Coconut cream is similar to coconut milk but significantly richer and creamier; much in the same way that milk is related to cream. The content of coconut extract is significantly higher than in canned coconut milk- my preferred brand is 70% extract and 30% water. There are many brands commercially available.
Using any brand of canned coconut cream instead of canned coconut milk will instantly and drastically improve your thai curry recipes. That said, I do have a few preferences. First, I always prefer that my coconut cream has zero emulsifiers or stabilizers such as guar gum, xanthan gum or carrageenan. This is because, in addition to generally trying to avoid those types of artificial ingredients, if the solution isn’t emulsified the coconut cream will float to the top of the water. If unmixed, you can scoop out just the coconut cream- leaving behind the water- for ultimate decadence.
Having tried several brands, my absolute favorite is SAVOY BRAND. This is the one I recommend for my thai curry recipe. I can’t find it in any grocery stores in my area; I have to make a trip to the Asian specialty store for this one. A great second choice is the MAE PLOY brand of coconut cream.
Curry paste is a strongly aromatic blend of oil and spices and is the foundation of all curry recipes.
While curry paste can be made at home- and there are myriad recipes on the internet to do just that- I have found a curry paste I love so much I don’t even have the desire to try to make my own. The owners of my favorite Thai restaurant recommended MAESRI BRAND curry paste and they were absolutely right. I haven’t had another curry paste that I like nearly as much. It is spicy and complex and an absolute must-have for my Thai Curry recipe. Unlike some of the other products suggested in my Thai recipes, this one I’ve had a little luck finding at specialty and fine foods stores. I even once found it at a specialty shop in tiny Montrose, Colorado. Keep your eyes peeled! That said, typically I head to my local Asian grocer for this item as well.
No matter what curry paste you decide to go with, I just beg one thing- please don’t use your local store brand or the extremely common Thai Kitchen brand. They’re just not that good.
Enoki (inoki) mushrooms, also known as golden needle mushrooms are a delicate white mushroom common in Japanese, Thai and other east Asian cuisine. There are two types- wild and cultivated- although the kind available to purchase in grocery stores are cultivated. These cultivated enokis are white, with long thin stems and tiny caps- actually pretty adorable!
In terms of flavor and texture, they are completely unlike other mushrooms available in American grocery stores. Enoki mushrooms have a very mild, woody and fruity flavor. They are crisp but chewy and firm. I would use the word “reedy” to describe them, if that word can be used in a positive way. Often found in soups and stews, they are also great in stir fry or even wrapped in bacon!
Although sometimes referred to as winter mushrooms, cultivated enoki mushrooms are available year-round. They are available in the refrigerated produce section of most well-stocked Asian grocers- next to the other mushrooms! You may also have some luck at health food or specialty produce stores. In my experience, they typically come prepackaged in 100g (3.5 oz) sized packages.
Ah, fish sauce. The grossest-smelling key ingredient that you need in your life. For something that is usually only used by the teaspoon in most recipes, it’s one of those things that you really shouldn’t skip. It adds a depth of umami flavor to many foods that can’t be replicated any other way. Don’t be turned off by the smell- the flavor it adds won’t taste anything like it. Often used in Asian recipes, you can also find it in my mushroom sauce recipe and a variety of other worldwide foods. Although not traditional, a splash really adds some good depth to Hatch green chile sauce as well.
Having tried a few brands, my absolute favorite (as is many peoples) is 40 DEGREE NORTH fish sauce. The difference really is noticeable. It’s definitely one of the most expensive options out there but in my opinion it’s totally worth it- and since you never use too much of it at once it’ll last you forever. Unlike some of the ingredients in my Thai recipes, 40 Degree North fish sauce is fairly easy to find. In my area the cheapest option is at my favorite Asian specialty store, but they also sell it at Whole Foods and some of the specialty / fine food grocers. Or, of course, you can purchase it at my link above.
Kaffir lime leaves are a common ingredient in Thai cooking. While you can eat them when sliced, generally when I use them I use them like you would bay leaves- put them in what you’re simmering for flavor and then remove them when you’re done. Kaffir limes are a specific type of lime- regular lime leaves won’t work or really add any flavor.
These are a pretty specific ingredient and I have had absolutely no luck finding them at regular grocery or specialty stores in my area. However if you live in a major city it may be worth checking near the fresh herbs, as some major retailers do sell them (so I’m told). I have to go to my favorite Asian specialty store- and not all of them even carry these leaves. If you have more than one Asian grocer in your area, your best bet will be whichever one has the largest selection of Thai or Southeast Asian ingredients. They can be found in the produce section, usually in the refrigerated area. My store only sells them in fairly large bags- but don’t worry about having too many. Kaffir lime leaves freeze really well. I’ve found they still retain their flavor and texture even after being frozen for a year. I’ve heard they can sometimes be bought in the freezer section of Asian stores as well, although I haven’t found any there in mine.
If you are absolutely unable to find them at all, I would say that (for curry specifically) this is the one thing that you COULD skip. For maximum awesomeness they should be in there but it will not drastically reduce the quality of your recipe if they’re not in there. There aren’t really any other substitutions for these leaves available.
Palm sugar is made by boiling sap from palm trees until it thickens and hardens. It has a rich sweetness that is sort of comparable to brown sugar. It is an item that you may be able to find at your supermarket or natural grocer although I typically buy mine at an Asian specialty store.
Palm sugar is one of the few things I haven’t tested extensively across brands. I found one I liked and stuck with it. I prefer palm sugar that is hardened into half spheres. For the curry recipe, I use two half spheres, melted into water. The rounds I use are a total of 3 oz apiece; of course you can use an equivalent amount of the granulated kind as well. I would still recommend melting it into the water, however.
Thai chilis are also known as bird’s eye chilis. They are very small and slender and both green and red. They are very spicy- a little goes a long way. I am a spicy food monster and I usually only use 1-3 in a recipe. The green ones will light you up immediately and the red ones will provide more of a slow burn.
Your local supermarket may carry them although mine do not. I have to go to my favorite Asian supermarket to buy mine. They can be found in the produce section, often in the refrigerated area. My store only sells them in large bags, but fortunately they freeze very well. There will be some texture loss but that shouldn’t affect the way you use them in most recipes.