I’ve already taught you Green Curry, so now we’re going to talk about the most used curry in Thai cooking, Red Curry. First, I have to straighten you out about the generic use of the Red Curry term!
You might be wondering what needs to be straightened out?…
EVERYTHING! This is not only an attitude adjustment, dear. This is a whole new set of knowledge.
OK let’s re-learn the Thai Red Curry paste.
First, you need to identify the red curry pastes by their names. Just as in Italian cooking not every tomato-based sauce would be called Marinara–there is Arrabbiata, Puttanessca, Amatriciana and so on—with Thai cooking we have many different curry pastes that appear to be red in color and yet are the not the same either. This is the list of the red-colored curry pastes.
The first set is the curry pastes that are normally cooked in coconut milk.
1) Kaeng Kua
2) Kaeng Phed
3) Kaeng Panang
6) Kaeng Garee
The second set is the curry pastes that would be cooked in broth or stir-fried.
8) Kaeng Pa (Jungle Curry)
9) Pad Cha
10) Phad Phrik King
I tried to list them all, but I’m sure I have missed something. Anyhow, these are the popular curry pastes in Thailand and they are all red because they use either dried red chilies or fresh red chilies. So this list is at least a good start for you to learn the different varieties.
All of them contain some similar ingredients and some different ingredients. After all, they are all different curries. Don’t worry, if you keep following my blog, you will know ALL about them, one by one.
I’m going to start with the first set, the curry pastes that would be cooked in coconut milk, because Westerners already know and like them. The most basic of all is Kaeng Kua. Why do I call it the most basic? Because the ingredients used in Kaeng Kua are present in all the rest of the curries on the first list. Most of the times, I make a big batch of it and later on I add more ingredients to turn Kaeng Kua curry paste into Panaeng, Choo Chee, Kaeng Pa or Kaeng Phed. If you found a jar of a red curry paste in my fridge, most likely it would be the Kaeng Kua curry paste.
What’s Kaeng Kua?
In summary, Kaeng Kua is the type of curry that incorporates less meat and more vegetables. And there are variations in this category: some of them taste slightly sweet and sour, and others don’t carry the sourness.
This is the curry that has little influence from Indian or Moslem cuisine, so there are no dried spices used in the paste. The ingredients are staples of most Thai curries. Please see the Thai Curry Episode II for the details of each ingredient. Also do not miss Episode I about what is not supposed to be in Thai curry, please.
Also, all the curry paste ingredients, regardless of who is describing them, are “live” ingredients. Meaning, the measure is not precise, and you can add or subtract (but not substitute) based on your preference, the intensity of the ingredients’ pungent flavors and the type of meats and vegetables that you would cook the curry with.
Most Thais who cook their own curry paste know how to make the curry paste using their nose. I do too. As soon as I open the lid of the Vitamix, I can tell if my curry paste is balanced or what else I need to add to balance the flavor. You will have to make it at least a dozen of times before you can get the hang of it.
My aunts and grandmother’s recipes for curry pastes NEVER listed the amount of each ingredient. They assumed that everyone understand the balance, naturally, and in every Thai household before the restaurant era took over the kitchen, the cook made all of these curry pastes by heart.
My nanny, who also served as a cook at my house in Bangkok, said she could make curry paste with her eyes closed. Indeed, she could because you use your nose more than your eyes when you make curry paste. Even nowadays, the curry paste recipes in Thai cooking magazines and cookbooks still list the ingredients like this: lemongrass -2 stalks, galangal – 2 slices, garlic – 5 cloves, turmeric – 2 knuckles long…SERIOUSLY!
When I started making my own curry paste and was trying to perfect it, I finally understood. Each herb comes with a slightly different intensity EVERY TIME! And the seasons change the amount of water in each ingredient. I can’t even use the Western measuring system to make multiple batches of an “exact” curry paste.
So I have been forced by nature to give up and accept the fact that my curry pastes are going to be slightly different every time I make them. Now I relax and focus more on the balance of the aroma. My recipe here gives you the estimated amounts of the ingredients I used and hopefully you can use them as a guideline until you develop your own balance.
As I told you before, I’m going to make a big batch of this Kaeng Kua curry paste. Not only so I can store it in the fridge for a while and turn it into many different curry pastes later on, I need it to be enough to cover the blades in my Vitamix.
This recipe I’m giving you is enough for a pot of curry for the whole village or at least for two dozen of people who eat only curry for their meals. I put my finished paste in a jar about 16 – 20 oz. So, I suggest dividing all the ingredients by four for your own reasonable portion.
Ingredients (for 16-20 oz. of curry paste)
Dried red chilies (I used California Chilies) 10-14 pods
Galangal sliced thinly then chopped 1/4 cup
Lemongrass sliced thinly then chopped 1/2 – 3/4 cup
Garlic sliced or chopped 1/3 – 1/2 cup
Shallot sliced thinly or chopped 1/2 – 3/4 cup
Kaffir lime zest grated 1-2 teaspoon
Coriander (Cilantro) root chopped 1 tablespoon
Shrimp paste wrapped in foil or banana leaf and roasted 1 tablespoon
Salt 1 tablespoon
1) Whenever you use dried chilies, follow this preparation method:
1.1) Cut off the stems
1.2) Cut along the length of the chili pod and remove all the seeds and membranes. These are the parts that contain the most heat in the chilies. Unless you want them hot, then keep the membranes or use a different kind of chilies. In that case I would recommend Thai chili.
1.3) Wash them throughly and cut them to about 1/2 – 1 inch in length.
1.4) Soak them in cold water for at least 10 minutes.
2) Please refer back to the Green Curry recipe for the method. I again just simply puree them in the Vitamix until they are smooth. Because this recipe uses dried chilies, I add about 1/4 cup of drinking water into the mixing bowl to keep it moving.
What is the acceptable smoothness?
This is the old method taught by my grandmother. She told me to smear the curry paste on my palm and if EVERYTHING can go in the busy network of lines in my palm, then I’d reached the level of smoothness she was looking for. Obviously I was pounding vigorously with the pestle in the mortar; I wish I knew of Vitamix back then!
Sounds complicated and risky, right? Okay, the modern method is to puree until you don’t see any chunky pieces of ingredients left. How’s that? Smooth puree, that’s what we’re looking for.
3) Once you are done you can keep it in the refrigerator for a few days. If you cook it lightly with coconut oil just to sterilize the fresh ingredients, you can keep it up to two weeks.
What will happen after two weeks?
You can still use it, but the quality would be only as good as the pre-made in the jars or cans. It loses the potency of fresh-made curry paste, that’s all.
If you follow my canning instructions here you can keep it for a long time.
3.1) Prepare the jars by putting them in the oven. Yes, baked in the oven instead of boiling them in hot water. I bake them in the oven at 225º for 20 minutes. Don’t forget the lids. Put them in at the last five minutes of baking the jars. (If you want to know the detail, you can visit my basic jam making post here)
3.2) Heat coconut oil in the wok, add the curry paste and cook over medium heat until you can see the steam come out of the contents in the wok. Cook for another minute just to make sure that every part of the curry has been cooked.
Alternatively, you could actually steam the paste rather than fry it, but I already added the water to help it move in the machine, so drying it out a bit isn’t going to hurt it.
3.2) Fill the jars with curry paste and seal them.
The last report said it kept for three and a half months, but I never keep it that long. So I can’t tell you how long you can keep it, but tell me how long you keep yours (firstname.lastname@example.org<mailto:email@example.com>) and the results of your cooking, too.
WARNING: This is quite important. I’ve heard people who make curry paste say that they freeze their curry paste! They seem to be so happy about their cleverness and also happy that they can always have it on hand…I’m NOT! I don’t know if those people can’t detect the degradation of the quality or they expect it, or they just simply don’t give a damn!
I NEVER FREEZE MY FRESH MADE CURRY PASTE. The taste of frozen garlic and shallots would be unbearable to me. They become bitter after I thaw them! Also the curry paste would leak juice out, hence the pungent flavors would be gone with the juice and the end result would be worse that the canned version. Don’t forget that we’re going through the trouble to make our own curry paste because we want to get the fresh taste that is far superior to the pre-made, right? Do not lose that intention!
Also if you want to know how to use Kaeng Kua curry paste to make Panang curry paste, Kaeng Pa curry paste, Choo Chee curry paste and Kaeng Ped curry paste (This is the “generic” red curry paste that you will find in jars, cans and some people will use it for everything), just click on the link. It will take you to an episode about “Advance Thai Curry Paste“.