Saturday, 5 April 2014

Trying my hand at homemade Thai curry paste

Thai mass a man curry
My Chicken Massaman Curry - made with my own Thai Curry Paste
Normally when I make a Thai curry I use a ready-made paste which always results in a nice tasty curry and seriously cuts down the time and effort involved, not to mention the cost of buying all the exotic ingredients required. However, after getting hooked on the latest TV series from The Hairy Bikers (those two northern lads who ride across the world on their motorbikes, cooking up all kinds of delicious food in the most unlikely locations) I was inspired to try my hand at making my own. 

Hairy Bikers' Asian Adventures saw Si and Dave trekking across Hong Kong, Thailand, Japan and Korea creating all manner of oriental edibles and meeting some interesting people - although I'd rather not be reminded of their attempt at Sumo wrestling! The point is that they made all their cooking look so easy! 

My hubby had bought me the cookbook from the series (to add to my already large collection) so I decided that our Friday night curry this week would be a recipe taken from my new book and made from scratch - paste and all! I picked out a few recipes, made a list of the ingredients I'd need and took myself off to one of the oriental supermarkets in Newcastle city centre. Everything I needed was there in the shop, although admittedly I did require some help from one of the assistants to locate the shrimp paste.

oriental ingredients
Galangal, Lemongrass, Sichuan Pepper. Hoisin Sauce, Shrimp Paste and
Oyster Sauce - I'm ready to try some Asian Adventures of my own!

Thai Chicken Massaman Curry is always my first choice when we eat in Thai restaurants - it's cooked with potato and peanuts and has a lovely creamy taste - so I am familiar with what a good Massaman Curry tastes like and decided to try the recipe for this.

I was surprised at how easy it was to make the paste. It simply involved chopping up some lemon grass, galangal and chilli and throwing them into a food processor with some spices, shrimp paste, fish sauce, oil, peanuts and lime leaves and blending them to a mush. Granted there were 17 different ingredients in total but if you're like me and love your spices then you've probably got a lot of them at home already anyway - cinnamon, pepper, cloves, cumin, nutmeg etc.
Thai curry paste
All the ingredients were popped into a food processor
and blitzed to a paste.

The paste was fried with chicken and onions and then a few other ingredients were added to make a sauce - potato, tomato, coconut milk, fish sauce, stock and lime juice and it was all allowed to simmer for a bit to cook the chicken through. I have to say that the results were phenomenal! This has to be one of the most delicious Massaman Curries I have ever had and I'm sure my homemade paste had played no small part in that.

So, if it was so easy why hadn't I tried it before? It's because I'd always been put off by some of the unusual ingredients that appear in curry paste recipes that I found a bit daunting - galangal and shrimp paste for example, and I thought it would be time consuming and difficult when the reality is that it's very simple and straightforward. 

In an attempt to help others who, like me, are dissuaded from making their own pastes because of fear of the weird and wonderful ingredients, I have listed the most common ones below with a description of what they are. Many will be available in larger supermarkets but I have found the oriental supermarkets better (and cheaper) for these types of products. If there isn't one such establishment near you then there are lots of online stores that sell Asian ingredients.

Common Ingredients in Thai Curry Paste

Galangal - a root that looks very like ginger but has a stronger, more pungent flavour. It is usually peeled then chopped or grated before being added. Ginger can be used if galangal is not available.

Shrimp Paste - a paste made from fermented ground shrimp mixed with salt. It has a really strong, pungent smell but don't be put off by this - it adds a subtle flavour when used sparingly.

Fish Sauce - an amber coloured liquid extracted from the fermentation of fish (usually anchovies) with sea salt. It appears in most Thai curries and gives it a distinctive taste.

Spices - Cardamom, Cumin, Cinnamon, Cloves, Star Anise and Pepper are the most common.

Kaffir Lime Leaves - usually found dried they add a citrusy flavour and fragrance to food. In pastes they are chopped very finely so combine really well into the paste.

Chillies - usually Birds Eye Chillies are used in Thai cooking but if, like me, you find them too hot, a milder chilli can be used instead. Chilli Flakes are also common - these are dried so should be added in a smaller quantity than fresh chilli.

Lemongrass - a green stalk that adds an aromatic citrusy quality to dishes. It is best fresh but if fresh isn't available there are some good jars of lemongrass pastes available that work really well.

I've posted a picture of my finished curry at the top of this post but won't replicate the full recipe - it isn't available online, presumably because you need to buy the book to get it - but I have linked to a few websites that have some Thai-inspired paste recipes that I haven't tried but look and sound good - the Massaman recipe sounds very similar to the one I tried.

I really would urge anyone who likes to make a good Thai curry to try their hand at making their own curry paste - it does take a bit of effort to get hold of all the ingredients but it's so much nicer (and more fun) than opening a jar!

Thai Massaman Curry Paste

Panang Curry Paste

Thai Red Curry Paste

Thai Green Curry Paste

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