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Thai Chili Paste Recipe (Nam Prik Pao)

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Thai chili paste recipe (nam prik pao) is the perfect addition to any dish that needs a spicy kick. It’s made with traditional ingredients like shrimp paste and palm sugar, and it comes out incredibly aromatic and super yummy!

Thai chili paste, nam prik pao, in clay sauce cup with spices around it.

After making this Thai chili peppers paste, try one of my other related recipes: Tom yum paste, Thai red curry paste, and jeow bong.

What is Thai chili paste

Thai chili paste is a staple in Thai cuisine, blending spicy chilies with garlic and other seasonings. It’s essential in authentic Thai cooking for adding heath and depth to dishes like stir-fries, soups, and marinades.

Nam prik pao

This spicy condiment is made from a delicious combination of dried chilies, garlic, and shallots which are grounded into a paste using a mortar and pestle. Fish sauce, shrimp paste, palm sugar, and tamarind paste are added for a touch of sweetness, sourness, umami, and saltiness, which balances out the spicy flavors of the chilies.

Thai chili paste preparation in wok.

You can use the chili paste whenever you’re in the mood for some Thai cooking. Use it in stir-fries like gai pad med mamuang (Thai chicken cashew), tom yum soup, as a salad dressing, as a dipping sauce for Thai grilled pork, or simply pour it over your steamed rice.

Whatever you use this addictive paste with, it will add heat, umami and a depth of flavor to your food.

Recipe Variations

Thai chili paste can be made in many different ways. Variations in the ingredients and flavors are common in different Thai households and even in different regions of Thailand.

Family recipes in Thailand have been passed down for many generations, and each generation might have added their own unique twist to it. This goes for other Thai recipes as well. For example, my mother is a fan of using MSG in her food, but since I prefer to keep things healthy and pure, I look for other ways to achieve the same results flavorwise.

Nam prik pao, Thai chili paste, in clay cup with chilies, garlic, and shallots scattered around.

Additionally, people from Northern Thailand and Southern Thailand might add different ingredients to their nam prik pao to make milder versions or spicier versions.

For my recipe, I turned to my grandmother, and we decided to keep things traditional and simple. This Thai chili paste recipe is easy to make at home.

Why make Thai chili jam yourself

Store-bought chili paste (or Thai chili jam) is easy, but making homemade Thai chili paste has many benefits:

Customizable: You can customize the heat level to your own spice level. You get to experiment with different flavors and adjust them to your taste preference.

More flavor: Frying the garlic, shallots, and dried chilies adds an extra smoky flavor.

Rewarding: Cooking from scratch always tastes so much better, and it’s much more rewarding, right?

Healthier: Store-bought versions contain preservatives and additives we don’t need.

Cheaper: You can store it in your refrigerator for a long time, and you can save money by making it in bulk.

Authentic: And finally, I’d love for you to try our Thai culinary traditions. Thank you for showing an interest in our kitchen and our culture.

Ingredients

Ingredients can be sourced at Asian grocery stores and Asian markets.
The exact measurements are in the recipe card at the end of this post.


Ingredients for Thai chili paste labeled: fish sauce, dry red spur chilies, shallots, garlic, tamarind paste, salt, shrimp paste, oil, and palm sugar.
  • Garlic – Garlic is a key ingredient for the pungent taste. The strong flavor of using a whole head of garlic perfectly balances out the other flavors.
  • Shallots – Shallots are used for improving the texture of our chili paste, as well as adding more flavor.
  • Dried chilies – Another key ingredient in nam prik pao. Dried chilies are hotter than fresh chilies and more flavorful. Opt for dry red spur chilies, these are large Thai chilies and are available at Asian grocery stores and Asian markets.
  • Large dried chilies – I like to use a combo of regular and large dried chilies. These large dried chilies add a smoky, slightly sweet flavor to the condiment.
  • Shrimp paste – This condiment is made from mixing fermented shrimp with salt and then leaving it out in the sun. The shrimp paste can be used to add depth and umami to dishes. Don’t be afraid to experiment with shrimp paste, it can really elevate your food.
  • Fish sauce – This salty and savory sauce is commonly used in Thai cuisine for its salty flavor.
  • Palm sugar – The sweetness of palm sugar balances out the spiciness of the chilies and brings a subtle sweet flavor to this homemade Thai chili paste recipe.
  • Tamarind paste – Tamarind paste adds a tangy flavor and with it, we find 4 flavors of Thai cuisine in this Thai chili paste: spicy, sour, salty, and sweet.
  • Salt – Enhances the overall flavors of the paste.
  • Oil – Use a neutral oil with high smoke point and neutral flavor, like canola oil or vegetable oil.

Cooking instructions

Garlic and shallots grilling in pan.

Step 1: Grill sliced chilies, garlic, and shallots, turning them occasionally, until they are charred.

Thai chili paste ingredients mixed in a food processor.

Step 2: In a food processor, combine all your ingredients at once. Pulse until the mixture forms a smooth paste.

Thai chili paste preparation in a wok.

Step 3: Transfer the mixture to a pan. Simmer the paste over low-medium heat, stirring occasionally. Cook for approx 2 minutes, until the oil begins to separate from the paste. Enjoy!

Kitchen tools

  • Thai mortar and pestle or food processor: I have tested pounding the paste by hand and mixing with a food processor. The texture of the paste was a lot smoother and better with the food processor. While I usually advise using a mortar and pestle, for this Thai chili paste I advise a food processor.
  • Cutting board and sharp knife
  • Measuring spoons and cups
  • Grilling pan and wok

How to use

Add a spoonful to your favorite Thai food, like Thai vegetable stir-fry. Use it as a marinade for meats or fish. Spice up your soups like this tom yum talay. Use it to make dipping sauces. Stir it into your favorite Thai fried rice. Use it as a dipping sauce for. A little goes a long way!

How to store

Always keep your hot chili paste in an airtight container to prevent it from drying out. For long-term storage, place the airtight container in the refrigerator. Use a clean spoon every time you scoop out the paste.

Freezing: For extended storage, you can freeze Thai chili paste. Portion it into ice cube trays, freeze, and then transfer the cubes into a freezer bag. This way, you can use individual portions as needed.

Frequently asked questions

How to make Thai chili paste?

Traditionally, we start with frying the shallots, garlic, and dried chilies. Then, these ingredients are pounded in a mortar and pestle. After that, palm sugar, fish sauce, shrimp paste, and tamarind paste are fried in a pan after which the pounded mixture is added. The result is a homemade Thai chili paste.

Is Thai chili paste spicy?

Yes, Thai chili paste is quite spicy and is typically used to add flavor and heat to dishes.

How long does Thai chili paste last?

When stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator, homemade Thai chili paste can last for up to one month.

Is this recipe gluten-free?

Yes, but make sure to double-check the labeling of your store-bought sauces.

Related Thai recipes you’ll love

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Thai Chili Paste Recipe (Nam Prik Pao)

Thai chili paste, nam prik pao, in a clay cup with spices scattered around.
An easy-to-make homemade version of Thai chili paste, with traditional ingredients and an authentic way of cooking.
Praew
Prep Time 5 minutes
Cook Time 25 minutes
Total Time 30 minutes
Cuisine Thai
Course Ingredients
Serving Size 6 people

Ingredients

  • 1.05 ounce garlic chopped
  • 2.1 ounces shallots thinly sliced
  • 0.5 ounces large dried chilies chopped, see notes
  • 6 dried chilies
  • 1/2 tablespoon shrimp paste
  • 1/2 tablespoon fish sauce
  • 1 tablespoon palm sugar chop to measure
  • 1 tablespoon tamarind paste
  • 1/2 cup oil
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt

Instructions

  • Grill sliced chilies, garlic, and shallots, turning them occasionally, until they are charred.
  • In a food processor, combine all your ingredients at once. Pulse until the mixture forms a smooth paste.
  • Transfer the mixture to a pan. Simmer the paste over low-medium heat, stirring occasionally. Cook for approx 2 minutes, until the oil begins to separate from the paste. Enjoy!

Notes

  • Use the nutrition card in this recipe as a guideline. 
  • Chilies: Dry red spur chilies are large Thai chilies that are mild in heat but add lots of chili flavor. You can get them at Asian grocery stores and Asian markets.

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