Curry Paste – The Basics

Every Thai curry starts with a curry paste. At the supermarket one can buy ready-made pastes in jars, but most Thai cooks rather look down on the stuff in jars and prefer either to buy a paste from a local market stall, or make their own. Making a paste the traditional way is a time-consuming and laborious process. The ingredients are pounded together in a large, stone mortar with a heavy pestle until they are smooth and homogeneous.

The ingredients are added in a particular order, starting with the hardest/driest ingredients and ending with the softest/wettest. As the pounding progresses the cook can judge the paste by its aroma and adjust the recipe as necessary, for example if the galangal is stronger than usual, or the shallots are particularly pungent.

Pastes made this way have an intensity of flavour that mechanically-made ones don’t – something that is particularly noticeable if the paste is fried (as opposed to boiled).

Using a Blender

Much time and effort can be saved by using a blender. Put the ingredients in the goblet and add some water (or, if it’s a coconut milke-based curry, coconut milk), then blend to a smooth paste. It’s best to blitz for a few seconds then let the paste rest; it’s vital not to let the paste get hot and start to cook – this will change the paste’s taste (and not for the better) and the coconut milk (if used) will curdle. For best results use as little liquid as you can get away with since it hinders the frying process.

Don’t be tempted to blitz the paste using oil rather than water or coconut milk: a tough, sticky ball will be formed which probably won’t break down when you cook it.

Pastes made with coconut milk do not keep as well as other pastes; they’ll only keep for a few days in the fridge.

Finally, blenders weren’t designed to make curry pastes, so doing so may well shorten the life of your blender.

Using a Mincer

An alternative approach is to use a mincer. This has the advantage that no extra liquid need be added to the paste.

Start by passing the ingredients through the mincer using the coarsest plate. Repeat 2-3 times until you have a fine paste, then switch to the finest plate and pass the ingredients through once more.

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