Thai Hot Curry Paste Dilemma

If you want to get something approaching authentic Thai flavour in your home-cooked curry, you face a bit of a dilemma. Let’s face it, making up a curry paste from fresh ingredients for one curry is a pain in the seating area. So, most of you don’t bother. Instead, you buy a jar of some bright red sludge from the supermarket, fry up an onion and some meat, add the sludge (sauce, if you must), sprinkle on some coriander leaves and you think you have made a curry. You haven’t. You have added some gloop to a saucepan and you don’t know what you are missing. Here’s how to deal with this particular culinary dilemma.

My recommendation is to make a big batch of paste and freeze it in portions to suit your needs. The freezing does no harm and might even improve the paste flavours. Debate rages about whether the freezing helps the flavours. I believe it does, as long as you don’t leave the paste in the freezer for years, rather than weeks. There is no one right curry paste. This is my take and I highly commend it to you. Be warned. I had fun with the pouring shots in this one and there are far too many of them. 

Ingredients

  • 10 shallot 
  • 10 stalk lemongrass
  • 8 red chillis 
  • 2 bulbs of garlic
  • 200 gms galangal 
  • 6 tablespoons of tomato paste
  • 10 tablespoon fish sauce
  • Juice and zest of 4 limes 
  • 4 tablespoons of chilli powder
  • 1 400 ml can of coconut milk
  • 1 tablespoon of shrimp sauce
  • 2 tablespoons of dark brown sugar
  • 2 tablespoons of cumin seeds
  • A big bunch of coriander (stalk and leaf)
  • 2 teaspoon of white pepper
  • 2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 2 teaspoon ground coriander 

Did I say hot? You need plenty of chilli for this one.

The preparation of this paste is really straightforward. Peel and chop roughly the following; chillis, garlic and shallots. Do likewise with the galangal and lemongrass but cut both more finely. They are tough and can do with the extra slicing before blending.

Peeled and roughly chopped. No dilemma about how to do that.

Dry fry the cumin seeds and then pound them to a powder, in a mortar, using a pestle (I say it that way to remind myself of which is the mortar and which is the pestle). Zest the limes and squeeze out the juice. See the side note below.

Graduates wear a mortarboard. The shape helps me remember which is which.

Side note on lime quality. Here in Ireland, the standard of limes available is variable. One can get a lime with practically no juice and on another occasion get a juicy, tasty fruit. My estimate for limes here is based on the latter.

Roughly chop the coriander, including the stalks. 

The tomato paste allows for no second shot.

 

I was sneezing like a demon after this shot.

 

A steady hand, the camera on a tripod and a prayer all help.

Place everything into a big blender. I am using our smoothy maker as it does a great job of blitzing the ingredients. Be sure to put on the lid as you could make a big mess. Blitz the lot until you have a nice smooth, pungent paste. Divide this lot into five or six portions. Freeze them all bar one. Use this remaining one to make a really sensational Thai style curry. I will cover that in another post. 

This should be the “before” shot in a “Before and after”

You are going to have to trust me (said the bishop to the schoolboy) that this is very well worth the little bit of peeling, chopping blitzing and bagging. You have to get away from the dilemma of “Make my own or use the jar?”. This is proof positive that this is the way to go. 

And, of course, the “After” shot.

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Latest comments
  • Good morning, Conor ! Hope you had a reasonable Easter break, kind Sir ! Says I, looking out of the window and up to the ceiling and having to admit I have that said sauce, well paste, well admitted gloop this very moment in my kitchen . . . what’s worse, looking down your ingredient list I actually have each of them in the same kitchen . . . . just do not ask ! As usual, your Thai red curry paste recipe is better than the one U have. Since a rotter called Covid still insists on sticking around, half the amount will do at the moment and will be made this very week . . . want to try . . . it will be fun ! Meanwhile after a click to you I’m scrolling north again – the photography is absolutely brilliant . . . . bestest and a big hug to you both . . .

  • Lovely. This remains a dilemma for me, because some of these are still impossible for me to get my hands on. It used to be a dilemma for making authentic Mexican foods 30 plus years ago, but fortunately with the internet and some great websites I can get more of the required Mexican ingredients. I’ve always wished I could make my own curry paste. Yours looks lovely, and I can’t imagine how freezing could be a bad thing.

  • One can never have too many pouring shots, Conor. Also, I remember which is mortar and which is pestle because the shape of the pestle is similar to a particular body part that also starts with “p” (it’s the pinky finger — get your minds out of the gutter! 😉 ).

    I may or may not have an offending jar in my fridge that I may or may not have used to make a meal within the past 2 weeks. 😱 Usually though, our biggest dilemma with respect to Thai curries is from which of the three wonderful, nearby Thai restaurants we should order.

  • I never buy the gloop and have been making tons (well, not literally) Thai curry paste from scratch now that I have the kaffir lime trees to get the zest from. I also make large batches and freeze them. Include cilantro roots in the curry if you can find them. I suppose the tomato paste is for color? For some reason Thai use dried red chilies or fresh green chilies but not the other way around. Great post; love the pouring shots!

  • Heresy Alert: I’m not the biggest fan of Thai curries…. I do agree that curry paste is sublime freshly made, and that freezing improves them by driving off excess water, but I will forever be more in love with the curries of the sub-continent, and specifically of North India. Having said that, your paste is wonderful, I can practically smell it coming off the screen from those really excellent photos.

  • Kate – Thai ‘curries’ are not usually on the top of my list either – if you like those of the Deccan of India and Rajasthan look out for recipes from Bangladesh and Burma (we’ll forget its current name thanks !) . . . I also make a lot of ‘fusion’ Nonya from W Malaysian coast and Singapore . . . but this one of Conor’s does tick my boxes . . . !

  • Eha, if I can’t get Punjabi food, I’ll go for Bengali as a wonderful second; one of my best friends is from Kolkata and her Bihari Channa Dal puris are to die for and she keeps me supplied with fresh ingredients for panch phoran, which I can’t get here. Also, I love Indonesian food, as we ate it a fair bit as a child because of my Dutch mother, so I don’t have ‘traditional’ Australian tastes…

  • i know you’re right Conor but… I am a lazy sod and use bought ones. I have found some good ones! as long as they are not too oily…

  • Thanks Conor – am first seeing this five days after you posted it spending my times more around Windsor this week . . . memories of bygone days and all that . . . absolutely love your link . . . have looked at one in the cycling series and shall enjoy them all, pretending I am there, to learn more about the Emerald Isle. May I ask – are you doing the vocals ?

  • Kate – reading this almost a week later . . . glad I picked it up on a random ‘visit’! . . . We both seem to travel north on the sub-continent, then for me to turn leftish and you right !! I do not use panch phoran all that often but know Herbie’s still keeps it and both Coles and Woolies have one bearing the name. Way back my daughters’ school educated many who had been born in Indonesia . . . they educated and encouraged our first efforts during times the ‘locals’ still ate fish/chips on a Friday and a roast and three vegies on a Sunday ! We all thought we were SO smart with our dinner party menus !!!!

  • Oh boy – thank you – cannot wait and shall be back . . . no wonder your wonderful Asian fusion food is not rushing our way . . . I shall return !!!!

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