy. We used fish sauce, sugar and chili flakes to adjust and added garnishes to all the plates. I really enjoyed the flavor of everything. The soup I made was a little spicy and some of the ingredients I found too tough to chew. Most of these recipes I will make again. I want to look for more of the ingredients in the markets. I will also be more willing to try new foods in the restaurants and street vendors, now that I know what they are.