Since we’ve been home for all this time my family and I have been discovering amazing recipes from some of our most favourite restaurants. Part of the fun is learning about why certain ingredients are used, the cooking methods and techniques. It’s not only trying to recreate recipes but taking the time has also given us a profound respect and appreciation for the chefs who put so much love and care into their dishes. Their skills not only feed us but they also inspire us. Recently, we were invited to a virtual cooking lesson with Chef Nuit Regular owner and premier Chef of Toronto based Thai SELECT restaurants Pai and Kiin where she taught us how to make her very own red curry paste.
I admit to always buying red curry paste from the store. Nothing wrong with that but if you want to explore the beauty of what goes into making your own, this recipe is an absolute keeper. Now that I’ve learned how to make my own, I don’t want to go back. It’s easier to make than I had first imagined and the taste is incomparable to fresh made.
The work is in the grinding and pounding of the ingredients. The toasting of the first few ingredients sends a beautiful scent in the home, the freshness of the magrud limes, and the tears as a result from incorporating the fresh shallots are all part of the experience. As we worked by hand in traditional Thai techniques, Chef Nuit laughed as she shared stories of back home. Creating this paste was something many did. She mentioning how children were told that their curry paste had to be as smooth as possible other wise they may not get married. (This made us laugh since in the Chinese culture we were also told that we had to eat every grain of rice in our bowls otherwise we would marry someone with pock-marked skin. Why that was a threat? I don’t know but some reason we believed it!) Clearly her paste is the smoothest since she’s built her successful restaurant empire with her dear husband, Jeff.
As mentioned, Chef Nuit’s restaurants are recognized with the Thai SELECT distinction. What does that mean? It’s recognition awarded by the Royal Thai Government guarantee the authenticity of Thai restaurants and Thai food products — food prepared by restaurants with this certification are made with proper ingredients and spices in the traditional Thai style of cooking.
The red curry paste is very versatile to use — I’ve always added it to coconut milk as a base for a sauce. Chef Nuit’s cookbook Kiin has a few delicious recipes that uses this paste. Including a Red Curry Pork (uses pork, Thai eggplant, red chili peppers, Thai basil).
This recipe is easy to create at home once you’ve gathered all the ingredients. A larger mortar and pestle is best to use and helps to release all the gorgeous flavours. Also, be prepared for a great arm workout!
Chef Nuit Regular’s Red Curry Paste (Gaeng Phed)
Makes 1/2 cup
- 1 tablespoon coriander seeds
- 1/2 teaspoon black cumin seeds
- 15 white peppercorns
- 7 dried red spur chilies, seeded, cut into small pieces, soaked in warm water for 10 minutes until softened, and squeezed dry
- 1 tablespoon paprika
- 1 teaspoon sea salt
- 1/4 cup thinly sliced lemongrass (about 2 stalks)
- 1 tablespoon thinly sliced galangal
- 1 teaspoon grated magrud lime zest
- 1/4 cup unpeeled Thai garlic cloves or thinly sliced peeled regular garlic
- 1/4 cup thinly sliced shallots
- 1 tablespoon + 1 1/2 teaspoons Thai shrimp paste
1.Heat a small skillet over medium heat. When the pan is hot, add the coriander seeds, cumin seeds, and white peppercorns and toast, stirring occasionally for 2 minutes. Transfer to plate to cool.
2. Using a stone mortar and pestle, grind the toasted spices to a fine powder. Add the chilies, paprika, and salt and grind to a paste. One at a time, and pounding to a paste after each addition, add the lemongrass, galangal, lime zest, garlic, shallots, and shrimp paste.
3.Store in an airtight container in the fridge for up to 1 week or in the freezer for up to 3 months.
Thoughts & Tips:
I’ve made the paste several times but recognize that not all ingredients are readily available at my local grocer but have found them at the asian market. You can substitute magrud lime for regular lime. Galangal can also be substituted with regular fresh ginger if you have trouble finding it.
When preparing the lemongrass, Chef Nuit mentioned to cut away the bottom white end until you see a bit of the purple rings. Also tear away the outer part of the stalk (you can use that in teas or toss in the other dishes so it’s not wasted).
I would recommend finding Thai Basil where it is listed in a recipe. It is NOT the same as any other basil.
How’s the spice on this recipe? My teens and non-asian hubby, found it to be perfectly balanced. We like heat and the chili peppers in here are not too spicy. I added a couple more peppers on my second round of making this paste.
*This red curry paste recipe was reprinted with permission by Chef Nuit Regular and can be found in her cookbook Kiin: Recipes and Stories from Northern Thailand published by Penguin Random House Canada