From its golden beaches to its splashy temples Thailand is many things – friendly, exotic, tropical, historic and cultured. But in our country Thailand may be best known for its cuisine.
When it comes to Thai cuisine, there are several aspects that come into play as each meal is prepared, and every detail is just as important as the one before it and the one that follows. Each component of a Thai meal must satisfactorily appeal to four of your five senses and Thai cuisine is based around five essential flavors: salty, sour, spicy, bitter and sweet. Thai food is known to be spicy, but there is a difference between spicy and hot.
If a dish is really looking for some heat, Thai cuisine primarily calls on one of two types of chiles, the smaller “phrik khi nu suan” which translates to “garden mouse dropping chile” (as it resembles well… small red mouse poop) and is also sometimes referred to as birds eye chile (coming in at 100,000-225,000 on the Scoville Heat Unit scale or SHU). The larger “phrik khi nu” is also known as the Thai chile, Thai chili pepper, Thai miniatures and bird’s beak chile. The reference to the birds beak came about because once dried the curved shaped hook of this chile resembles a bird’s beak shape. The Thai chile comes in at 70,000 – 130,000 SHU. This can be a bit confusing as both chiles can be referred to as bird chiles in some recipes. Just keep in the mind the different heat levels and you should be fine with either (depending on your heat tolerance and preference).
The Thai chile is red in color, thin and pointed and is typically 1.5”-2” in length and 1/4” in diameter. From the genus Capsicum annum, and a cousin of the cayenne chile, it has a thin but tough textured outer skin and packs a fiery heat that lingers with cooking.
In addition to appealing to four of the five senses Thai cuisine has a subtle complexity that revolves around cilantro, coconut, galangal, lemon grass and rice. Our Thai chiles are key to many authentic Thai dishes as they add an intensity that brings the other flavors together. While red chiles are a critical component in Thai cuisine, Thai cooks also make extensive use of fresh green and yellow chiles, to form a “holy trinity” of sorts similar to the Cajun holy trinity of bell peppers, onions and celery and the Mexican holy trinity of ancho, pasilla and mulato chiles. Each Thai dish will typically feature one of these chiles although they can be substituted for each other in a pinch.
Proper presentation is a crucial component of authentic Thai cuisine and three chile colors are carefully selected to heighten the visual appeal of their dishes in addition to adding sought after flavor. Both dried and fresh chile peppers are used and are often used whole.
The flavor profile of Thai chiles is a slight fruity taste with a strong spiciness.
In Thai cuisine dried Thai chiles are added to broths, coconut soups, authentic Thai curry, noodle dishes, salads (only use a few), sauces and stir fries.
For a real treat mix with salt and sugar to create a condiment that complements just about any fresh fruit. Make ahead fo time to allow the flavor of the chiles to marry with the salt and sugar and then remove the chiles before adding to the fruit. Lightly roast Thai chiles with fish sauce, garlic and sugar, then mix with cooked shrimp and top with fresh Thai basil. Blend Thai chiles with shredded coconut, curry leaves, garlic and ginger and use the resulting paste on sweet potatoes. Blend together Thai chiles with fish sauce, lime juice and sugar for a light marinade for chicken or fish.
If you’re looking for a substitution for Thai chiles in a recipe you can use dried or fresh cayenne or serrano chiles.
To rehydrate dried Thai chiles soak in hot water or cook as part of a recipe for approximately 10 minutes.
There are approximately 55 Thai chiles per ounce.
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