In this article, we explain how you fix bland Thai curry. We talk about the importance of curry pasta and essential spices in making Thai curry,
How do you fix bland Thai curry?
To fix bland Thai curry you have to adjust the balance of sweet, spicy, sour, and salty. The most crucial thing in Thai curry, therefore, is Thai curry paste! In the ratio of this paste, all the flavors of a Thai curry come into play! The base is chili, added the various ingredients, most often shallots, galangal or ginger, lemongrass.
We also add shrimp paste, a condiment made from dried shrimp that gives a salty flavor and a thicker, pasty curry consistency.
Traditionally, to make a Thai curry paste, we use a mortar to crush the different ingredients: chili, garlic, shallot, ginger, lemongrass, herbs, shrimp paste… Sometimes these ingredients are roasted beforehand to multiply their aromas. But in the end, each curry paste has its specificity and its recipe. Besides, the recipes may vary between regions, seasons, accompaniments!
If there is too much pepper, your dough will be inedible, too hot. If it lacks acidity, it will be bland. If it lacks sugar, it may be too astringent, etc … This is why for Thai curry pastes, the amounts given are almost always indicative: they must be adjusted to balance the whole.
As in the rest of Thai cuisine, when making Thai curry paste, there is a fundamental notion of keeping in mind: the balance of flavors.
There are roughly four primary flavors in Thai cooking that you need to know how to balance: sour, sweet, salty, and spicy. In curry pastes, each of these flavors has a role: the acidity awakens the taste buds and reveals the other preferences, the chili brings the spicy side, the salt serves as a flavor enhancer, and the sweetness sweetens it all.
The different Thai curries
In the end, there are plenty of different Thai curries, each with their specificity and particular taste! We can, for example, quote:
- 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
Curries are at the heart of Thai cuisine. It’s a bit like sauces and juices with us, or pasta with the Italians, you know? Something that you can’t imagine going without, that you eat regularly, and that you love. It’s an institution.
And then … Thai curries are a perfect example of Thailand’s daily family cooking. Each family has its recipe; it’s a way of doing things, its little tradition. And that’s fascinating because it’s an infinite reserve of culinary diversity, new tastes, flavor combinations …
But Thai curries, unfortunately, are still too little known in our ethnocentric American kitchens. For many, making a curry even comes down to buying a jar of curry powder and mixing it with fresh cream. And that is a severe blasphemy against the grandeur of Thai cuisine.
Because Thai curries are, above all, refined flavors, careful preparation, and an incredible and inimitable taste that a vague yellow powder will never match.
What is Thai curry?
So first of all, let’s get it straight. A Thai curry does not contain curry. In any case, no yellow curry powder that everyone knows. In fact, in Thai, curry does not mean “curry.” What is called “Thai curry,” says Kaeng, which can roughly mean “dish in the sauce.” In Thai, the word curry (Kari) refers to Indian spice blends closer to what we call curry.
But in Thailand, curries don’t come in the form of 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. Hence the term “dish in the sauce”!
Thai curry pasta
And yes, a paste! When we talk about Thai curry, we are therefore talking about curry paste. Usually, this paste is made up of a mixture of mashed ingredients, and at the center of which are chili peppers.
Red peppers for the red curry paste, green peppers for the green curry paste … With these peppers, you can put lots of things: lemongrass, ginger, Thai basil leaves or even galangal, garlic, shallots, and the famous shrimp paste (we’ll explain it to you, don’t worry) …
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 culinary influences that the Thai people have encountered throughout their history.
For example, in southern and central Thailand, where Persian, Muslim, Malaysian, and Indian influences have been powerful throughout Thai history, curries called “Massaman Curry” are produced ( Muslim curry in Thai), and which contain a lot of oriental spices such as cumin, cardamom, star anise …
In the West and North of Thailand, we will more readily make “green” curries, with the omnipresence of herbs fresh like coriander, kaffir leaves (lemon tree), or lemongrass, even Thai basil.
To fix bland Thai curry, you have to adjust the balance of sweet, spicy, sour, and salty; Thai is making sure you use the right ingredients.
Western curry has many different varieties. However, the mixture’s main ingredient is usually turmeric, a spice responsible for its vivid yellow color. Cumin, coriander, or fenugreek, one of the oldest medicinal plants known to man, is also common. Cardamom, anise, nutmeg, cloves, cinnamon, or other spices can be added to fix bland Thai curry.
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