The base Thai red curry paste (Thai: พริกแกงเผ็ด rtgs: phrik kaeng phet) is traditionally made with a mortar and pestle, and remains moist throughout the preparation process. The red coloring derived from dry red spur chilies (Thai: พริกแห้งเม็ดใหญ่ rtgs: prik haeng met yai) – which is dried prik chee fa red chilies. The main ingredients include (dried) red chili peppers, garlic, shallots, galangal, shrimp paste, salt, kaffir lime peel, coriander root, coriander seeds, cumin seeds, peppercorns and lemongrass. Today, the prepared Thai red curry pastes are available at markets produced in mass quantities, and also available in bottled jar produced by some brands.
- 17 to 20 (2- to 3-inch-long) prik haeng (dried hot red chiles), halved and seeds discarded
- 4 teaspoons coriander seeds
- 2 fresh lemongrass stalks, 1 or 2 outer leaves discarded (or use reserved bottoms from iced lemongrass tea, page 160)
- 1 teaspoon whole black peppercorns
- 4 teaspoons finely chopped peeled fresh or thawed frozen greater galangal (sometimes called kha)
- 6 (4-inch-long) fresh or frozen Kaffir lime leaves (sometimes called bai makroot), finely chopped
- 2 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro roots or stems
- 5 small shallots, chopped (6 tablespoons)
- 1/4 cup chopped garlic
- 15 to 20 (1-inch-long) red prik kii noo (fresh bird’s-eye chiles) or serrano chiles, finely chopped
- 2 teaspoons ga-pi (Thai shrimp paste)
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
Special equipment: a large (2-cup) mortar and pestle (preferably granite) or a mini food processor
- Cut dried chiles into 1/4-inch pieces with kitchen shears and soak in warm water until softened, about 20 minutes. Drain well in a sieve.
- While chiles soak, toast coriander in a dry small heavy skillet over moderate heat, shaking skillet, until fragrant, 3 to 4 minutes, then cool. Thinly slice lower 6 inches of lemongrass stalks and finely chop.
- Finely grind coriander and peppercorns with mortar and pestle (or in mini food processor), about 2 minutes, then toss together with lemongrass, galangal, lime leaves, cilantro, shallot, garlic, fresh chiles, and soaked dried chiles in a bowl. Pound mixture in 3 batches with mortar and pestle until a fairly smooth paste is formed, 8 to 10 minutes per batch, transferring to cleaned bowl. (If using food processor, add about 1 1/2 tablespoons water per batch.) Return all of curry paste to mortar, then add shrimp paste and salt and pound (or pulse) until combined well, about 1 minute.