In this article, we discuss whether do Thai restaurants make their own curry paste. We also talk about the essential ingredients for Thai curry paste and how to make the best curry paste at home!
Do Thai restaurants make their own curry paste?
Most Thai restaurants do not make their own curry paste in the United States but use premade Thai curry paste such as Maesri, Thai Kitchen, Lobo, or Aroy-D. However, a curry paste’s essence is its freshness, so packaging it and leaving it on a shelf for months is not going well for them. That’s why nothing can match a good homemade curry paste.
Curry pastes (“kreung gaeng” in Thailand and “rempah” in Malaysia) are a staple of Southeast Asian cuisine. They are prepared by grinding fresh herbs, aromatics, and spices into a moist, creamy, and versatile paste, which is used to make curries and stir-fries and dressings.
There are different Thai curries, each with their specificity and particular taste. And in reality, it depends on the restaurant’s policy and chef whether they make their own curry paste or cook one of the following plates:
- Red curry: Kaeng phet in Thai; see our recipe for a red curry of Thai chicken with coconut milk.
- Yellow curry: (Kaeng Kari), which contains Indian curry (Kari): See our recipe for chicken curry and coconut milk
- Green curry: (Kaeng Chiao wan), see our recipe for lamb with Thai green curry with mint.
- Masamam Kaeng matsaman curry (literally Muslim curry): see our recipe for lamb with massaman curry
- Panang curry: Phanaeng
- The curry with betel leaves: Kaeng khae,
- Tamarind sour curry: Kaeng som
- The curry says of the “jungle”: Kaeng pa.
- Noodle curry: Khao soi (a Burmese-influenced dish)
- The fried curry: Phat phrik khing.
How do you make Thai curry paste from scratch?
Preparing it yourself is very simple, although at first, it can be scary and seem cumbersome. Because of the time, it may take us, and, above all, because certain ingredients will sound like Chinese. But I assure you that the result will have been worth it and your curries will take a quantum leap. Also, nowadays, 99% of the ingredients are very easy to find in any big city.
Before starting making Thai curry paste from scratch, answer the following 2 questions:
- What are the basic ingredients of a curry paste? First, the chilies, be they green, red, fresh, or dried. Then a base of onions, garlic, ginger, turmeric, and galangal. Followed by aromatic citrus fruits such as lemongrass, kaffir lime, lime peel, or coriander root.
Dried spices are used in small amounts, mainly coriander, cumin, and pepper. And finally, two elements for seasoning, salt and fermented shrimp paste.
- Should I buy a Thai stone mortar? Well, no. Of course, Thai grandmothers and purists will tell you that there is nothing like a heavy mortar to prepare a paste. That electric processor cuts and does not crush, and that it is impossible to achieve the fineness and smoothness that is achieved with traditional methods.
Sure they are right but keep in mind that you can spend around 1 hour grinding a small amount of curry paste. Worth it? Your choice.
Essential ingredients for Thai curry pasta
- Dried red chili peppers
- 1 teaspoon of uncooked rice
- ½ onion
- 3 garlic cloves
- ½ tablespoon of cumin
- 1 tablespoon coriander seeds
- Lemongrass stem or paste
- A finger of ginger
- Zest of 1 lime or lemon
Of all the ingredients, probably the most difficult to find is lemongrass. Don’t worry and go ahead with the recipe. Saving the distances, the ginger and lemon zest combined can provide a similar touch. Another option is to replace it with lemon verbena.
Thai curry pasta step-by-step
If you start preparing a curry paste at home, I recommend that you follow these tips:
- Use a blender. Avoid processors and thermomix because unless you make large quantities, the ingredients tend to go towards the walls and it will be very difficult to grind them. With a blender, you get a perfect texture, quite fine, and without adding a lot of liquid.
- Cut the ingredients into small pieces. If you don’t, you will get your pasta full of very unpleasant strands. You will also have more problems to crush the whole. This is especially important the woodier the ingredient, especially lemongrass, galangal, and ginger.
- Start with small amounts. Don’t make a quintal the first time. Make a modest recipe, taste, and save what you have leftover. It is best to freeze the rest in an ice cube tray that you only use for that. Cover it with plastic wrap, and once they are frozen, put them in a zip bag. When you are very sure of your recipe, you can start making large quantities.
- The dried chilies to the grinder. Many curry pastes use dried chilies that need to be ground. Most cookbooks propose dipping them in hot water and then mashing them. In my opinion, it is much more efficient to grind them in a spice grinder. In this way, you will get a fine powder without pieces, which will be very easy to mix with the ingredients.
- Adjust the spiciness of your paste. Do not settle for the number of chilies that the recipe says. Reduce or increase to your liking. If you want to preserve the chilies’ color and flavor, lower the heat, remove the seeds and veins they have inside. Of course, then be careful with touching your eyes or other things.
- Dry roast the dried spices before grinding them. This way you will get them to have a much deeper aroma. Do it over very low heat until they give off their smell. Be careful that they do not burn because they would be bitter.
- Grind the dry spices until they are reduced to a fine powder. Do it with the grinder. Then reserve and add them to the pasta at the end, mixing well.
- Follow this order to make the paste: First, put the hardest ingredients (onion, garlic, lemongrass, fresh chilies, galangal …) in the glass of the mini-first with some oil or water. Reduce to a puree. Then add the ground spices, salt, and shrimp paste. Keep mixing until you have a fine paste. Avoid the temptation to add too much water or oil to the mixture for a better mash. If you do, you will have a paste that is too wet and watery.
The best Thai curry pasta
Finally, once you have your pasta ready, keep 2 things in mind;
- The curry paste is raw. Many people think that adding it to any dish is enough. But no. If you don’t fry or cook them beforehand, adding raw garlic and onion puree to a stew will be like adding raw garlic and onion. A disaster.
- When cooking the curry paste, use a lot of oil. When you go to fry it, use more oil than you think. Start by frying over low heat. At first, you will see that the oil disappears “absorbed” by the paste. Keep sautéing until the aroma varies, and the color becomes more intense. You’ll know the pasta is cooked when the oil rises to the top again if you are in danger of getting burned, wet with some water.
The principle is always the same: we crush all these ingredients together with a mortar (or with a blender, eh if you are a modern and busy cook like me) until you get a dough. And then, we use this paste (sparingly) to make the various curries!
Because yes, these famous curry pastes, there is not just one, on the contrary. Each region of Thailand has its culinary traditions regarding curry, depending on the Thai people’s culinary influences throughout their history.
In this article, we discussed whether do Thai restaurants make their own curry paste. We also talked about the essential ingredients for Thai curry paste and how to make the best curry paste at home!
Most Thai restaurants do not make their own curry paste. Some restaurants do, and when you taste a good Thai curry paste, you will feel the difference. In Thailand, curries don’t come in powder but a paste, like a condiment, the consistency of very thick mustard. This paste is used by browning it with the other ingredients (meat, fish, vegetable) and diluting it with coconut milk or broth.
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