Thai Red Curry Ingredients and What You Need to Know
To understand how to make a well-balanced Thai red curry, it is useful to learn a little about each ingredient, and what it contributes to the dish.
Dried red spur chillis, or phrik haeng met yai, give Thai red curry its red colouring and spiciness. They have an earthy flavour with more savoury notes than the sweet green chillis used to make Thai green curry. Spur chillis are only moderately spicy, but they are extremely fragrant. Chop, and then soak for 10 - 15 minutes to rehydrate the chilli and loosen up all those spicy seeds.
Garlic is a flavour that will be familiar to most westerners, but it is also a popular ingredient in Thai cooking, and it adds a hint of that pungent garlic taste to Thai red curry.
Shallots add a flavour that is similar to onion but milder and more delicate. They are often used in Asian cooking to add a hint of onion flavour without overpowering everything else.
Galangal, sometimes known as Thai ginger or Siamese ginger, is another key ingredient in Thai red chilli paste. It is a relative of both ginger and turmeric, and like both of these, the edible part of the plant is the rhizome, an underground stem that sends out shoots to create new plants. Galangal tastes a little like ginger, but with a stronger, sharper flavour, with notes of citrus and pine.
Shrimp paste, or kapi, is a distinctive flavour used in many South East Asian dishes, including curries, stir fries, dipping sauces and fish cakes. It is made from salted and fermented shrimp, and adds a salty, fishy umami flavour to the curry paste. Of course, if you use shrimp paste, your Thai red curry won’t be suitable for vegetarians and vegans, so some people choose to leave it out. You can replace shrimp paste with dark miso or fermented bean paste for a vegan-friendly hit of umami.
Salt adds a simple but important layer of flavour to Thai red curry. Add a little more if you’re leaving out the shrimp paste.
Kaffir lime, also known as Thai lime or makrut, is a citrus fruit native to tropical Southeast Asia and southern China. It looks a little like a regular lime, but with a knobbly skin, and it’s sour flavour is an important element in Thai cuisine. In Thailand, dishes are often served with extra slices of lime, for diners to season their food, and dishes with too little lime are described as ‘jood’ or bland. Kaffir leaves are used in many recipes, but it is the skin that is most commonly used in Thai red curry. Use a lemon zester, or slice the skin as thinly as possible, avoiding the bitter white pith inside.
Coriander root is sometimes difficult to find outside of Asia, but it is as integral to Thai food as the onion is to Western palates, and is used as a base for many Thai dishes. It has a pungent, earthy, peppery flavour, with a hint of sweetness when cooked.
Coriander seeds are used to add aromatic warmth to both Thai and Indian curries. They have a nutty, spicy flavour, with a hint of citrus.
Cumin seeds are often paired with coriander seeds in South Asian cuisine. They add an earthy, warming and aromatic element to food.
White peppercorns add a slight peppery heat. They are milder than black peppercorns, with a slightly sweet flavour.
Lemongrass is a popular ingredient in various different Asian culinary traditions. It adds a bright, aromatic flavour, with a taste similar to lemon, but with herbal undertones.
If you’re craving more Thai flavours, take a look at this easy recipe for spring rolls, made with beef, crunchy vegetables and glass noodles, and served with chilli dipping sauce. These delicious crispy treats work great as an appetiser or as finger food at a buffet.