One of the best things about cooking Thai food is how little equipment you need. In contrast to French or Italian food, the tools for the job are rather simple.
Still, despite its convenience, there are some essential Thai cooking utensils worth buying if you have any aspirations of cooking authentic Thai food. Read about the key Thai cooking utensils you need in your kitchen below.
Essential Thai Cooking Utensils
1. Granite Pestle & Mortar
Image via Flickr by sashimi7
In terms of Thai cooking utensils, any Thai person will most likely say that you simply cannot cook good food from the Land of Smiles without a reliable granite mortar. Curries and other stir-fry dishes just won’t taste like they should.
It might sound old-fashioned or unnecessary to bash ingredients up using elbow grease and such an old tool as the pestle and mortar, but the truth is that no food processor comes close to getting the same flavor out of ingredients as this amazing piece of equipment. The granite mortar is the preferred tool for making pastes because you can really beat the heck out of the ingredients, such as lemongrass and garlic, and extract all their wonderful flavors.
Thai people have access to cheap food processors in the huge electronic stores that pervade the cities, but they’ll always choose a pestle and mortar bashing up garlic for stir-fries, and making incredibly fragrant curry pastes. The only time you’ll see a Thai using an electronic processor is when they’re making smoothies or milkshakes.
There is just something about pestle and mortars, something magical, that really makes ingredients sing when you use them. They are a quintessential part of Thai cooking, and with good reason.
My one piece of advice is not to scrimp when buying a pestle and mortar. I prefer granite versions for curry pastes. A solid granite pestle and mortar lasts you a really long time. I bought my current one online five years ago and to this day it looks as if I only bought it yesterday, despite thousands of uses.
The pestle and mortar I recommend is this one by The Smart Nut Company. Yes, this is an affiliate link, but I make peanuts from affiliate products and I only recommend products that are actually helpful. It costs just $29.98 and is made from professional-grade granite for extra sturdiness. The main reason I like the Smart Nut Company’s pestle and mortar is because of the large 2-cup capacity that lets you easily make all the Thai pastes you need to without the ingredients frustratingly falling out as you bash them up.
Another reason this pestle and mortar rocks (geddit?) is because of all the great freebies that come with it. Everyone loves a freebie. Included as standard with each tool is:
- An anti-slip silicone base that protects your kitchen’s countertop. This is extremely useful because mortars tend to slip if not held firmly in place (Thai people typically use towels to prevent this).
- A nifty free scraper included which helps you get every last bit of that delicious red curry paste out of the mortar and into the wok!
- A wooden serving spoon!
Click the image above or click here to be taken to the Amazon page for The Smart Nut Company’s pestle and mortar that comes specifically recommended by this blog. Make sure you read some of the customer reviews as well to get backup that I’m not blindly recommending this.
If you end up not liking the sound of this specific product, there are other great options on Amazon, so have a look around on the site. The most important takeaway is that having a good pestle and mortar is essential if you are in any way serious about cooking Thai food.
Image via Flickr by strogoscope
Thai cuisine, along with many Eastern cuisines, involves really quick cooking of ingredients over a high heat. Conventional frying pans just don’t distribute the heat evenly enough over the surface of the pan, and the larger area makes them more difficult to heat up.
Woks concentrate the heat over a much smaller area than a normal frying pan, and the heat gets distributed evenly over the cooking surface. The result of this is a need for less oil than in a normal frying pan. The intense heat markedly reduces cooking times.
Pretty much every single chef in Thailand uses a wok to cook their curries and other dishes in. Normal frying pans, while not unheard of, are much rarer in Thailand than in the Western world. Furthermore, any Thai person who cooks at home prefers to use a wok. My opinion is that I don’t think you can be truly serious about Thai cooking without having a good wok in your kitchen.
The quicker cooking time leads to less nutrient loss, and the lower fat content from a reduced need for oil makes a wok a healthier option. The humble wok really is one of the most important Thai cooking utensils.
My personal preference for woks is a cast iron version like this one by Lodge. The reason I prefer cast iron woks is because food doesn’t tend to stick to them and they have incredible heat retention. Aluminum woks tend to heat up a little bit quicker than their cast iron counterparts, but I still prefer the better heat retention over waiting a few extra seconds.
I like the wok by Lodge because it’s extremely durable, it is seasoned with oil already, and it has a heavy bottom, so it doesn’t annoyingly jiggle around on the stove top while you frenetically try to stir fry your Thai red curry paste. The Lodge wok is also exceptionally easy to clean; simply run it under hot water and wipe with a normal kitchen towel.
At the time of writing, the above Lodge wok costs just over $45 on Amazon, which might sound costly but is actually a steal when you look at it lodgeically (I’m on fire with the puns in this post!). Consider that this wok has lasted me three years of daily use and it quickly becomes a worthwhile investment. There isn’t so much as a scratch on it.
As an aside, I mentioned previously in this post that aluminum woks heat up quicker than cast iron ones, so if you are the impatient type, it might be a good idea to look on Amazon for an aluminum one. A quick bit of research leads me to this one by Calphalon, which has really good reviews and costs roughly the same as the Lodge wok I recommended above.
3. Wooden Pestle and Mortar
Yes, it’s a pain having to buy another piece of equipment that has already been recommended. But there’s a hugely important difference between the granite mortar used for curry pastes and the lighter wooden version used for making authentic papaya salad (som tom, pok pok). Pok pok, in case you were wondering, is the rather apt Thai onomatopoeic expression for the sound that emanates from a pestle and mortar as one lightly pounds the ingredients.
The light pounding is the key thing to remember here. The aim with using a wooden pestle and mortar is to lightly bash the vegetables of choice when making a salad so that the vegetables absorb the delicious zingy dressings while at the same time remaining intact. I get that you don’t all have huge kitchens (me neither), and it can be difficult to find space for two separate mortars. But honestly, the wooden mortar is non-negotiable if you want to make som tam or any other one of the amazing Thai salads that require pounding to bring them to life.
It is actually exceedingly difficult to find a genuine wooden mortar and pestle of the kind used in Thailand outside of Thailand. I got my own from a retailer on Amazon named Fullrich. These mortars are shipped from Thailand and are handmade in Thailand, so delivery time can be a tad slow, but it’s a worthwhile investment if you are in any way serious about Thai cooking.
4. Rice Cooker and Steamer
Image via Flickr by Ruth and Dave
It kinda goes without saying that you need to cook a lot of rice when you eat Thai food. I would go as far as saying that most Thai dishes are pointless without rice. Even when you order a soup such as Tom Yum Goong in Thailand, it’s extremely strange not to eat a serving of jasmine rice with it. Rice is simply the staple component of Thai (and many other Eastern) cuisine.
When Thai friends speak to each other, one of the first sentences you’ll hear from them is, “gin khao yang?“, which means, “did you eat yet?”. The literal translation of this sentence, though, is, “did you eat rice yet?”. The Thai diet is centered around rice, in particular jasmine rice but also sticky rice.
The reason I recommend a dedicated rice cooker as one of the three essential Thai cooking utensils is because of the sheer convenience of having such a tool. Boiling rice yourself gets old pretty quickly, and even though the ol’ two cups of water to one cup of rice tends to work alright, the end result is often less than ideal, particularly for jasmine rice.
If you have the money, it’s a good idea to choose a two-in-one style rice cooker and steamer because you need a steamer to cook sticky rice, which is a vital ingredient in many Thai street food recipes.
You simply must eat sticky rice with a variety of Lanna (northern Thai) chili dips, including nam prik num (green chili dip), nam prik kapi (chili dip with shrimp paste), and nam prik ong (pork & tomato chili dip). You use the sticky rice to scoop your chili dips from the bowl.
I’m a firm believer in limiting kitchen equipment to as few tools as possible, which is why this post only suggests three Thai cooking utensils to cover an entire cuisine worth of cooking.
You could buy a separate steamer and rice cooker but it just adds more clutter to the kitchen and I prefer to have both in the one machine because I’m a man of simplicity (which is a light-hearted way of saying I might have a touch of OCD!).
I use a great little rice cooker that I bought on Amazon by a company named Tiger. This rice cooker holds 5.5 cups of rice at a time, and it invariably cooks my jasmine rice to perfection. There’s also a nifty steamer included the works superbly well for making sticky rice cooked to the exact texture it needs to be.
Another reason I like the Tiger rice cooker is because it preserves my rice for up to five days without any degradation in either the texture or taste of it. There’s also a really cool quick mode that allows you to cook rice in a hurry. The only issue is the cost; this rice cooker is priced at $145.
If you think it’s utter madness to drop that many dollars on something that cooks rice, then just browse around Amazon because there are plenty of cheaper options. I just prefer the Tiger rice cooker because it’s easy to use and cooking Thai food is one of my main hobbies so I have no problem investing in it.
As you can see it has a digital display. There are ten cooking modes too. If you have the money, buy the Tiger one. And remember it’s a one-off investment in something that you can use every day. If not, find a cheaper rice cooker. There are plenty on Amazon. But they might not last as long. 🙂
So that rounds up my list of the three Thai cooking utensils you need to have if you are in any way serious about cooking Thai food. If I have forgotten anything don’t hesitate to remind me, but I think this covers what you need to get by. Make sure you check out the recipes I post so that you can put your Thai cooking utensils to good use!
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