Have curry paste...help!
August 4, 2007 6:31 AM   Subscribe

I have been experimenting with both red and green curry paste, trying to perfect my curry recipe.

So far, I have used coconut milk, cooked chicken, onion, chickpeas and/or green peas. I put a teaspoon of fish sauce (why oh why does it smell so foul) and a little soy. We serve the whole lot over rice. It's yummy, but I bet i can do better. I know the possibilities are endless for curry. Is peanut butter required? Best curry recipe ever? Any suggestions?
posted by beachhead2 to Food & Drink (11 answers total) 18 users marked this as a favorite
What about dried/ground spices to put in the curry? Such as cayenne, cumin, turmeric, ginger? Or garlic and hot peppers?

I have a great yellow chicken coconut curry from one of my Indian cookbooks that never fails to please, it tastes pretty similar to a Thai curry. E-mail me at the address in my profile and I'll send it to you.
posted by deinemutti at 7:29 AM on August 4, 2007

There are numerous curries that use a red curry paste as a base. Unfortunately, I just saw this post as I was about to head out to work, so can't help with the rest right now.

What do you feel is missing in your red curry? My standard red curry recipe (I pound my own curry pastes), is to heat some coconut cream, wait till it separates, fry the paste in the cream, add a bit of palm sugar, then add thin coconut milk and the meat of choice, cook till almost done, and finally add some kaffir lime leaves to add the citrus flavour. Some fish sauce is also added to balance out the saltiness, but different brands have widely varying levels of saltiness, so please check first.

(Peanut butter? Hell no. Even a Panang or Massaman curry should always have freshly ground peanuts.)

Fish sauce stinks, yes, but it's made from fermenting fish, so somewhat expected. Cooking will get rid of the strong smell. :)
posted by madman at 7:37 AM on August 4, 2007 [3 favorites]

My green curry recipe is similar to madman's although I used canned paste. I season it with palm sugar, lime juice, and fish sauce before I add the meat. I don't use a set amount, instead I add a little of each then taste it to make sure the flavors are balanced. Then I usually top it off with a little bit of Thai basil.

You could experiment with different veggies. I frequently put zucchini in my green curry. Also, you could use raw chicken rather than cooked. I use thigh meat in my curry, and it comes out very tender.

What brand of paste are you using? Many people like the kind that come in the plastic bag inside a tub. Mae Ploy and Maesri are decent.
posted by cabingirl at 8:14 AM on August 4, 2007

My green curry paste, originally from Cook's Illustrated and adapted after some experimenting:

* 20 green Thai chillies or 15 serranos/jalepeƱos
* One Thai bird chili or habeƱero
* 3 stalks lemongrass
* 1 small white or yellow onion
* 20 cloves garlic
* 1/4 cup minced cilantro
* 4 Tbsp lime zest (about 4 limes)
* 3 Tbsp grated ginger
* 2 Tbsp whole corriander
* 2 tsp whole cumin
* 1 Tbsp sichuan peppercorns (white peppercorns are OK, too)
* 2 Tbsp peanut oil
* 1 tsp salt

Stem, seed, and chop the chillies. If you like your curry to be very spicy you can leave in some of the seeds or add more super-spicy chillies.

Trim off the tough outer layer of the lemongrass, then chop the bottom 3-4 inches or so. In a food processor combine the chillies with the onion, garlic, cilantro, zest, and ginger; pulse until you've got a paste.

Toast the spices in a small skillet over low heat until they smell all toasty and delicious, then grind them up (I use a coffee grinder - a dedicated one that I don't use for coffee, of course).

Add the spices, oil, and salt to the paste and pulse until combined.

This makes a lot of curry paste, but every time I've tried to make less it doesn't turn out as good. Luckily, it freezes really well. I freeze the unused paste in ice trays to get little cubes; that makes it easy to defrost just what I need.

Once you've got the paste, a curry sauce is extremely easy:

Spoon the fatty top layer of cream off a can of coconut milk. Put the coconut cream and about 1/3 cup of curry paste into a skillet or dutch oven and simmer until the liquid evaporates. This leaves just the coconut fat, which will start to fry the paste. Let if fry for about 5 minutes, and then add the rest of the coconut liquid along with a bit of brown sugar and fish sauce. Add any veggies or meat you like and simmer until cooked.

For a real treat, track down some Thai sticky rice to eat with your curry.
posted by jacobian at 8:24 AM on August 4, 2007 [3 favorites]

Oh, and you should experiment with the ingredients in your paste; once you've got the basic idea you can easily make millions of different kinds of curry.
posted by jacobian at 8:25 AM on August 4, 2007

The premade (Thai) curry pastes generally have all of the following ingredients in them, but I find adding extra can really enhance the flavor (plus, it's a fun little treasure hunt to track some of them down, depending on where you live):

kaffir lime leaves
galangal (fresh or dried)
fresh lemongrass

In terms of substitutions, as someone pointed out above you can use lime juice instead of the leaves (I use both); galangal is similar to ginger. Oh, and definitely add a bit of sugar. I was really surprised how much of a difference it makes.

I like making fish curries with catfish or tilapia--you add it a few minutes before you're ready to serve, it cooks that fast. Two of my favorite veggies to add are pumpkin and long beans.
posted by veronica sawyer at 9:33 AM on August 4, 2007

Don't forget to read this previous question, which got me a very good curry the very first time I made it.
posted by !Jim at 10:06 AM on August 4, 2007

The order in which you cook everything is surprisingly important. You may already do any or all of these, but here are some tips that I think help a lot.

First, saute/fry your curry paste, chilis and various spices (not fish sauce yet) in a little bit of oil until the aroma is almost overpowering. Then - and this is important - cover it in coconut cream and fish sauce. Let it boil for a while a mix with the spices (it won't reduce much), then add your vegetables (I like onions, snow peas, firm tofu and whole or halved mushrooms, but whatever you want). After a few minutes, add in raw, cubed chicken. Finally, add your coconut milk and reduce to an acceptable level. Top with fresh sweet basil and cilantro, serve over jasmine rice.

Seasonings to try include lemongrass, tons and tons of fresh garlic, pepper and (believe it or not) a little nutmeg or cinnamon.
posted by borkingchikapa at 10:06 AM on August 4, 2007 [1 favorite]

Get good quality paste - I second the recommendations of Mae Ploy and Maesri brands - and follow Madman's recipe precisely. The stuff in a glass jar is no good.
Skip the soy sauce, use plenty of fish sauce and some palm sugar. Eggplant is the best vegetable to put inThai curries; buy the smallest eggplants you can find, and if you can find the golfball-sized round ones you are in luck.
Increase the ratio of curry paste to coconut milk until the spiciness is about as high as you are comfortable with. These dishes should be hot!
posted by nowonmai at 11:51 AM on August 4, 2007 [1 favorite]

The Thai restaurant near my work makes an awesome green curry. It includes bay leaves and mint, which gives it a fantastic fragrance.
posted by bystander at 4:01 AM on August 5, 2007

Someone on askme swore by shrimp paste as being essential.
posted by BrotherCaine at 5:07 AM on August 5, 2007

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