Essential Sauces for the Beginning Thai Cook
As anyone trying their hand at Thai cookery for the first time will quickly realize, many of the recipes call for a specific sauce to help create the very specific flavors in Thai cuisine. As you begin to stock the ingredients for your new Thai 'pantry' there are certain sauces that you really should consider stocking up on so that you have then readily at hand as needed. Understanding the characteristics of these sauces will also allow you to learn to determine, as you become a little more adventurous, which of them could be used to further enhance a dish or to give it slightly different twist:
Nam Pla (Fish Sauce)
Nam Pla is a component of a considerable number of common Thai dishes. It is a clear liquid that is created by allowing fish to ferment with salt. Used in the correct quantities it does not actually have too much of a 'fishy' taste at all but instead simply adds just the right amounts of saltiness. It is also a sauce used to enhance and elevate the flavors of an almost endless variety of dishes by adding a savory element that it is hard for any other ingredient to replicate.
In general, everything related with fish it's very common in Thailand due its benefits, read more here.
Nam Man Hoi (Oyster Sauce)
Nam Man Hoi is similar to its more commonly used Chinese counterpart but in this Thai version there is a slight sweetness that its Chinese cousin lacks that adds an extra dimension to the flavor of both Thai and Chinese dishes. Oyster sauce is often used in Thai cuisine but it is particularly good to use in vegetable dishes, especially stir fries.
One great way to add flavor and character to vegetable dishes is to simply combine chilies, garlic and oyster sauce and you can also use this versatile condiment to add some extra character to a number of traditional noodle dishes as well as to marinades for meat dishes.
See Ew Cow (Thin Soy Sauces)
See Ew Cow literally translates into English as 'white soy sauce' and it is indeed essentially a paler - both in color and flavor, version of the standard Japanese soy sauce that is more commonly used in the West.
Usually the various thin soy sauces are used in conjunction with other, slightly more robust options although some people do substitute it for fish sauce if they are cooking for vegetarians or vegans who have cut fish out of their diet.
See Ew Dam (Dark Soy Sauces)
Obviously these sauces are the complete opposite of See Ew Cow but they are not, as some mistakenly believe, simply a carbon copy of their Japanese counterparts. To begin with they come in two distinctly different forms; simple dark soy sauce and dark sweet soy sauce. The former is a major component in a very famous Thai dish, gai pad gaprow, a chicken dish that makes use of holy basil, while its sweeter cousin is what gives pad see ew, stir fried noodles with broccoli, its very distinctive taste.
Nam Prik Pao (Roasted Chili Paste)
Although this Thai staple is a thicker than the average sauce it is still considered to be one. Traditionally this paste is created by combining shrimp paste, fresh garlic, chopped shallots and roasted chilies to create a concoction that has a sweet and salty taste that makes it an excellent 'all in one' type go to sauce for a wide array of dishes, especially soups and stir fries. Read more about this sauce here
These are far from the only sauces used in Thai cuisine but if you manage to keep these on hand you should have just the right one for a great many of the delicious recipes that are just waiting out there for you to try.