While this Thai curry paste is, without doubt, fabulous, I’m not claiming it’s 100% authentic. I am not Thai and have never even been to Thailand, but it’s my favourite style of food on the planet. This recipe is something I’ve played around with for years, much to the dismay of my children who often have to vacate the house during the “browning of the paste” stage of cooking. I go heavy on the chillies, and am proud to do so. In fact, ALL quantities in this recipe are totally adaptable, so play around and have some fun with it.
INGREDIENTS – this is for the red curry paste version
- 3 – 10 fresh red chillies (peppers). I try and get the smaller, pointy birdseye ones, but any will do. Don’t forget that chillies vary SO much in heat, so if you’re sensitive to having your sinuses flushed out as you cook, do experiment first and work out how hot the ones you have are.
- 10 – 15 cute little pink French shallots. These are called different things in different places, but they kind of look like an experimental mix between a tiny brown onion and a garlic clove on steroids. They’re pink on the inside and are an absolute MOFO to peel, but it’s worth the effort, I promise.
- 1 large bunch of fresh coriander (aka cilantro) including stems and roots – wash these carefully as the roots can be full of sandy soil which crunches uncomfortably in your teeth if left behind.
- 1 whole head of garlic, separated into cloves and peeled (also a MOFO of a job, sorry)
- Vaguely thumb sized lump of fresh galangal, peeled. Substitute fresh ginger if you can’t find galangal
- 1 stalk of fresh lemongrass, just the white bit, and smash it up a bit with a rolling pin to soften it up. Actually, smash it up a lot.
- Fish sauce or shrimp paste (warning – stinks like fishy feet, but don’t leave it out unless you’re a strict vegetarian, in which case you can google some non-fishy alternatives)
- Oil of your choice, but preferably not olive oil as it has a stronger taste. I use rice bran or vegetable oil, usually.
- Soy sauce
- Vinegar – anything light coloured, red wine or balsamic are too strong tasting. I like to use apple cider vinegar. An alternative to this would be a small tsp of tamarind paste
- 1 – 2 bottles of wine (red, white, rose, sparkling – it’s your choice, this is for drinking, not cooking with)
- 3 tbsp dried chillies or chilli flakes (same advice as the fresh chillies)
- 3 tbsp black or mixed whole peppercorns
- 1 tbs chunks of sea salt
- 4 tbsp whole coriander seeds
- 3 tbsp whole cumin seeds
- 1 tbs whole cardamom pods (optional, but I think they add a certain je ne sais quoi)
- Warm up a small fry pan, until medium hot – don’t add any oil or water, just the plain old dry pan.
- Add all of the dried spices and toast on medium / low for a few minutes until they smell utterly amazing, but the coriander seeds haven’t yet exploded like random popcorn kernels. Set aside to cool for a few minutes.
- When cooler, it’s time to turn these seeds into powder. You can do this the old-fashioned way using a mortar and pestle, but I find it much quicker and easier on the arms to use a coffee bean grinder. Warning – you will probably never want to use this grinder on coffee beans again after doing this.
- Roughly chop all of the peeled, fresh ingredients and chuck them in a food processor. Again, you can use a mortar and pestle, which is the traditional method, but seriously, why would you? Then again, if you have some anger issues you’d like to work through, the mortar and pestle can be very therapeutic. If you’re nervous about your head exploding from the chillies, do feel free to scrape out the seeds before adding them.
- Add the dried spice powder, around 6 tbsp oil, 2 tbsp each of fish sauce or shrimp paste, soy sauce and vinegar.
- WHIZZ THAT MIX! You want it pretty fine, but a few chunks of foliage here and there aren’t too much of an issue. If necessary, to get it really moving, you can drizzle in a bit more oil or a little bit of water, but you don’t want it too wet.
- Reheat the small pan you used to toast the dried spices and add a few tbsp oil. Get it good and hot, like really hot. If it’s a really heavy bottomed type of pan a wok might be better.
- Open the windows and doors and send children and pets into another room. Take large, large gulp of wine.
- Add the contents of the food processor and leap back quickly to avoid being splattered with hot oil. Fry this up, stirring constantly, for a few minutes until a bit of the liquid gets cooked out and the mix starts to turn a bit browner than it was.
When good and cooked, it’s ready to either use immediately or portion out and refrigerate or freeze. I like my curries bursting with flavour, so when making a curry for 4 – 6 servings I tend to use at least 4 tbsp per curry. This mix will last up to 2 weeks in the fridge and for absolutely ages in the freezer, assuming no power cuts.
I promise you that when you taste this, you will NEVER want to use bought paste again. The difference in toasting your own spices, and using all fresh ingredients cannot be expressed in words. It’s frigging awesome!
I don’t change this recipe much when making a green Thai curry paste. All I do is use half green chillies as well as the reds, swap out a bunch of spring onions for the French shallots and add in a few fresh kaffir lime leaves.
Do you have an absolute favourite recipe of all time? If so, please do feel free to share a link to it in the comments below, especially if it’s a curry recipe, nom, nom, nom!