Making home-made Thai curry paste.

If you are like me, you often buy pre-made Thai curry paste in the store. I’ve been using it to make soups and curries for years, and I thought it was delicious when I discovered it. But the curries I made never turned out the same as you can get in a good Thai restaurant (or, of course, in Thailand). Last night was the first time I produced a curry that tasted every bit as good as anything I’ve had in a restaurant. The secret, it turns out, was making my own curry paste.

The recipe I used came from Baipai Thai Cooking School in Bangkok. In March, my husband and I found ourselves in Bangkok with a day to kill. Looking for an alternative to battling the noise and bustle of the city, we discovered many glowing reviews online for Baipai Thai and signed up for a half-day class.

The price was reasonable and the glowing reviews turned out to be entirely accurate: an air-conditioned shuttle van picked us up promptly in our hotel in the morning and took us to the cool, comfortable, and modern school facility. There, along with a pleasant group of like-minded travelers from around the world, we learned how to make four Thai dishes. For each dish, our cheerful and competent instructor first demonstrated how to make it, and we got to taste her handiwork. Then, we tried it ourselves at individual cooking stations. Between courses, an efficient troop of quiet helpers cleaned up and set out pre-chopped and measured ingredients. After lunch, when our bellies were full of delicious Thai food, the shuttle returned us to our hotel, recipes in hand so that we could replicate, at home, the dishes we had learned in class. It was a lovely way to spend half a day, and we learned something to boot.

Yesterday, I finally decided to attempt two of those recipes at home: Gan Ka-Ree Gai (yellow chicken curry) and Yam Woon Sen (a spicy glass noodle salad). Below are instructions for the curry, starting with the ingredients:

Yellow Curry Paste (makes about 3 tablespoons)

3 dried red jalapeno chilies (soaked in water until soft, with seeds removed)

¼ teaspoon salt

1 tablespoon ginger, roughly chopped

1 teaspoon galangal, roughly chopped

2 shallots, roughly chopped (this quantity seemed off to me, so I used about half of a large shallot. Perhaps the shallots in my grocery store are larger than the ones found in Thailand?)

2 cloves garlic, roughly chopped

2 tablespoons mild curry powder

2 teaspoons turmeric powder

Yellow Chicken Curry (about 2 servings)

1 cup coconut cream

1 cup coconut milk

2 tablespoons yellow curry paste

140 grams chicken thigh or boneless chicken breast, cut into bite-size pieces

60 grams potato, cut into bite-sized pieces and pre-cooked

80 grams onion, cut into bite-sized pieces

1 tablespoon vegetable oil

3 teaspoons palm sugar (or to taste)

3 teaspoons fish sauce (or to taste)

noodles at Uwajimaya

I knew I could find some of the more uncommon ingredients at Uwajimaya, an awesome Asian grocery store here in Seattle, so I wandered down to the Uwajimaya in the International District in the afternoon. The most challenging part of the trip was selecting the correct noodles from among the incredible variety on offer, most lacking English labels.

curry paste in progress

I was able to find almost everything. Although the recipe called for “dried red jalapeno chilies,” the only small dried red chilies I could find were “chiles de arbol” from Mexico. I’m not sure if they are the same thing, but they worked great. Because we like spicy food, I used five instead of three in the curry paste, resulting in a healthy but not overpowering kick of spice. I also bought a can of coconut cream and another of coconut milk, but when I opened them they had the same consistency. I remembered the teacher at Baipai explaining that if you let coconut milk sit in the refrigerator, it will separate into cream and milk. This didn’t work for me–the milk and cream remained the same consistency–but the curry turned out great nonetheless.

the finished curry paste

When I got home, I started by making the curry paste. I used a mortar and pestle, like we had done at the cooking school. It took about 15 minutes of vigorous pestle-ing, but I imagine it could be done with a food processor in a fraction of the time.

To make the paste, start by pounding the chilies with the salt until a paste is created. Then, add the ginger and galangal and pound until the paste is well-combined. Repeat with the shallot and garlic, and, finally, add the curry powder and turmeric.

Stir-fry the paste in a bit of vegetable oil over low heat until it is aromatic, about one minute.

finished chicken curry

To make the curry, stir fry the onion in vegetable oil until fragrant and transparent. Add the yellow curry paste (I used all of what I had made, about three tablespoons, instead of the two tablespoons called for the by the recipe) and coconut cream, a little at a time, until mixed well. Add the chicken, coconut milk, and potato, and stir well. Simmer until the chicken is cooked and the potato is tender. Add the palm sugar and fish sauce to taste, stir to combine well, and bring to a boil again. Remove from the heat and serve with rice.

It was delicious, rich and spicy. We both ate too much. But I’m thinking about trying a red curry paste this evening. Yum.


1 Response to “Making home-made Thai curry paste.”

  1. 1 Mild Curry Powder | Suburbhomestead's Blog Trackback on October 31, 2011 at 3:59 pm

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