Food Talk And Fabulous Finds - Thai curry help, please!

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02-22-2009, 07:11 PM
I made Thai cocunut curry for the 2nd time ever yesterday and while it was better than the disaster of a first time, it still was not quite right.

I used a can of lite coconut milk, two teaspoons of curry paste, a little bit of brown sugar and a little bit of salt. It tastes generally right, but like there's a missing ingredient.

I looked up some other recipes, and they've included sesame oil, fish sauce, vegetable stock, and/or cilantro.

I just want it to taste "restaurant-quality"... if I ordered this at a restaurant I'd send it back. And it's not like I'm basing this off of one restaurant's dish... every place I've had curry (including in Thailand) has tasted similar, and definitely not like this.


02-22-2009, 07:23 PM
I have the same exact problem when making Thai curries at home. I don't know if it's the quality of the curry paste, perhaps, or the light coconut milk... The only ingredient I have not experimented with in a Thai curry is the fish sauce, that may very well be the secret ingredient. Next time I try making one, I'm going to bite the bullet and buy some fish sauce to test out this theory.

02-22-2009, 08:52 PM
Yes, I eat very little meat, including fish, so I've avoided fish sauce. It's readily available here in Asia and I think I might try it too.

I used to be a strict vegetarian and used to try to order curry without fish sauce but... who knows if they left it out?

Also, I bought my chili paste from Thailand so it should be pretty authentic! It tastes similar to the stuff I used in the US, Thai Kitchen I think was the brand.

02-22-2009, 09:09 PM
In the US, I know there is vegetarian fish sauce but not sure what would be available in Korea. How about some sea vegetables? (dulse, nori, kelp, etc) Those should give it a slightly fishy taste.

02-22-2009, 09:12 PM
Well I've seen some vegetarian curries that say to add vegetable stock--do you think that would be a comparable substitute for fish sauce? Anyone tried adding vegetable stock?

02-22-2009, 10:17 PM
Maybel this can help it is a recipie from WW for thai curry vegies

1 tbsp olive oil
1 medium onion(s), red, sliced
2 medium garlic clove(s), minced
2 tsp thai curry paste, red
14 fl oz light coconut milk, divided
2 tsp fish sauce
2 small sweet red pepper(s), cut into 1/2-inch squares
1/2 pound(s) baby carrots
1/2 pound(s) green snap beans, cut into 1-inch pieces
15 oz firm tofu, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
2 tsp cornstarch
1/4 cup(s) water
1/4 cup(s) basil, leaves, sliced

In large, nonstick skillet heat olive oil. Cook onion and garlic until vegetables begin to brown, 1 to 2 minutes.

Mix curry paste with 2 tablespoons milk. Add paste mixture, remaining milk and fish sauce to skillet. Bring to a boil. Add peppers, carrots, green beans and tofu. Simmer until vegetables are tender, stirring occasionally, 15 to 20 minutes.

With slotted spoon remove vegetables; keep warm.

Mix cornstarch with water. Add to sauce. Bring to a boil, stirring until thickened. Mix with vegetables and basil; serve. Yields 3/4 cup per serving.

02-22-2009, 11:28 PM
Well fish sauce adds a fishy taste which is why I'd recommend some sea veggies.

02-22-2009, 11:42 PM
Recipes don't usually call for it, but I find a bit of lime juice makes the flavor of the curry pop. So, maybe not as authentic, but it's worth a try.

Although I will agree that no curry I have made is as good as the ones I've had in Thailand. Figures! :)

Annie Pele
02-23-2009, 01:33 AM
I use lime juice, too. I like the flavor it gives the curry. I always use fish sauce, I think that might be the missing flavor. Also, don't a lot of Thai curries use lemon grass? I always throw it in (or subsitute grated lemon peel if you can't find lemon grass), but I'm not an expert on thai cooking....

02-23-2009, 08:04 AM
I bought some fish sauce and added it to the rest of my curry batch. It tastes improved but not perfect. It no longer tastes like there's a missing ingredient but it does taste like some of the extras could be improved...maybe lime or lemongrass?

I'm so not a cook and am not so great at experimenting with ingredients but I love Thai curry A LOT so this might be a time to keep trying til it's perfect.

02-23-2009, 04:37 PM
If you keep in mind that Thai cooking embraces the concept of a balance of hot, sour, salty, and sweet you will be heading towards goodness. Coconut milk is naturally sweet, so the sugar could be left out, lime is a must for sour, salty is generally provided by fish sauce, and then add chili heat as desired.

03-13-2009, 09:08 PM
Fish sauce and tamarind are what comes to mind as missing ingredients.

I usually soak either one fresh shelled tamarind pod or about 2 tablespoons of tamarind paste with 1/4 cup of very hot water for about 15 minutes and then strain; discard the solids and use the water. If you can't find tamarind, lime juice and a large pinch of brown sugar make a passable substitute.

Fresh mint leaves and/or basil leaves are traditional, but I never include them.

My favorite Thai recipe comes from Cooks Illustrated. The add the following "pretreatment" to the curry paste, which may seems unnecessary, but does have a wonderful impact on the final taste if you take the time.

Don't shake the can of coconut milk. Open carefully, and scoop out any solids into whatever pan you will be using for cooking. There will be some solid, even in the "lite" version. Add the curry paste and simmer. Don't add any of the other ingredients yet. Keep stirring for about 5 - 8 minutes. The curry paste will start to fry in the oil from the coconut and you will end up with a separated red oily mess. That's actually what you want. Proceed with your recipe as normal and you can add the rest of your ingredients to the same pan, including the rest of the coconut milk.

03-13-2009, 10:54 PM
fish sauce, lemongrass, cilantro and/or thai basil are common curry ingredients. I LOVE all of them (although I find lemongrass hard to get right in a recipe if I'm not careful - it's very easy to overdo if you're not using fresh lemongrass - which I don't tend to keep on hand).

Fish sauce is such a staple in southeast asian cooking, it's very difficult to replicate the authentic flavor without it, and difficult to find a good substitute. But the good news, since you're probably wondering what you're going to do with the rest of the bottle, there are a lot of applications even in classic american dishes. I use it in place of worcesteshire sauce. It's not as strong a flavor, but still perks up the flavor in things like chili, spaghetti, hamburgers (basically anything in which you'd add salt or worcesteshire sauce). You want to use a small amount (start with dashes before trying tsps), and don't want the fish taste (in most dishes) to be there, just the subtle deepening of flavor. It's funny because recipes that got good responses from dinner guests before I started using fish sauce, started getting raves and requests for the recipe. When I tell people the "secret ingredient," their usual response is "what is that?" but I have converted a few of my friends to keeping some on hand.

Oh and don't forget to check the label to see if the bottle recommends not refrigerating - refrigerating fish sauce can cause the salt in the liquid to crystallize - not harmful, but it can be difficult to get the sauce out of the bottle if crystals form (you can let it sit on the counter to redisolve - I just leave mine in a cabinet).