As I mentioned in this piece, the cookery class we did in Chiang Mai was one of my main highlights from our recent family trip to Thailand. I especially enjoyed making curry paste from scratch, and learning all about the different spices and why they are used. I’m a sucker for a truly authentic Penang curry, and can never resist the dish if I see it on a menu.
Making curry paste from scratch is a true labour of love
Thai people heavily frown upon the use of food processors and blenders to make curry paste. Advocating instead, the old school way of pounding herbs and spices in a mortar and pestle. It is said that granite is the best material to use for this purpose. Due to its heavy weight and uneven surface, light work is made of grinding down chillies, kaffir lime, lemongrass and other herbs and spices into a paste.
Blending the ingredients does not draw out the natural oils the way a mortar and pestle does. However, if you are pressed for time, you could use a machine. The end result won’t be as authentic, but it’ll still be delicious. Did you know that Penang curry paste is made by simply adding peanuts to red curry paste? It is incredible how much this changes the flavour, and gives the curry a slightly sweeter taste.
Ingredients for your authentic Penang curry
1 large or 2 small shallots
1 large or 2 small bulbs of garlic
1 large or 2 small sticks of lemongrass
Tsp coriander seeds
10g each of: fresh turmeric, galangal, ginseng, kaffir lime skin or leaves
Dried red chilies to your own taste
Meat of choice, or roasted veggies
Tin of organic coconut milk
Tbsp fish sauce vegans can use this
Tsp palm sugar
How to make your authentic Penang curry (recipe from the Asia Scenic Cookbook)
Make your paste by pounding the ingredients with your mortar and pestle. Heads up: this will take somewhere between five and ten minutes, and will need some degree of strength.
Once you have made your paste, warm the coconut milk in a large saucepan or wok. Use a low/med heat for one minute, until the milk start frothing.
Add a tbsp of your fresh paste to the coconut milk and stir well, you should be smelling ALL the amazing smells after thirty seconds or so.
Add your meat or roasted veg, bring to the boil, then turn the heat down very low to cook through and thicken the sauce.
Add fish sauce and palm sugar, use more or less to season as per your taste.
Serve immediately, garnish with finely shredded kaffir lime leaves and chopped fresh chillies.