Sometime ago I promised AZfoodie to write out some of my experiences with making Thai curry pastes.
I finally got to it.
It’s a bit of a combination of own experiences with hearsay and the lot.
Anyway, I went to Thailand in January this year and followed one of those 1 day cooking courses. Good fun, but a wee bit shallow in my opinion, although my friend (who’s not into his cooking) thoroughly enjoyed it.
Making our own curry paste was part of the course.
Obviously what you need to make your own curry paste is a pestle and mortar.
You could substitute with a food processor or blender, but the consistency is not the same. I haven’t tried yet if this really affects the taste. I think you could do most of the work with a food processor and then finish of in a pestle and mortar. I think you would struggle a bit with a blender as you would have to add some liquid and that might influence the taste after frying
Back to the traditional way with the pestle and mortar:
I start by cutting every ingredient as fine as possible to reduce the pounding.
This is not really traditional either, but works for me. To quote from chef McDang’s book (principles of Thai cooking) “one of the things to understand Thai cooking is to realise that the knife is not that important” (I can recommend the book to everyone interested in Thai cooking).
You start by pounding the ingredients one by one and only adding the next when the previous one is pounded properly.
Count on a good 30 minutes to make a paste.
You start with the hardest ingredients first. For a red curry paste, these are the soaked and squeezed out dried red peppers, the lemon grass, rind of the lime etc. The last ones to go in are the shallots as they contain a lot of water. I tend to leave out any shrimp paste as it is easy enough to add by the time you are actually using the paste.
I do the spices like cumin, coriander and white peppercorns separate. I dry roast them first and then throw them in a coffee grinder (yes, that’s not traditional either).
Note that there are lots of recipes for red curry pastes as there are for green and other ones. The simpler form of the red curry paste does not contain coriander and cumin and is more used for stir fries than curries. I’m concentrating on the red curry pastes as I think they are the most versatile ones….
When you are pounding, don’t pound straight down as the content of the bowl might just fly back at you. Rather pound a bit more to the side and use your hand to cover the bowl. Take your time and let the pestle do its work. You don’t really need to put a lot of pressure. I sort of let the pestle drop on the spices.
One thing to remember: do not cover the top of the pestle with the palm of your hand. You’ll end up with some nice blisters (at least I did the first time and they were truly impressive).
I still use ready bought pastes a lot of the time. They are just very convenient, but the freshly made is very very nice. The pounding away actually becomes a bit Zen, just the same as sharpening knives….
There are lots of recipes for curry pastes on the net, so I haven’t written out all the ingredient. If anyone wants them, just ask
Here’s to you AZ
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