Massaman Curry Paste

I like my food spicy. I'm the guy who'll eat the pepper on a dare, or apply lots of Tabasco to each individual bite of food. I like to think of my tolerance as above average, say 85th percentile or so among my cohort.

But really, Thai curry pastes simply blow me away. By the time I've reached a satisfactory level of flavor, the food is all but bursting into flames. The spiciness seems way out of balance to the rest of the flavor. So time to roll up my sleeves and make my own.

My first attempt: Massaman curry paste, which is difficult to buy pre-made in any case and has a lot of bonus uniqueness.

Massaman Curry Paste

10-12 dried red peppers (a)
1 1/2 tsp cumin seed (b)
1 tsp coriander
1 tsp cardamom
1 tsp white pepper
1 tsp nutmeg
1 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp turmeric
pinch of cloves
1/2 cup minced shallots
1/3 cup minced garlic
1 tsp sea salt
3 Tbl lemongrass, sliced thin (c)
2 Tbl minced ginger
(optional) 1 tsp shrimp paste (d)

1. Soak peppers in enough warm water to cover, for at least 30 minutes; I find it helps to reheat the water every so often. Remove, seed, and chop the peppers while reserving the liquid.

2. Put next 8 ingredients (the spices) in a processor or blender.

3. Cook shallots and garlic in a little oil in a pan over medium heat, until just starting to brown. Add to processor.

4. Put lemongrass, ginger, and salt in a pestle and pound to a paste. Add to processor.

5. If using shrimp paste, add to processor.

6. Puree the mixture, using 6-8 Tbl of the reserved liquid.

Makes: about 1 cup.

Among the many things you can make with this is Massaman Chicken

Patrick's notes:

a) This makes a paste that's about mild-medium spicy, so adjust the amount of peppers accordingly. The original recipe called for 3oz. of dried peppers, which is, in my opinion, lacking in sanity. The dried peppers I used are usually sold in bags next to the dried cornhusks and such. The bags are 1oz each. If someone does wind up using three whole bags of dried peppers to make this, please let me know what you think.

b) Using whole cumin, cardamom, and coriander adds a bit of depth. Toast the whole spices in a pan first, then ground them in a spice mill, or just be lazy and toss 'em straight in.

c) Lemongrass may not seem very paste-able if you've never tried it. I find it helps to use the less fibrous portion. Cut off the thickest portion of the stalk at the bottom and the thin part at the top. Using a paring knife, split off the outer layer. Slice the inner core very thin, and use the more green slices as opposed to the reddish ones which tend to be tougher. Then pound pound pound! The salt helps the paste form.

d) I have not tried this with the shrimp paste. It's a pretty full-flavored paste already, so I don't think you're losing much if you leave it out.

Posted by patrick on May 26, 2004 | TrackBack

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