Unlike with a lot of countries’ cuisines, you don’t actually need too many specialised tools and implements to cook great Thai food. Here is a quick rundown of the essentials. Armed with these, as well as the basics that you’ll find in 99% of home kitchens, you’ll be able to put together the vast majority of Thai dishes.
If you’re going to cook Thai food regularly, you absolutely have to have a cleaver. Many people find the thought of using them intimidating, but actually they are much safer than normal kitchen knives, as you can use your finger joints to guide the blade, mitigating the possibility of slicing your fingers tips rather than the food. This enables you to cut fast, safely, and make lots of loud chopping sounds to impress anyone within earshot with your knife handling skills. Once the food is chopped, you can then use the wide blade to scoop it up and place it in the pan/wok. Just don’t drop it, unless you’ve got fast reflexes.
You don’t have to spend a fortune on a cleaver. The one I’ve been using for years is from Big C and cost 120 baht if I remember rightly. However, if you do want to treat yourself, Shun chinese chef’s knives are just gorgeous. Regardless how much you spend on a cleaver, invest a knife sharpener too to keep the edge in tip top condition.
Large Pestle and Mortar
When it comes to Thai cooking and pestle & mortars, bigger is definitely better. They are so incredibly useful, empowering you to make dishes that would otherwise be impossible – papaya salad (som tam), curry pastes, various dips…..
Wood or stone? If it’s big, a stone one could weigh a ton. I find wood easier to handle, especially when washing it. Also, the sound wooden ones make is more pleasing to the ear.
The smell from a well used pestle and mortar is just heavenly!
One for veg and another for meats/seafood. Go for wood. Contrary to instinct, wood is actually more hygienic than plastic. Wood fibres prevent any contaminants ending up back on the knife or food. Plastic readily recontaminates both. Forget about glass or marble, as it will blunt your cleaver before you can say, “aroi aroi!”
There’s lot of options when it comes to woks. Heavy is great for retaining heat, but much less manoeuvrable. Non-stick can be convenient, but it limits you to plastic and wooded implements, and, in my experience, all non-stick coatings eventually wear/peel off. Cast iron stays super hot when adding a lot of ingredients, but it’s very heavy and you might need to season the metal before cooking with it if the manufacturer didn’t do it for you. Round bottom or flat….?
Well, some of this is up to personal preference, but stainless steel woks are great performers all round. Look for one that’s about 14 inches, thicker on the bottom, with a sturdy handle.