Many Thai and Thai-inspired dishes start with a highly flavoured paste. These are made from a mixture of ingredients, which are ground or blended together. The type of dish or curry intended will dictate the exact ingredients used, but they will usually contain a balance of sour, sweet, salty and spicy elements.
Typical herbs and spices used may include:
Coriander (both the leaves, stalk and sometimes the root), kaffir lime leaves and sometimes the zest too (also know as makrut lime), lemongrass, chillies (red or green), turmeric, garlic, ginger, galangal, cloves, cardamom, white pepper, Thai basil (also know as sweet basil), cinnamon and star anise.
The pastes may also contain:
Lime juice, palm sugar, shrimp paste, fish sauce, tamarind and shallots.
Buy from supermarkets or specialist Asian shops. Alternatively you can make your own at home.
Choose the best
The pastes are either named according to their colour or indicative of the curry they are used to create. For example, massaman curry paste is the basis of a massaman curry, traditionally made with meat (usually beef), potatoes, coconut milk and either peanuts or cashews. Red curry paste (known as gang ped or kreung gaeng phet daeng) is made with fresh or dried red chillies and green curry paste (known as gang keow wan or kreung gaeng keo wahn) will contain green chillies and herbs. Other ingredients in these pastes will vary but red and green curry pastes are the most easily obtainable from high street shops and supermarkets. Yellow curry paste is also available (although not as widely) and will contain turmeric to give it a golden colour. If you want to buy a ready-made curry paste look for one containing a high proportion of fresh ingredients. Whether you’re buying a paste or making your own, make sure that the flavours are balanced. You’ll need sour ingredients like lime or tamarind, salty flavours such as fish sauce, sweet notes from palm or cane sugar, heat from chilli and lots of fragrant spices.
You can put homemade curry paste into a lidded jar and store in the fridge up to a week. Shop-bought curry pastes vary so check the pack for use by and best before dates.
Usually the curry paste is fried in a large pan or wok and then meat and/or vegetables are added. Shortly afterwards liquid such as coconut milk is poured in and the mixture is simmered. Serve the Thai curry with rice or noodles.