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Grilling Seafood in Thai Cooking

The hot tropical climate of Thailand lends itself to outdoor cooking. Grilling (in Thai – yang or pow) is one of the methods used in Thai cuisine. This blog talks a bit about how it is used in cooking seafood (taken from Kasma’s book, Dancing Shrimp: Favorite Thai Recipes for Seafood).

Grilling Fish
Grilling fish in Nong Kai
Fish on Grill
Fish on the Grill in Nong Kai

(Click images to see larger version.)

With charcoal a main source of cooking fuel until recent times, grilling has emerged as one of the most popular ways of cooking. No restaurant is complete without a fired-up grill and no marketplace can exist without a vendor grilling something or another – whether this be catfish on a stick, or skewered meat balls.

Seafood to Grill
Seafood to grill
Restaurant Grilling
Grilling at a restaurant

Along the coast near the capital city, strings of open-air talay pow (“grilled seafood”) restaurants line the beaches, serving up delectable, super-fresh seafood caught the same day. Just about every kind of seafood is tossed on the charcoal grill; some are served simply with a spicy dipping sauce while others find their way into salads, curries and nameless other dishes. The two pictures above were taken at the night market in the coastal city of Hua Hin.

Fish on Grill
Fish grilling on a kettle BBQ

Grilling is always done over real wood coals; sometimes coconut husks and dried palm fronds are thrown in to produce extra smoke, giving the grilled foods a marvelous smoky aroma. To re-create the delectable flavors of Thai-style grilled foods, a charcoal grill or barbecue kettle is essential, along with long-handled spatulas, tongs and basting brushes as cooking aids. Grilling on a gas grill basically produces similar results as broiling, with a subsequent loss of flavor, unless pieces of charcoal or wood chips are also used.

Grilling Basket
Catfish in a grilling basket
Basket on Grill
Using the grilling basket

Seafood may be grilled directly on the charcoal grill, or in a wire cage with handle – also called grilling basket or hinged grill. This device comes round, square, rectangular or fish-shaped and comprises of two wire racks hinged together on one side to hold food between them. The grilling basket is especially useful for grilling tender whole fish with skin still attached; not only does it make turning easy, it keeps the fragile fish from breaking apart should the skin stick to the charcoal grill.

Grilling Bass
Bass grilled in banana leaves

Seafood is also wrapped in banana leaves before placing on the grill. Although the smoky dimension is reduced, the leaves enhance with their own special fragrance, especially if they are lightly charred. The seafood is usually marinated with spices before being wrapped and essentially gets steamed in its own juices. For a smokier flavor, partially unwrap, or cut an opening on the top of the leaf packet, towards the last few minutes of cooking.


Slideshow – A Few Finished Grilled Seafood Dishes from Kasma’s Classes

Click on “Play” below to begin a slideshow.

Clicking on a slide will take you to the next image.

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Here are some other articles on different methods used in Thai cooking.


Note: This blog originally appeared on page 79 of Dancing Shrimp: Favorite Thai Recipes for Seafood, published in 2000 by Simon & Schuster. All text is Copyright © 2000 Kasma Loha-unchit.

All photographs are Copyright © 2011, 2012 & 2013 Kasma Loha-unchit

Written by Kasma Loha-unchit, 2000