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How to Make Thai Red Curry Paste

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A clay cup with Thai red curry paste surrounded by herbs and spices.

Learn how to make Thai red curry paste and say goodbye to store-bought versions. This healthy and flavorful paste is easy to make in the traditional way with a mortar and pestle, much more rewarding than with a food processor. Use this recipe to level up your Thai red curry, or use it in stir-fries like this pad prik king.

Close-up of Thai red curry paste in a wooden spoon over a granite mortar.

What is Thai red curry paste

This spicy and flavorful paste is a key ingredient of Thai cuisine, for example in the preparation of red curry, which is one of the most popular Thai dishes.

Several ingredients are thoroughly pounded together using a mortar and pestle, which creates a delicious and aromatic blended paste.

Close-up view of various colorful herbs and spices in a mortar.

In Thailand, you’ll find them readily available at street food markets, where they are sold in large quantities. The ingredients used can vary greatly, with each household or region in Thailand having their own unique ingredients.

The base usually consists of lemongrass, dried chilies, shallots, and shrimp paste. From there, Thai people work their way to create a delicious blend of their favorite ingredients.

Close-up of red curry paste and a granite mortar.

Why make it yourself

  • Anything you make yourself is free from conservatives and other things we don’t need.
  • When you’re pounding the paste by hand, you’ll feel like a true Thai. Making your own curry paste is authentic if you do it with a mortar and pestle.
  • By using traditional ingredients and methods, you can create an authentic flavor in every dish.
  • You can freeze it and store it for later use.
  • It’s so rewarding! After you made red curry paste from scratch, you’ll feel rewarded and satisfied.
  • You can customize the flavor and amount of ingredients to your liking.
  • Making it yourself has a fresher and more authentic taste and aroma than store-bought.
Close-up of a grounded red paste with a granite mortar.

Mortar and pestle vs food processor

The preparation of Thai red curry paste is a process that requires some effort. The constant pounding with a granite mortar and pestle can be exhausting. But making it this way releases the flavors and aromas of the ingredients to the fullest and allows them to blend together slowly. Thai households prefer the mortar and pestle for method of preparation, the mortar and pestle is a symbol of our pride!

A food processor is a useful tool if you’re short on time, or if you don’t have a mortar and pestle. However, using a food processor will result in a less flavorful paste.

A hand grinding a mix of fresh spices in a granite mortar and pestle, surrounded by lush green grass.

But you can still achieve a flavorful Thai curry paste by using a food processor instead of a mortar and pestle. In fact, even the lady who sells homemade pastes at the local food market in our village uses a food processor because she makes it in large quantities.

Using a mortar and pestle takes more time and effort, but it’s worth it for the flavorful end result.

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.


A selection of ingredients on a banana leaf, including dried chilies, dry red spur chilies, kaffir lime skin, turmeric, lemongrass, shrimp paste, salt, garlic, and shallots.
  • Dry red spur chilies – These are a common type of large chilies in Thai cuisine, they are medium spicy with a subtle sweet flavor.
  • Dried chilies – Dried chilies are a crucial ingredient, providing a unique smoky flavor that cannot be achieved with fresh red chili peppers.
  • Galangal – Galangal has a pungent, citrus, and peppery flavor.
  • Kaffir lime zest – The outer layer of the fruit of the kaffir lime tree has a fragrant, citrus flavor and adds a bright, fresh flavor. It’s incredibly aromatic, once you peel off the skin you can smell the wonderful aromas immediately.
  • Turmeric – Turmeric has a bitter flavor and a yellow color.
  • Lemongrass – Lemongrass adds a fresh citrus flavor.
  • Shrimp paste – Shrimp paste is an essential ingredient that adds a pungent and salty flavor.
  • Salt, garlic, shallots

Amounts and specific ingredients can vary on the recipe, other recipes might include coriander root, black peppercorns, Thai bird’s eye chilies, chili powder, and others.

How to make Thai red curry paste

When using a food processor, you can just blend everything together until you get a fine paste. For the traditional mortar and pestle method, check the step-by-step instructions below.

Soak dry red spur chilies in water for 10 minutes. This will make it easier to pound them, but it also decreases the storage time. Always store curry paste in the refrigerator or freezer.Overhead view of a small bowl containing dry red spur chilies soaking in water on a bamboo table.

Add dried chilies, lemongrass, galangal, and salt to the mortar and pound until they are completely broken down.

The dry ingredients have to be pounded first, in Thai language we call them “watoodip heng”. Adding the dry ingredients first is important because they are more difficult to break down. It also helps to prevent the wet ingredients from sticking to the mortar and pestle, and the salt will help to absorb moisture. Close-up view of Thai red curry paste in a mortar.

Add the remaining ingredients (dry red spur chilies, kaffir lime zest, turmeric, shrimp paste, garlic, and shallots) and pound until you get a fine paste.A wooden spoon with red curry paste over a granite mortar and pestle.

Recipe notes

This recipe yields 8.5 oz of curry paste, which means you’ll have some extra for future use. Simply store the leftover paste in your fridge or freezer for a quick and easy meal next time.

This recipe makes a spicy red curry paste. For medium spicy, use half the amount of dried chilies, for lightly spicy, omit the dried chilies altogether.

How to store

Store in a plastic bag or an airtight container in your refrigerator for up to 1 month. You can also freeze any leftover paste (or make in bulk) for later use.

Frequently asked questions (FAQ’s)

What is in Thai red curry paste?

The ingredients of Thai red curry paste can vary based on the Thai household or even the region of where it’s made. Lemongrass, dried chilies, shallots, and shrimp paste form a good base and from there you can add your own ingredients. I also add dry red spur chilies, galangal, kaffir lime skin, turmeric, and salt to my paste.

How to use Thai red curry paste?

Thai red curry paste can be used as an ingredient in Thai red curry or pad prik gaeng, which is a famous Thai red curry stir-fry with beans. Additionally, you can use it to spice up your soups, meat marinades, condiments, etc.

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How to Make Thai Red Curry Paste

A clay cup with Thai red curry paste surrounded by herbs and spices.
This recipe for Thai red curry paste is made by pounding together a combination of aromatic Thai ingredients, resulting in a flavorful and authentic paste.
Praew
Prep Time 5 minutes
Cook Time 20 minutes
Total Time 25 minutes
Cuisine Thai
Course Ingredients
Serving Size 5 servings

Ingredients

  • 0.7 ounces dry red spur chilies
  • 0.18 ounces dry chilies
  • 1 ounce galangal
  • 1.75 ounce garlic
  • 1.75 ounce shallots
  • 0.18 ounces kaffir lime skin
  • 0.18 ounces turmeric
  • 1.75 ounce lemongrass
  • 0.7 ounces shrimp paste
  • 0.18 ounces salt

Instructions

  • Soak dry red spur chilies in water for 10 minutes.
  • Add dried chilies, lemongrass, galangal, and salt to the mortar and pound until they are completely broken down.
  • Add the remaining ingredients (dry red spur chilies, kaffir lime zest, turmeric, shrimp paste, garlic, and shallots) and pound until you get a fine paste.

Notes

  • Use the nutrition card in this recipe as a guideline.
  • This recipe makes a spicy red curry paste. For medium spicy, use half the amount of dried chilies, for lightly spicy, omit the dried chilies altogether.
  • This recipe yields 8.5 oz of curry paste, which means you'll have some extra for future use. Simply store the leftover paste in your fridge or freezer for a quick and easy meal next time.

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