Making authentic homemade Thai red curry paste from scratch is very simple. All you need are a few spices, fresh herbs, and a kitchen tool that will help you make the tastiest, most fragrant, and flavorful homemade red curry paste.
Once you make this homemade Thai curry paste from scratch, be sure to use it right away to make these AUTHENTIC, EASY, AND DELICIOUS Thai Red curry with Kombucha and Authentic Thai red curry recipe, with chicken. These two red curry recipes are very popular on my blog!
Thai red curry paste is arguably the most widely used curry paste in Thai cuisine as it serves as a base for many other curries and recipes that you can easily adjust and modify.
I will show you two different techniques to make this authentic Thai red curry paste from scratch using a food processor and a mortar and pestle. Making curry pastes from scratch is easier than you think!
Why Make Your Own Curry Paste?
- Making Thai curry pastes is easier than you think! You just need the right ingredients, and you are set!
- Making and using your own fresh curry pastes will change the way you experience Thai curries. You will be able to taste and smell the exotic ingredients in the most delightful way. Trust me on this one. (:
- Finding ingredients for making Thai curry pastes is much easier now than it’s ever been. Most, if not all of the ingredients can be found at your local Asian market.
- Curry pastes freeze very well. You can freeze them in small portions in ice cube trays for easier measurements. Once they are frozen, be sure to remove them from the ice trays and store them in air-tight containers to keep the freshness longer.
Ingredients for Making Authentic Thai Red Curry Paste
To make authentic Thai red curry paste, these are the key ingredients you’ll need. Not all the ingredients are listed here, but these are the essential ones that need a little explanation and possible substitutes.
- Dried red chilis. There are a few dried chilis options you can use. These are great options: Chilis for the heat in the paste, Thai bird’s eye chilis, or Piri Piri chilis, Thai long chilis (Prik Chee Fah), De Arbol or dried Serrano chilis. For the larger chilis used to compliment the smaller peppers for added color and flavors, use these; Dried California/Anaheim chilis, or Gualillo. This dried chilis set is a good combination of the spicy and mild dried chilis perfect for making curry paste.
- White peppercorn. White peppercorns are made from ripe black peppercorns berries. The skin is soaked and stripped making the white peppercorns less spicy but it generates a very unique flavor and smell.
- Coriander seeds. Coriander seeds are easily found in the spice section of most Asian markets. Use the powder form if unable to find whole seeds.
- Cumin seeds. Cumin seeds are easily found amongst the other dry spices mentioned above. Use powder only if unable to find the seeds.
- Lemongrass. Use fresh lemongrass if possible, and only use the rounded 3-5 inches part of the stem. Make sure to chop your lemongrass into fine pieces before pounding to help speed up the paste-making. Use frozen lemongrass if fresh ones are not available to you. Read more about Lemongrass and how to use it in Thai cuisine.
- Galangal. Use fresh or frozen galangal only for Thai curry paste recipes. Never use dried or powdered galangal. Also, never substitute ginger for galangal, they are two completely different ingredients with very different flavors and fragrances. Most if not all Asian markets will have fresh or frozen galangal. Read more about Galangal in Thai cooking here.
- Kaffir lime zest.This is the one ingredient you may not be able to find fresh even at some well-stocked Asian markets. If you are unable to find fresh kaffir limes, try this instead as a substitute. Use 1 lime zest plus 3-4 Kaffir lime leaves. If you are able to find key limes, use 3-4 key limes instead of 1 medium-sized lime. Key limes have a very fragrant profile that is very nice to use as a substitute for kaffir limes. Read more about Kaffir limes and leaves and substitute here.
- Cilantro roots or stems. Cilantro roots are commonly sold in Thailand. They are rare to find in the US but the next best option is the stems. The largest and lowest part of the stems will do.
- Shrimp paste. I highly recommend using Thai shrimp paste for a more authentic taste in your red curry paste. The smell is potent but the paste will add a very deep umami taste to your curry paste.
- Shallot. I don’t recommend substituting purple onions for making curry pastes. Shallots are typically available in most grocery stores.
- Garlic. Garlic is essential in making curry pastes. Since a lot of it is used in each batch, here is a little trick to help you peel them easier. Smash the garlic cloves with the flat side of a knife or a heavy kitchen tool like a pestle. It’s easier to peel off the garlic skin once smashed.
- Salt. I recommend using kosher or Himalayan fine grain salt. Using the salt is essential if you are making the curry paste in a mortar and pestle. It helps with breaking down the oil of the peppers and makes it easier to crush the peppers into a fine paste.
How to Make Authentic Homemade Thai Red Curry Paste?
I have two main methods for making Authentic Thai red curry paste. The first is the easiest and fasting, using a food processor or blender to mix all the ingredients together. The second method is using the stone mortar and pestle to pound all the ingredients into a paste. This is more traditional have stronger flavors from the oils released from the pounding all the ingredients together. Let's get started!
1. Using a Food Processor or Blender Method
- Remove the stems and seeds of the chilis then soak all the chilis in warm water for 15-20 minutes or until soft. Cut the large chilis into smaller 1-inch chunks before soaking. You can save the water for use in the food processor if you want.
- Toast cumin, coriander seeds, and white peppercorn on medium heat until fragrant for 2-3 minutes. Shaking the pan constantly to move the seeds around for even toasting. Once fragrant and lightly toasted, turn the heat off, and remove the seeds from a pan into a plate to let cool.
- Use a spice grinder or a small mortar and pestle to ground the toasted seeds to powder. Place the freshly ground powder into a food processor.
- Drain, rinse and pat the chilis dry. Use kitchen scissors to cut the soaked chilis into 1-inch pieces, and place them in a food processor. Add the rest of the ingredients to the food processor slowly adding water 1 tbsp at a time to help move the blades.
- Pulverized all ingredients together into a fine paste. Add more water as necessary.
- Remove the paste for use. Done! Store unused paste in a glass jar, in the fridge for up to 10 days, and in the freezer for up to 3-4 months.
2. Using the Mortar and Pestle
You will need a solid stone mortar and pestle for this method. I recommend using a medium-size one with at least an opening of 6 inches wide. Also notes, The pounding of herbs in order from sturdy herbs to softer ones towards the end. They just blend better this way. Don't worry too much about it though. As long as you are happy with the consistency of the paste, that is all that matters!
- Remove the stems and seeds of the chilis then soak all the chilis in warm water for 15-20 minutes or until soft. Cut the large chilis into smaller 1-inch chunks before soaking.
- Toast cumin, coriander seeds, and white peppercorn on medium heat until fragrant for 2-3 minutes. Shake the pan constantly to move the seeds around for even toasting. Once fragrant and lightly toasted, turn the heat off, and remove the seeds from the pan onto a plate to let them cool.
- Drain, rinse and pat dry the chilis. Use kitchen scissors to cut the soaked chilis into 1-inch pieces, and place them in the mortar. Add the salt and pound together in a mortar and pestle until you form a nice paste.
- Add the toasted spices and pound well into the chili paste. You don't need to ground the spices in a spice grinder first for this step.
- Add the lemongrass and galangal and pound into the paste until smooth.
- Repeat the pounding of cilantro stems and shallots and garlic and kaffir lime zest.
- Add the shrimp paste last and pound everything well until nice paste forms. Remove the paste and use it immediately for a curry. Refrigerate for up to 10 days. Freeze the paste for 4-6 months.
Tools Needed for Making Homemade Thai Red Curry Paste
- A solid stone mortar and pestle with at least a 6-inch opening
- Food processor or blender (I LOVE mine!)
- Spice grinder
- Kitchen scissor.
- Small glass jars for storing any leftovers.
- Food labeling
A note on the mortar and pestle If you think you'd like to purchase a mortar and pestle for your kitchen, find one with at least 6 inches opening at the top. Make sure it's a strong stone set so the pounding will not easily damage it. If you are able to find polished mortar (shiny and not grainy on the interior part of the mortar), it the better, for easy cleanup and removing stains from using it. If not, a strong solid mortar and pestle set is recommended. I found mine at my local Asian market and have had it for years. I also like to use mortar as a beautiful serving bowl, especially if I make a dipping or chili sauce in it. Fewer dishes to wash too! Always a plus. (:
Kitchen Notes for a Successful Homemade Red Curry Paste
- You can adjust the spiciness of your curry paste by the number of chilis used. The more you use, the spicier your paste will be. The smaller the chilis, also the more spicer your paste will be. Use Thai bird's eye chilis with caution as they are packed full of heat.
- The seeds of the small chilis are where all the heat of the peppers is stored. It’s important to deseed or remove the seeds, with a small knife, like a paring knife, before soaking to help reduce the heat and control the spiciness level.
- You can soak the larger chilis longer for easier pounding. I also find that the longer they soak, the more vibrant red my paste is. Very satisfying and pretty! The larger peppers like California or Guajillo peppers are mainly used for the red color. You can skip these if you are not able to get them.
- This is VERY important: Use kitchen gloves when handling smaller chilis like Thai bird eye chilis, especially when deseeding them. The oil of the chili seeds is extremely hot and can burn your skin for hours. I’m speaking from experience here! Wash your hands well with soap after you’re done.
- This is a super tip I use. If short on time or if you forget to soak the dried chilis, place them in a bowl with water to cover all the chilis. Microwave the bowl for 2-3 minutes then carefully remove the bowl and let it sit until you are ready to use the peppers. Quick little shortcut!
- When toasting the dry seeds, make sure to watch the pan closely and shake it often to prevent the seeds from burning. The heat will burn up the tiny seeds very quickly so make sure to keep a close eye on it once a few seeds start popping, turn the heat off and remove the seeds from the pan onto a plate to let it cool before grounding them into powder form.
- Freeze the leftover paste in small portions after you are done making the paste for easy measurements for recipes.
- Thai red curry with chicken and kabocha squash
- Authentic Thai red curry recipe
- Easy red curry green beans with shrimp, Pad Prik Khing
- Pad Prik Khing with pork belly
- Lemongrass and how to use it in Thai cuisine
- Galangal in Thai cooking
- Kaffir lime leaves and substitute
What is Thai Curry Paste Made of?
Thai curry pastes are made from fragrant herbs and dried spices. The typical fresh herbs used in curry pastes are garlic, shallot, cilantro roots or stems, lemongrass, kra chai, galangal, kaffir lime zest, and fresh or dried chili peppers (depending on what curry you are making). The dried spices used are coriander, cumin, and white peppercorn, fennel, turmeric, cinnamon, cardamom, along with a few others used for different types of curries.
Can You Freeze Homemade Thai Curry Paste?
Homemade curry pastes last up to 2 weeks in the refrigerator and can freeze for up to 6 months! If freezing, make sure to divide the paste into small portions for easy measurement so you don’t have to thaw out the entire batch before measuring
What Can I Substitute for Thai Curry Paste?
There is no substitute for Thai curry paste. The pastes are unique with flavors from fragrant herbs and spiced used. A curry paste is a must for curry recipes. If you are worried about the heat, try using less paste, or even better yet, make your own paste with my recipe here! You can control the spice level when making homemade curry pastes.
Which Thai Curry Paste is the Best?
Well, that’s a trick question! There are so many different curry pastes in Thai cuisine, playing a favorite wouldn’t be fair, will it? (; On a serious note, each curry paste has its own unique flavor profile using different combinations of herbs and spices. Some of the most popular ones are red, green, yellow, massaman, and Panang curries. They are all different and delicious in their own rights and it really comes down to your own taste bud and what you like!
Can You Turn Curry Powder into Curry Paste?
Maybe. It depends on what curry powder you have and what curry paste you are trying to make. Curry powder is typically a pre-made blend of different spices to use as a whole ingredient for a recipe. In some Thai yellow curry pastes, you need curry powder to add to the paste. I hope this answers your question!
Is Thai Red Chili Paste The Same As Red Curry Paste?
No, they are two different things and each has its own separate uses for different recipes. Thai red chili pastes are typically a relish or sauce that has a different taste, and ingredients while red curry paste is a base used for many Thai curries like LINKs. Chili paste and curry paste cannot be used as substitutes for one another.
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