To make a curry, you need to cut, grind, stir, and heat. There are a few tools I keep around to help me with those tasks; some are rustic, and some are more modern. Among them is a Thai-style charcoal 1 tao ($65; 888/618-8424; importfood.com), a rudimentary but reliable cement cooktop sometimes covered in galvanized metal and lined in clay. When used with a metal grate and clean-burning Japanese binchotan fuel, the tao pulls double duty as a grill, gently heating and amplifying the fragrance of galangal, garlic, and shallots. I toast spices in a 2 cast-iron skillet ($25; 423/837-7181; lodgemfg.com), where their aromas really bloom; the skillet's even heat also beautifully draws out the flavors of a dry curry. My favorite tool for making curry pastes is a traditional 3 mortar and pestle ($151; templeofthai.com). I use one made of durable nonporous granite with a deep, round bowl that gives me ample room to crush fibrous ingredients into smooth pastes. If you don't want to wrestle with one of those, an 4 electric spice grinder ($30; 800/541-6390; kitchenaid.com) can pulverize seeds and peppercorns quickly, and a 5 mini food processor ($40; 800/211-9604; cuisinart.com) makes quick work of cilantro roots, Kaffir lime leaves, and other aromatics, instantly breaking them down for pastes. To "crack" the coconut cream, heating it to coax out its oils for frying the paste, I've found few tools better than a flat-bottomed Thai-style steel 6 wok ($24; 888/618-8424; importfood.com). It doubles as a saucepan for cooking the assembled curry, which can also be finished in a standard four- to six-quart 7 saucepan ($70; 800/211-9604; cuisinart.com). I use a shovel-like 8 wok spatula ($26; amazon.com) to scoop and stir the frying paste, as well as turn meats and vegetables in simmering curries, and since the most common knifework called for in these recipes is to "roughly chop," a sharp 9 chef's knife ($120; visit bedbathandbeyond.com for locations) is the only blade you really need.
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