Earlier this week we revealed a well-kept culinary secret: that Thai home cooks often use a ready-made Thai curry pastes instead of grinding them from scratch. Good-quality Thai curry pastes take the hassle out of midweek cooking, but if you’d like to take your kitchen skills to the next level, why not try making your own Thai curry paste? Follow these six tips and our authentic recipe for Thai red curry paste.
To make them easier to grind, soak any dried chillies in a small bowl of boiling water for 20 minutes to soften. If your lemongrass is particularly woody, try soaking it in lime juice for 30 minutes.
Toast your spices, such as coriander seeds, cumin seeds and peppercorns, in a dry frypan over medium heat for 1-2 minutes until fragrant. The heat releases the natural oils in the seeds and enhances the flavour.
You’ll also want to dry-fry your shrimp paste, but first wrap it in a sheet of foil, then warm it in a dry pan. The smell of toasting shrimp paste can get a tad stinky, so be sure to have the extractor fan on and the windows open.
Don’t throw out those coriander roots – there’s plenty of flavour here, so wash them thoroughly before chopping and adding to your paste mix.
Some like it hot, while others have more sensitive palates. The easiest way to control the heat level in your curry paste is via the chillies – longer, bigger chillies are milder; the smaller ones pack a bigger bunch. And if you really want to tone things down, remove the seeds and membranes from your chilli, as this is where most of the heat comes from.
Traditionally, Thai cooks use a heavy mortar and pestle to grind their curry pastes, but these days you could use a small food processor, blender or even a smoothie maker. Be sure to grind the toasted spice seeds before adding the other ingredients, and if you are using an electric method you’ll need to add liquid to get things moving – ¼ cup of water usually does the job.
Try out your curry making skills with this Thai red curry paste:
2 tsp coriander seeds, toasted
2 tsp cumin seeds, toasted
1 tsp whole black peppercorns
2 lemongrass stalks, halved
10-15 whole dried red chillies, slit, seeds removed, soaked in boiling water for 20 minutes
8 red bird’s eye chillies (less if you don’t like it too spicy), chopped
3 tsp finely chopped fresh galangal
4 kaffir lime leaves
2 tbsp chopped coriander leaves
10-15 garlic cloves, minced
¼ cup chopped eschalot or red onion
1 tsp sugar
½ tsp Thai shrimp paste, toasted
2 tbsp fish sauce
1. In a food processor, blender or mortar and pestle, finely grind the roasted coriander, cumin and peppercorns to a coarse powder.
2. Add the lemongrass, chillies, galangal, lime leaves, coriander, garlic, onion and sugar and grind to a smooth paste, adding a little water if the mixture is too coarse).
3. Finally add the shrimp paste and fish sauce and blend until combined.
Store paste in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 1 week or freeze for up to 4-6 months.
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