When I first met my husband, I was pretty green when it came to Thai food. Growing up in a small town in the South doesn't exactly foster culinary exploration. But when you marry someone with a fondness for curries, especially "Thai spicy" curries, you adapt.
We used to buy those little containers of curry paste that you can get at most Asian supermarkets, but they lack the fresh, complex flavor that a good curry should have. So we struck out on our own.
As it turns out, an excellent curry paste is easy to make. The hardest part is tracking down the ingredients. You can find most of these ingredients at any Asian supermarket. For particularly hard to find ingredients, I've included a reasonable substitution. The shrimp paste is an important element in authentic Thai curry paste--in spite of its aggressive fishy smell (prepare yourself), it adds a subtle note of umami that isn't at all overpowering in the finished paste. We highly recommend it, although if you are vegan or vegetarian, feel free to leave it out.
We like to make large batches of curry paste, pack the paste into ice cube trays, freeze, and then store the frozen cubes in zipper-top bags for ease of use. It keeps very well this way, and because the ice cubes thaw quickly, you can just throw them into the pan frozen. —petitbleu
about 2 1/2 cups (enough to fill one brimming ice cube tray with a bit left over)
dried red Thai chiles, soaked in hot water for one hour
4 to 5
large shallots (about 3/4 pound), peeled and chopped
peeled and chopped galangal root (alternatively, you may use fresh ginger)
peeled and chopped fresh turmeric root (do not substitute ground turmeric)
stalks lemongrass, tender bottom part only, chopped
kaffir lime leaves (or the zest of 3 limes), chopped
Drain the soaked red chiles. You do not need to remove all the seeds. I recommend removing the seeds from a portion of the chiles (say, 1/4 to 1/2) unless you like very spicy curries.
Combine the coriander seeds, cumin seeds, and white peppercorns In a small, dry skillet over medium heat. Toast until fragrant and the white peppercorns are beginning to get a little color, about 3 minutes. Set aside to cool.
Combine the cooled, toasted spices along with the remaining ingredients in a blender or food processor. If using a blender, put the lighter ingredients in first and the heavier ingredients on top. As you purée the ingredients, the shallots and garlic will release a lot of moisture, but the mixture will still be fairly dry. With this in mind, be sure to use your blender's tamper to help blend the ingredients evenly. If using a food processor, scrape down the bowl regularly to ensure a smooth paste.
Blend until homogenous and fairly smooth. If desired, pack the paste into ice cube trays and freeze. Pop out the frozen cubes and store in a zipper-top bag. You may store some of the fresh paste in a container in the refrigerator, but be sure to use it within two weeks.
When you use the curry paste, start with one frozen cube (or about 2 tablespoons fresh paste) for a curry that will generously feed two people. This will make a moderately spicy, deeply flavorful curry. If you like very spicy curries, you may want to use up to two frozen cubes (or about 1/4 cup fresh paste). Start small and work your way up. To get the best flavor from your homemade curry paste, fry it in a couple tablespoons of coconut milk before adding other ingredients.
A southern girl with a globetrotting palate, I work alongside my husband John Becker to update and maintain the Joy of Cooking cookbook, website, and app. I love to bake, ferment, and preserve, and I spend an inordinate amount of time perusing farmers markets and daydreaming about chickens and goats.