All About Thai Curry Pastes

Thai curry pastes form the basis of all Thai curries. But what exactly is a curry paste, and how do you use it? In this article we look at why curry pastes are an essential ingredient of so many curries, before taking a more detailed look at some classic Thai curries.

Introduction to curry pastes

Curry pastes vary from cuisine to cuisine and not just in flavour but in the way that they are used. A curry paste is simply an aromatic paste made up of wet spices, possibly with the addition of herbs and dried spices. Wet spices are fresh spices such as ginger, galangal, garlic, chili, lemongrass, tamarind, and shallots. They lend fresh, sharp, aromatic flavours to the curry, and also add body to a sauce.

How curry paste is made.

Curry paste is made by blending together a combination of wet and dry spices, possibly with the addition of fresh herbs, and helped along with a little oil and salt. The traditional way is in a large coarse bowl with a coarse stick (known as a mortar and pestle) but a processor or blender could also be used.

Can you curry paste instead of curry powder?

The quick answer here is no. Yes, there are ways around everything; if you only had dry spices available, for example, then you could certainly recreate some of the flavours. But wet spices and dry spices are two very different things, that serve completely different purposes.

The difference also lies within the cuisines themselves. In Indian curries, the wet spices are cooked first to form the base and then dry spices are added at various stages to layer the flavours throughout the dish. Commercial spice pastes may be used by the home cook for convenience, yet these differ from curry pastes in that they are mostly dry spices mixed with oil. In Thai curries, the curry paste contains all of the aromatic ingredients, wet and dry, and is cooked into the liquid. Usually coconut milk.

Does curry paste need to be cooked?

Curry paste needs to be cooked to release the aromatic flavours, and allow all of the flavours of the dish come together. The fibres within the wet spices also need time and heat in order to soften.

When to use curry paste.

Curry paste is used at the beginning of the dish. Added first to the hot pan, with a little extra oil, it is cooked out for several minutes before adding subsequent ingredients.

How much curry paste to use.

Whereas a spice paste is a highly concentrated blend of dry spices and oil that is used maybe a tablespoon at a time, curry paste is not so concentrated and is designed to form the entire base of the dish.

Recipes, and individual tastes, vary wildly but as a general rule of thumb use 5 to 6 tablespoons (around 120g) of paste to each 400ml tin of coconut milk.

Thai curry pastes

Thai curries have become immensely popular for their super fragrant heat. For the home cook, they are are also quick and easy to make. There are three basic Thai curry pastes; red, green and yellow. There is another Thai curry that has become immensely popular so worth a mention, and that is Massaman curry.

Massaman curry paste.

Massaman curry is closer in flavour to Indian curries than your usual fragrant Thai curry profile, due to its Indian and Malay roots. Made most often with beef, alongside potatoes in a rich spicy peanut sauce, it has a signature smoky feel that comes from toasting all the ingredients from which the curry paste is made.

Massaman curry paste is made with galangal, garlic, shallots, and dried red chillies as well as toasted cumin, nutmeg, cloves, cardamom, cinnamon and coriander. Black cardamom has a lovely smoky richness all of its own.

Red curry paste.

Red Thai curry, contrary to popular belief, is milder than Thai green curry. It is the ‘medium’ of the three major coconut curry styles. It is made with red chillies as well as shallots, galangal, garlic and lemongrass. From there, depending on the (often secret) recipe other spices may be added.

Try our organic Thai red curry paste

Thai green curry paste.

Thai green curry is the hottest of the Thai standard curries. Alongside the usual shallots, ginger/galangal, lemongrass and garlic combo, it uses green chillies, plenty of Thai basil, and also kaffir lime leaf, to create a fiery yet fragrant curry.

Thai yellow curry paste.

Thai yellow curry is considered to be the mildest of the Thai curries. The yellow colour comes from plenty of turmeric, which is a grounding earthy spice that rounds out flavour. It usually features a little cumin too, as well as the ubiquitous fragrant wet spices.

Try our organic Thai yellow curry paste

Explore more exciting flavours in our in-depth guide to Southeast Asian cuisines and ingredients.

Our authentic range of organic Asian sauces and spices is sourced from small-scale producers throughout Australasia.

This article was reproduced on this site with permission from the “Asian Grocery wholesaler”.
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