Thai curry is a two-step recipe. First, the paste, then the curry. Better yet, if time is a factor, you can skip the first step and use a prepared curry paste.
Either way, you should give it a try. You’ll be rewarded by rave reviews from your dinner guests begging for more!
Recently, our kids bright over some Thai curry takeout. It was just short of amazing!
How easy would it be to make our own Thai Curry?
With a little research, we found that all Thai curries have essentially the same basic ingredients, but every curry has its own distinctive ‘twist’ or emphasis. Apparently, even in Bangkok markets the curry pastes and ingredients are unique to each vendor and each family’s taste and tradition.
Suffice it to say, that he type of paste, and the resulting curry, is a function of the various combinations of basic ingredients. Not to oversimplify, but green paste uses green chili peppers and red paste uses red. Within the red paste realm there are many, many variations.
We also found that many Thai curry recipes call for palm sugar or raw brown sugar – a Paleo diet non-starter! It is true that many traditional Thai recipes call for sugar, but we suspect that many local Thai eateries add generous amounts of sugar to reach the level of sweetness expected in the Standard American Diet. We vowed to never eat any sugary curry again, and added homemade, no sugar added curry to the Byrd House recipe ‘to do’ list.
Step One – Homemade Thai Curry Paste
The distinctive taste of Thai curry comes from traditional ingredients blended into a coarse paste. In fact, Thai curry paste is traditionally made by hand-grinding the ingredients with a pestle and mortar. Well . . . although we were momentarily tempted to buy a pestle-mortar set, we realized that our trusty Vitamix blender would blend the ingredients quite well enough.
Core Ingredients for Homemade Authentic Thai Curry Paste
There are some rather unique components on the curry paste ingredient list. These core ingredients are:
- Red or Green Chili Peppers
- Galangal Root (no substitutions)
- Kaffir Lime Peel
- Coriander Root (or cilantro stems)
- Thai Shrimp Paste
- Turmeric root
- Sea Salt
- Coriander Seeds
- Cardamom Pods
- White or Black Pepper
Locating the Ingredients
You are not alone if you haven’t seen Thai chili peppers, galangal, lemongrass, Kaffir limes, or coriander root in the produce section of your favorite chain grocery – not even WholeFoods, Fresh Market or Trader Joe’s. In Tampa Bay, we found what we needed at the Oceanic Oriental Supermarket for surprisingly fair prices.
If you are in a hurry, skip Step One and go to Step Two using one of the many great tasting prepared curry pastes.
Step Two – Method for Preparing Thai Curry
Whether using homemade or prepared curry paste, the second step for making the actual curry is easy.
First, the curry paste is fried in coconut cream and/or coconut oil to bring out the paste’s wonderful aroma.
Next, a protein source that requires a longer cooking time, such as beef, pork or lamb, is added and fried in the curry paste-coconut oil mixture. Protein that requires less cooking time, such as fish or seafood, are added close to the end of the cooking time.
Next, coconut milk and/or chicken or seafood stock is added to build the curry to the required volume, followed by the addition of a single or variety of vegetables, such as bell pepper, bok choy and onions.
The curry is then slowly simmered for an hour or two, yielding the final curry.
A few minutes before serving, add a tablespoon of Red Boat fish sauce to ramp up the umami level.
Again, remember, the required cooking time of the chosen protein should determine the point at which it is added to the mix. For example, beef and pork should be added early and fried with the paste before adding the coconut milk, while chicken should be added to the mixture a little later, while seafood should be added right at the end of the simmering just before serving.
Making Thai Curry Using Prepared Thai Curry Paste
To make things quicker and easier, you can opt out of making your own curry paste and use a high quality pre-made authentic curry paste. But, if you don’t make your own at least one time, you’ll never know what you were missing, right? Either way, the paste is the soul of the curry.
There are dozens of types of curry pastes, but again, the two basics are green and red. If you want to go study the details, go back and get lost in the history and fine distinctions of the varieties of Thai curry paste on The High Heel Gourmet site.
When using premade Thai curry paste the simplest option is to buy a variety of prepared curry pastes and try them until your palette wakes up to the fine distinctions between them. We found that the Maesri brand is excellent and has a good variety of pastes. Most grocery stores carry Thai Kitchen brand curry pastes, which are not bad either.
Learn More about Thai Curry Paste
Want to learn more about Thai curry? We pretty quickly unearthed websites that provided the inside story on authentic Thai cuisine. The Temple of Thai site has some pretty straightforward recipes for Thai curry paste.
One of the most interesting and detailed sites is The High Heel Gourmet, the stated purpose of which is to “Authentic Thai Dishes Reimagined for the American Palate.”
Finally, it is comforting to know that Thai curry is a batch to batch concept. Every new attempt yields a different result. There’s no pressure to produce consistent world-class curry, just something homemade and tasty that will surprise and delight us and our guests on every occasion.
Thai Curry Leaves Room to Innovate
As you are drawn into experimenting with Thai curry, you will see much room for innovation, even if you don’t make your own paste. Try different protein and vegetable combinations and experiment with the concentration of the curry, using it as a soup or a concentrated sauce over cooked seafood. We even added a tablespoon of paste to a steak pan sauce recently and it was awesome.