We've been making batches of Red Thai Curry Paste for years now – we freeze it in ice cube trays and use it whenever we've got a craving for complex flavor coupled with scorching heat.
I wrote about this, my favorite "color" of the various Thai curries, nearly two years ago. In that post, we'd made a batch and used some of it to make fish tacos. I only posted the curry paste recipe, not one for fish tacos per se. But you can wing that yourself, I bet.
Anyway, we've made plenty more red curry paste since that last post, and we've kind of tweaked it a bit (and continue to do so each time we make it), and so I thought I'd write about it again, and this time, I've got pictures. Lots of them.
A couple of weeks ago, Bill went to one of the Asian markets we like to go to. (For those of you in RI, it's Asian Star Market, on Elmwood Ave in Providence.) While there, in addition to all sorts of other goodies (some of which I'll be writing about soon), he picked up several packages of small red chili peppers. Three or four packages, each containing at least 30-40 little peppers. We didn't have everything else we needed to make the red curry, so we went back the next weeked to finish stocking up. We let the peppers hang out in the fridge, with some air circulating around them so they wouldn't go moldy on us.
Earlier this week, I started making red curry paste. I doubled the recipe in the post I linked to above, but I used the entire coriander (cilantro) plant, including leaves, instead of just the white roots, and when I do that, the curry paste isn't really red. It's kind of…tan with red and green flecks. Like this:
Now, most of the time Bill is the one who makes this. So I asked him what he does to make it look RED. Sometimes he adds a bit of sriracha, other times (ssshhhhh!) he adds ketchup and then on other occasions, he adds some red bell pepper. Just enough to improve the color. Maybe half of regular sized pepper, or a quarter of a really large one. Just enough. So last night I made another batch of the paste, added that to the existing batch in my food processor, and added in one red bell pepper. That did the trick.
So here's a recipe for the really big batch I made this week. The resulting quantity filled two standard-sized ice cube trays (so 24 cubes). We used two for dinner last night, so we've got 22 of them in the freezer, plus whatever remains from a batch Bill made a month or so ago.
Ready? Here's what I used this time. The pictures won't reflect the quantities on my ingredient list because I took pictures while I was making the first portion. Just so you know.
Oh, and I generally cut the chili peppers last, so that I'm not touching every other vegetable with capsaicin-tainted fingers. By the way, in case you don't already know this, it's a good idea to wear gloves when you're cutting chili peppers. Either that, or wash your hands really, really well afterward. Otherwise, any part of yourself that you touch afterward (eyes, for example) will BURN painfully. So there's my PSA for today.
6 stalks of lemon grass, dried out leaves, ends and root ends removed, the rest coarsely chopped. You can find chopped lemon grass in jars sometimes at the grocery store. We tried some, and it's not bad, so if that's all you can find, go for it. You'll need a lot, though. Maybe one jar for every 1 1/2 to 2 lemon grass stalks called for.
6-8 kaffir lime leaves, chopped (depending on size. If they're really small, you might need more.) I haven't seen these outside of an asian market, and they've got a pretty unique flavor, but if you can't find them, you could maybe sub in some lime zest, for added brightness to the flavor, but it's not the same flavor.
A cup of fresh cilantro (stems included) roughly chopped
2 Tablespoons ground coriander
About, oh, 70-100 little red chili peppers. Yes, seventy to a hundred. The original recipe calls for less, I know, and you can use fewer if you want to, but this is what we used. Partly because we had a ton and needed to use them, and partly because we like the heat.
I don't recommend using the seeds, however. I chop the stem end off, slit them down the middle, and scrape the seeds out with the tip of a knife. A few seeds will make it into the curry paste, and that's okay. All of them in there would make your head explode.
4 Tablespoons fish sauce. You can find this in Asian markets, and I think I've seen it in some grocery stores now, too. Fish sauce adds a unique fermented salty flavor – don't just use salt instead, if possible. Get the fish sauce already. It won't bite you.
Okay, now this ingredient is a bit tough. It's shrimp paste. Made from fermented shrimp. Some things smell good when they're fermented: bread, beer. Shrimp? Not so good. We keep our little container of shrimp paste in a ziploc bag in the fridge. Just to keep the smell contained. It's not pretty. But it's authentic, it's part of the recipe, and so we use it. Once you've made the curry paste, you won't notice the shrimp paste in there. It's just one more of the many layers of flavor. So use it.
You'll also need (though I didn't take pictures) - 1/4 cup of vegetable oil and one red bell pepper, seeded and chopped.
Now once everything is in your food processor, puree it until you've got a paste. You may still see bits and pieces of things – a bit of cilantro or kaffir lime leaf…a bit of pepper…something that looks like hair but is really from the ginger (it's very fibrous)…and so on. It should MOSTLY be smooth. And that's when you're done.
Next, just portion it out into ice cube trays and freeze it, then store the frozen cubes in a plastic bag in the freezer. The cubes from this particular tray yield about a tablespoon and a half of the curry paste. Some ice cube trays have smaller cubes, some larger. Just make a mental note or write the information on the bag in your freezer, for future reference. Recipes we've found tend to call for 1-2 tablespoons of curry paste.
Most of the recipes will also have you adding a few other flavors to the final dish – lime juice and coconut milk in particular. The coconut milk usually goes in at the end – kind of like adding the sour cream at the end when you make beef stroganoff.
Give it a try!