Thai Yellow Curry Paste
My cooking instructor [to students pounding curry ingredients in a mortar] at Pad Thai Cookery School, Chiang Mai (2007)
Being a fan, as I am, of fish curries, I think the Thai yellow curry is a particularly appealing way to enjoy fish in a spicy gravy. It's fragrant, aromatic and creamy and therefore does not heavily dominate the fish, and that is particularly so with shellfish and crustacea. I would happily enjoy a medley of seafood in a Thai yellow curry: mussels, prawns, squid or cuttlefish and firmer-fleshed white fish for example. Cherry tomatoes are an addition I would always think work well in a curry like this.
This yellow curry paste recipe (apparently from the Grand Hyatt Erawan, Bangkok) is more or less that from "Madhur Jaffrey's Ultimate Curry Bible". I have replaced the ginger in her recipe for galangal, suggested a reduced quantity of chilli (as the ideal, milder, ones are hard to find) and also reduced the quantity of cinnamon as I find it a spice that can become a little assertive given the chance. Other than that the recipe is as written and I have used it many times to great success.
One thing I have learnt to my amusement, during my research on Thai yellow curry, came from the YouTube channel of Hot Thai Kitchen. That is that the Thai name for yellow curry is Gaeng Garee. Now gaeng is the generic word for curry, but apparently garee is a Thai word derived from the word "curry", in the sense of an Indian curry. So what we have here is nothing other than curry curry! Sounds good to me!
The image shows all the ingredients that go into the making of this particular Thai yellow curry paste recipe. The ground spices, on the plate, are, clockwise from the top: curry powder, ground coriander, ground turmeric, ground cumin, ground cinnamon and ground white pepper, with shrimp paste in the centre. The fresh ingredients to the right of the image are, clockwise from the top: lemongrass, Thai shallots, dried red chillies, garlic and galangal. The shallots are a particular variety found in Asian cookery and like the galangal can be found in Asian groceries. In their absence, any other shallot variety will suffice as will ginger for the galangal. The red chillies are relatively mild and in what I would describe as a "semi-dried" state - they cannot be crumbled and to remove the seeds the skin needs to be cut, with scissors for example. Other dried chillies can be used instead, but be wary of the amount of pungency they may impart into the paste.
Traditionally all these ingredients would be ground in a considered order with a pestle and mortar and, though when in a cookery class at the Pad Thai Cookery School in Chiang Mai I did make a Thai curry paste this way, I will these days leave the hard graft to an electric blender. But the granite pestle and mortar are much more photogenic!
The taste of the raw paste is rather bitter, hot and unsweet. However this is all balanced out beautifully in the composition of the curries for which it forms the essential base.
Thai Yellow Curry Paste
Ingredients (Makes 12-15 tbsp)
5-7 dried red chillies, the long milder type rather than the bird's eye variety
140g chopped shallot
35g chopped garlic, approx. 5-6 cloves
1 tbsp lemongrass, hard outer skin removed, sliced crossways mostly from the pale end
1" piece of fresh galangal (or ginger) coarsely chopped
½ tsp white pepper powder
1 tsp curry powder
½ tsp ground cumin
1 tsp ground coriander
¼ tsp ground cinnamon
½ tsp ground turmeric
½ tsp shrimp paste
Remove the seeds and inner membranes from the chillies in just enough hot water to cover. Leave for 2-3 hours. This process can be accelerated by heating the soaked chillies in a microwave a couple of times over 20-30 mins, allowing to cool between each visit to the microwave.
Spoon the soaked chillies along with the shallot, garlic, lemongrass and galangal (or ginger) into the container of a blender. Give everything a few good blitzes and use a rubber spatula to scrape the ingredients back down to blades each time.
Add just enough of the chillies' soaking liquid to the blender to create a smooth but thick paste. If additional liquid is required just use water.
Finally add the curry powder, ground spices and shrimp paste and blend again adding more liquid if necessary.
To use: As a rough guide about 2-3 tbsp make for a single serving, 3-4 tbsp for a serving for two and 5-6 tbsp will make a curry for four. So this recipe makes enough paste for about 6-8 servings. It will keep in the fridge for a good week and will freeze brilliantly for months. When needed, it can be simply defrosted in a microwave and used straightaway.
"Madhur Jaffrey's Ultimate Curry Bible", Madhur Jaffrey (2003), pp. 321: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Madhur-Jaffreys-Ultimate-Curry-Bible/dp/0091874157
"Yellow Curry Pt. 1: The Paste - Hot Thai Kitchen!", YouTube video, accessed 30 August 2021
Pad Thai Cookery School, website appears to have been decommissioned.