Friday, 4 April 2014

Thai Red Curry Paste (Nam Phrik Gaeng Phed) - from Pestle and Mortar to Thermomix instructions

An essential ingredient for Thai dishes - if you make it yourself, the flavour is far superior to bought pastes.

This will last a little while in the fridge in a sealed container, but I like to freeze it in portions after giving it a couple of days for the flavours to meld, which means it will last for months and retain the original flavour. Delicious in dishes such as my Thai Red Duck Curry, Thai Chicken Satay with Peanut Sauce and Cucumber Salad, Thai Pork with Green Beans, and Thai Pork in Chilli Sauce.

Makes approximately 480g (with 1tbsp water added to process - 20 portions of 24g each, easily doubled). 319 calories for the batch, therefore with 20 single servings, that’s 16 calories per serving, if you're counting or need to know.

The milder cousin to green curry paste, used in curries with coconut milk/cream, garnished with kaffir lime leaves, chillies and Thai sweet/holy basil. Red curries are generally thicker, milder and less pungent than green curries, with warmer spice notes. Will keep in the fridge for 2-4 weeks. [Calories in square brackets]

  • 4 tbsp coriander roots, scraped and chopped (or 8 tbsp stalks – save the leaves - if you don’t have roots) [14]
  • 25 dried long red chillies (mine weighed 0.6g), halved lengthwise, de-seeded and soaked in warm water [16]
  • 1 tbsp salt
  • 6 stalks lemongrass (about 50g), peeled (the first layer, second if tough and dry) and finely sliced, even if using a food processor (soak in warm water after slicing, if they’re tough/dry) [50]
  • 20g galangal (or ginger), peeled and finely sliced (or thicker, if you're blending e.g. in a Thermomix) [14]
  • 10g kaffir lime zest (about 1 ½ limes worth, or normal lime zest, if you can’t get kaffir, or use 4 kaffir lime leaves instead), finely chopped (or grated) or a mixture of the two [1]
  • 6 red shallots, peeled (100g, or a quartered red onion if you can’t get shallots), finely sliced (or chopped if onion) if using pestle and mortar, otherwise left whole [24]
  • 24 cloves garlic (100g) peeled and finely sliced if making the paste with a pestle and mortar (you can peel them all together in the Thermomix, Speed 4/Reverse Blade Direction / 3 to 6 seconds) [49]
  • 3 tsp shrimp paste (check ingredients for gluten free, Paleo etc. and vegetarians or vegans could omit and substitute an extra tsp salt to avoid impairing the flavour, or use yellow bean paste (not gluten free), or a medium miso paste instead - or white miso, if gluten free, e.g. Clearsping, check label) [17]

The roasted and/or ground spices
“Roasting” refers to heating the spices through briefly in a hot, dry pan until they become fragrant. Remove immediately to a cool place so that they do not burn in the still hot pan. (You can roast in the Thermomix, up to 100g of whole spices, 6 minutes / Varoma Temperature / Speed 2 until they're fragrant, then leave to cool, and grind at speed 10, then set aside).
  • 5 tsp coriander seeds, roasted and ground [25]
  • 3 tsp cumin seeds, roasted and ground [54]
  • 15 cloves, roasted and ground (or use 1tsp gound cloves, briefly roasted) [14]
  • ½ tsp ground nutmeg [13]
  • 2 tsp white peppercorns (use other peppercorns, if you don’t have white, or omit), ground [28]


You can make the curry paste with a pestle and mortar if you want to be traditional (and are up for some heavy duty pounding of ingredients!), or with a food blender (or processor - Thermomix or similar will make very short work of this - see above for roasting/grinding spices, in the ingredients section) if you want to save time and effort. You can get some very reasonably priced electric spice grinders if you grind things relatively often - I have had a cheap Andrew James one, which cost about £16-18 which does a fantastic job of grinding up dried spices in small quantities.

If using a pestle and mortar, you add individual ingredients separately, starting with the hardest and driest, to the softest and wettest, reducing each ingredient to a pulp before adding the next. You will get a superior flavour and texture to making it in a food processor, but it is a laborious and time-consuming, messy task!
So, rather than being put off making your own curry pastes (which are nothing like the insipid versions bought from supermarkets in jars), you might prefer to at least start out by using your food blender (or processor).

If you use a blender, you may need to blend smaller amounts of the wet ingredients at a time (depending on the size/power of your processor), and may even need to add a little water (only a tbsp or so) to ensure a smooth blend of the ingredients. Don’t be tempted to add oil though, as it will emulsify. If you do add water to part of a batch, you can then squeeze it out, (maybe using a fine sieve), to add to the next batch/ingredient, then squeeze out and add again, to concentrate the flavour rather than just adding more and more water each time. To complete making the paste in the Thermomix, set the ground spices aside, and add all the other ingredients. Mince at speed 9, scraping down as necessary, until the ingredients form a wet paste, then add  the ground spices, and blend together at Speed 4 until evenly mixed

A further option, is to pass the ingredients through a mincer a few times, which won’t require added water, using a fine mincer plate at the end.

Store unused paste in the fridge, or after a day or two, portion out and freeze (I use a flexible ice cube tray - remember this makes 20 portions, so weigh the entire quantity, then divide appropriately for ease of use once frozen, or just use to taste).

Notes and tips
Long, dried red chillies can be found in good value bags in Indian/Asian/Oriental stores as well as other places.

Making the paste yourself may seem like a bit of a faff, but it’s well worth it for the flavour, so if you like it, next time double or quadruple it, even more so if you're going to portion it up in the freezer.


  1. Excited to have a go at this in my new Thermomix...but wasn't able to source whole dried chillies. Any thoughts about the quantity of fresh long red chillies that would be needed as a substitute (not too concerned about heat, just wanted to get the portion right to maintain the same consistency).

    1. Hi Donna, if you really can't get hold of dried long red chillies anywhere, then I would play it safe and use half the quantity of fresh chillies - go for the large red chillies, which are milder, and de-seed them. You can always add to the heat with extra chillies when you cook the individual curries, rather than it being too hot and wrecking your dinner!


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