The original Thai curries were extremely low- fat affairs; dense with vegetables and boiled with a paste fragrant with herbs and spices. But after the arrival of foreign influences such as the milk-drinking Portuguese and Indians, coconut milk began to figure prominently. Today, there are two types of curry recipes, those with coconut milk and those without, which are known as “jungle style”. Despite the advent of coconut milk, Thai curries remain lighter than their Indian counterparts, thanks to the fresh ingredients used in all curry pastes.
Cooking with coconut milk has its own challenges – particularly when using canned coconut milk that has been homogenized or sold in UHT cartons, as it often is when sold outside of Thailand. Fresh coconut milk breaks down as it cooks and produces light speckles of fat on the surface of the curry, which tells you that the temperature of the pot is hot enough. Homogenized or UHT milk does not break down.