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home made Thai curry pastes

post #1 of 18
Thread Starter 

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 AZpeace.gif

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post #2 of 18

I always have a hard time getting the lemongrass to behave and not be stringy or like bits of fingernails.

post #3 of 18
Thread Starter 

Yeah, that lemongrass is a tricky one.

I slice it as thin as possible (only the part with the pink) and then mince it as finely as possible by knife. If I don't do it that way, I don't get it to break down properly by just pounding.....

Maybe it is possible to do with a small coffee grinder as well? I've never tried it though.

Do you grow your own lemongrass?

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post #4 of 18

Thanks for the tip in lemongrass,

that can be a bit of a bugger

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post #5 of 18

No, I don't grow my own. I don't think it will take my winters. My yard is mostly xeriscape so I probably don't have the right watering plan for it either.

post #6 of 18

Wow, very very good post, thanks Butzy. 

 

I love Thai food and started making my own curry pastes, and have never bought one since. But to be honest I make mine quickly - 10mn maybe if you count peeling and dicing. I've found that the mortar and pestle behave better if I just apply pressure and start grinding the ingredients rather than pounding them. I sometimes do a bit of pouding anyway for good measure and because it's fun - or I let my kid do it - but mostly I'm just grinding the stuff around. I get a texture that's a little coarse, for example the coriander seeds are not reduced in powder, you can still see bits of the seeds in the final product. It has never bothered me, but now that you mention the incorporation of the ingredients one by one, hard to soft, I will have to try it. 

 

I grow my own lemon grass but I still buy some because.. I use a lot of it. I love the taste. I've used some of mine but I'm still unsure of the best way to harvest it, so I just took 3 bulbs or so... but I'm afraid if I keep doing that it's going to kill the plant. So I buy it. :( Expensive stuff too around here. I also dice it super finely before it goes in the mortar. It sometimes leaves crunchy bits in the final product but personally I enjoy the texture. I know I didn't enjoy it the first time though. 

 

As for the shrimp paste I like to grind it with the ingredients in the mortar. But I never keep my curry paste, I just make it when I make a curry, it's just 10mn prep time and I rarely make the exact same one twice. Is that why you don't mix it in - to increase the shelf life of your curry paste? Or just for convenience?

 

A curry paste that I've made a few times because it's super quick is just chilies, salt, fresh turmeric, coriander seeds, cumin seeds and shrimp paste. I use it for chicken curry. 

 

I'm lucky to live close to several Thai neighborhoods. So when there's no time to shop and cook I'll just go and get some foods from various restaurants. Yesterday I came home with a chicken green curry, crispy pork belly with morning glory and fried rice, Khanom Krok - the round shaped rice flour/coconut pancakes, and grilled dried banana in sticky rice wrapped in banana leave (double banana, yeaaaah!). 

 

I will bookmark this thread so I can come back later and take notes. ;)

post #7 of 18
Thread Starter 

Thanks FF,

 

I used to grind the ingredients as that's the way I made the Indonesian bumbu's (at least that's what my dad told me), but when I did that in Thailand, I got told of properly frown.gif

So I started trying the pounding way. It does end up a lot smoother, but not as smooth as the shop bought ones. Like you, I don't mind at all.

A nice aside of adding the ingredients one by one is that the smell of the paste changes and gets better and better!

The reason for not adding the shrimp paste is purely convenience. I normally have enough paste for 2 or 3 meals, and sometimes I prefer a paste without the shrimp paste (like for pad prik khing, a stir fry of red curry paste, pork, green beans, fish sauce and lime leaves, absolutely delicious!)

 

I am jealous of you living close to Thai neighbourhoods! We have one Thai restaurant in the country and that is a 3 hour drive away, But then, the closest decent shop is also a good 2.5 hours drive from me.....

 

Lemon grass is very hardy and very difficult to kill once it starts growing OK. I normally cut some stems just about 1 cm or so above the ground and sometimes I just pull out a stem completely. Once the whole bush gets too wild, I just cut the whole thing down about 15-20 cm above the ground and it keeps surviving, whatever I do with it (I started with one clump of about 3-4 stems and less than a year later the plant takes up about 1.5-2 m2

 

I recently bought a kaffir lime tree and I got to be careful not too eat the leaves faster than the plant can produce them. The fresh leaves are so different from dried and brined. I don't have fruits yet and hopefully I am leaving enough leaves on the plant to get some soon!

In the mean time, instead of kaffir lime zest, I use regular lime zest and a couple of kaffir lime leaves.

 

I'm also growing my own coriander and recently grew some for the roots and have frozen them. Haven't used them yet in the pastes yet so am quite curious if that really makes a difference from using coriander stems...

Also froze some coriander leaves for the period that all my plants will start bolting.

 

One of the books I recently bought and enjoyed as it gives quite a bit of background info about Thai cooking is "principles of Thai cooking" by chef McDang

A couple of websites about Thai cooking that I like are:

http://www.thaitable.com/thai/food/tale-2-red-curry-pastes

http://www.shesimmers.com/

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post #8 of 18
Quote:
Originally Posted by butzy View Post

I used to grind the ingredients as that's the way I made the Indonesian bumbu's (at least that's what my dad told me), but when I did that in Thailand, I got told of properly frown.gif

So I started trying the pounding way. It does end up a lot smoother, but not as smooth as the shop bought ones. Like you, I don't mind at all.

A nice aside of adding the ingredients one by one is that the smell of the paste changes and gets better and better!

 

 

Great. The more I read your descriptions the more I realize I absolutely have to try your technique next time. Noted. 

 

 

Quote:
Originally Posted by butzy View Post

Lemon grass is very hardy and very difficult to kill once it starts growing OK. I normally cut some stems just about 1 cm or so above the ground and sometimes I just pull out a stem completely. Once the whole bush gets too wild, I just cut the whole thing down about 15-20 cm above the ground and it keeps surviving, whatever I do with it (I started with one clump of about 3-4 stems and less than a year later the plant takes up about 1.5-2 m2

 

Your post gave me strength to go to my backyard and pull a bulb out. Unfortunately my plant is now only 3/4 as big as it used to, and I threw the whole thing in the trash, because the bulb was so tiny (what looked like one big bulb while it was still together was actually a dozen tiny tiny bulbs/stems once you removed the outer layer) that there was absolutely nothing to eat in there. No white part, only green/gray/purple dried leafy kinda things... :(

 

I wonder what I'm doing wrong. Maybe not enough water? Maybe I just need to trim it once in a while? I think I'll try those things next. Ended up going to the nearest Thai convenience store and got 3 bulbs for $1.99. But the bulbs were HUGE, thick, with a rather long white part. LOTS to eat, and my chicken never tasted sooo lemongrassy. 

 

 

Quote:
Originally Posted by butzy View Post

I recently bought a kaffir lime tree and I got to be careful not too eat the leaves faster than the plant can produce them. The fresh leaves are so different from dried and brined. I don't have fruits yet and hopefully I am leaving enough leaves on the plant to get some soon!

In the mean time, instead of kaffir lime zest, I use regular lime zest and a couple of kaffir lime leaves.

 

I didn't know about dried or brined lemon leaves. I have a lemon tree (regular, not kaffir) and use its leaves sometimes. I have a friend who has a kaffir lime tree so I need to steal some leaves from her next time I visit her. 

 

 

Quote:
Originally Posted by butzy View Post

I'm also growing my own coriander and recently grew some for the roots and have frozen them. Haven't used them yet in the pastes yet so am quite curious if that really makes a difference from using coriander stems...

Also froze some coriander leaves for the period that all my plants will start bolting.

 

Finally found some (frozen) coriander rootlets at the Thai store. I tasted them and they are really flavorful, a bit more than the stems. The flavor is maybe slightly different? But really really close though. I ground them in the chicken marinade. Chicken tasted delicious, but it's not like I was "Wow, that taste of coriander roots really changes everything". 

 

 

Thanks for the book recommendations and links, I'll check those out and send them to family & friends as gift ideas for me. lol.gif

 

Have you read any of the David Thompson books on Thai cooking?

post #9 of 18
Thread Starter 

P1010005-lemongrass- small.jpg

 

My lemongrass

(it was under water for about 3 months last year, so assume it can handle quite a lot of water. The only other thing that survived was my mint)

 

P1010012 - lemongrass small.jpg

 

a stem and below a cleaned up stem

P1010013 - cut lemongrass - small.jpg

 

I made another curry paste yesterday with lots of lemongrass and I used some chili peppers that I took with me from Holland. I took the seeds out as I want to plant them here and still the paste turned out very hot, but full of flavour. I used "madame Jeanette" peppers, so not very original. But nice! Think this pepper is also known as Surinam yellow?

 

I do have one of Thompson's cookbooks: Thai Street Food. I haven't cooked much out of it yet though, but the beef green curry with roti is delicious (although I ate it with rice and used beef mince instead of beef).

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post #10 of 18

Wow Butzy!!

 

Take your 2nd photograph, the one of a single bulb, multiply it by 4 and you have an idea of the size of MY lemongrass "bush". :(

 

But as you said I'm lucky to live near Thai stores. Made more lemongrass grilled chicken yesterday, with green papaya salad, yummy. 

post #11 of 18
Thread Starter 

Been meaning to ask you if you can share the lemongrass chicken recipe with us.

 

I've been experimenting quite a bit with the curry paste and the other day I decided to roast my dried peppers instead of soaking them.

It gave my curry paste a very nice smoke smell. I had to increase the amount of onion to make it into a proper paste hough.

The dried peppers weren't very hot, so next time I'll roast them and then put a couple of extra fresh red chili's to the paste to get the "right" consistency

 

What do you make with the paste? Just curries or also dishes like pat prik king etc ? (not sure of spelling, = stir fried red curry paste with pork, green beans, fish sauce and lime leaves)

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post #12 of 18

I don't really have a recipe, I combine all or some of the following ingredients to taste. Generally in a food processor, and more recently, using your method of processing the harder items (lemongrass) first, then the softer ones, and finally the liquids. It does work much better that way, so thanks for that tip.

 

- lemongrass (at least 3 large bulbs for a 3 - 4lbs chicken)

- ginger root

- turmeric root

- green chilis

- garlic

- scallions or shallots

- cilantro

- palm sugar

- coconut milk

- lime

- fish sauce

- toasted sesame oil (just a tiny bit)

 

I like that marinade sooo much that I usually slice the chicken pieces to make sure the marinade penetrates, a bit like I've seen done in indian restaurants. For example a half breast will get 5 large slits so that I can stuff them with a lot of the marinade. 

 

I like to grill over fairly high direct heat first, on both sides, then once I get the slightly caramelized color I'm looking for, I turn down the heat and close the lid to finish the cooking. 

 

As for curry paste, I've only used it for curries. I've never used curry paste for a stir fry (yet another entire world that I have to discover). For example with my simple curry paste (chilies, salt, fresh turmeric, coriander seeds, cumin seeds and shrimp paste), what I do is: 

 

- thoroughly brown chicken pieces in a large sautee pan, 

- add minced garlic and fry until golden brown, 

- add curry paste and cook a bit, 

- add about 1/2 chicken stock and 1/2 coconut cream, 

- add a fairly large amount of lime juice, (the finished curry has a fairly strong taste of lime juice)

- add fish sauce,

- simmer until chicken is cooked, about 20mn, 

- serve and sprinkle with sliced chiis and scallions. 

 

I usually serve it with noodles tossed with quickly sauteed thinly sliced carrots, zucchinis and flat beans. 

post #13 of 18
Thread Starter 

I made lemongrass chicken yesterday.

Went about it a bit different. Chopped up lots of lemongrass (and yes, there were pieces flying all around the kitchen), added some fresh red chili's, garlic and ginger and stuffed it all under the skin of the chicken. The parts of the lemongrass that I didn't chop went inside the cavity. Squeezed a bit of fish sauce under the skin as well and threw the thing on a kettle braai on indirect fire.

Came out great. Crispy skin and full of flavour!

 

I make my curries a bit different from you. I fry the curry paste in coconut cream (well, the top thick part of coconut cream or milk) and when it starts smelling good I add more coconut milk. Let it simmer for a bit and then add finely sliced beef, pork or chicken, some fish sauce and lime leaf.

 

Then for the stir fry:

FF, you really need to give this a try. It's so easy and tasty.

Fry some red curry paste in oil till fragrant, add finely sliced pork (not too lean, needs a bit of fat).

Fry for 5 minutes or so, at a little water if it looks like it is burning (just very very little).

Add beans (yard long beans or normal green beans, sliced in 3 cm pieces), keep frying, add fish sauce, lime leaves (shredded or finely sliced) and a little sugar.

Ready when the beans are ready. Eat with rice (obviously)

In most recipes, they use twice the amount of pork to beans, sometimes equal amounts. I tend to go for a bit more beans than meat though.

I can give more exact amounts of pastes, sauce etc, but I sort of go by feel on this dish. I can look it up though

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post #14 of 18
Quote:
Originally Posted by butzy View Post

FF, you really need to give this a try. It's so easy and tasty.

 

I'd love to! If you wish to share a recipe for red chili paste? I've never made that. 

 

 

Quote:
Originally Posted by butzy View Post

Let it simmer for a bit and then add finely sliced beef, pork or chicken

 

It's important to note that for my curry I use a whole chicken cut in 8 pieces, not diced boneless skinless chicken. Which may explain why I want to brown all the chicken before I add the liquid etc. 

 

Quote:
Originally Posted by butzy View Post

stuffed it all under the skin of the chicken. 

 

Yes! I often do that as well, great way to get more flavor out of the marinade. 

 

Thanks for continuing this great thread on Thai food. smile.gif

post #15 of 18
Thread Starter 

I use a couple of different recipe's when making red curry paste.

I've compared a couple of them and they all seem to agree on the following ingredients (the amounts in brackets are taken from Chef Mc Dang's book: principles of thai cooking)

 

Dried red chili, soaked in water and squeezed (7)

Lemon grass (2 tbsp)

Garlic (2.5 tbsp)

Salt

Galangal (1 teaspoon)

Kaffir lime zest (0.5 teaspoon)

Shallots (3.5 teaspoon)

Shrimp paste (1 teaspoon)

 

Then some are adding roasted cumin and coriander and peppercorns, some are adamant these have to white pepper and others use black or white.

I normally put them in as I like the taste

I'm take the amounts with a grain of salt and put more garlic and chili's and sometimes put some fresh chili's in as well.

I replace the keffir lime zest with normal lime or lemon zest and a kaffir lime leaf.

 

Just wondering: do you think we are the only two here that are interested in Thai food or do we have some more followers?

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post #16 of 18

Thanks a lot for the recipe Butzy! Today's lunch is a fried crab/pork sausage with sweet-sour sauce, Noodles with mint, bell peppers, onions and fermented pork, pad thai, sticky rice with mango. All from the restaurant (not much time to cook lately). 

 

Not sure who else on this board is interested in Thai cooking. I'm sure this thread will help many who may be looking for that topic in the future though. 

post #17 of 18

i just recently started using the microplane on lemongrass.then pounding it.works great

post #18 of 18
Quote:
Originally Posted by mofreak View Post
 

i just recently started using the microplane on lemongrass.then pounding it.works great

Never thought of trying that. Great idea! Thanks for sharing it. Will try next time. My lemongrass bush is getting bigger. :)

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