When I enrolled in cooking school in Thailand, I thought that if I could learn just one thing, it would be how to make an Authentic Thai Green Curry Shrimp dish. Fortunately, this was the first recipe they taught and from that point on, they had my attention.
I remember tasting it and thinking to myself, if there is something that tastes as good as this out there, I certainly have not tried it! Incidentally, all of the dishes we made in culinary school after the Authentic Thai Green Curry Shrimp were also bursting with fresh flavors. This experience brought my love affair with Thai food to a whole new level.
I love many types of cuisine including, Brazilian, Italian, Indian, Middle Eastern, but Thai food is my adopted favorite. People always ask me, if you would have to live on one kind of cuisine for the rest of your life, which one would it be, and the answer to that would probably be Thai.
Now going back to what it takes in order to make this delicious Authentic Thai Green Curry Shrimp, here is a question that I get constantly from beginner cooks out there.
Homemade curry paste, is it really worth the efforts?
The answer is yes, absolutely! You could still prepare a good curry with a store bought paste, but the flavor will not be as alive and it will not taste truly authentic. In my opinion, to fully experience a Thai curry dish you will have to make your own curry paste. Trust me, once you taste curry this way, you will be glad you put in the time and effort. You will also realize that adopting this traditional approach really doesn’t take much time and effort, given that you are going to make one of the most delicate and luscious foods in the world. You can also make extra and store it for future use. However if some ingredients are not available where you live, then a store bought one is inevitable. In general, curry paste manufactures save on cost and extend the paste’s shelf life by cutting down on the amount of chilies, garlic and shallots used as they are costly and contain moisture. This is also the leading reason fresh curry pastes go bad. Extra salt is typically added as natural preservative, making most ready-made pastes too salty, not harmonious and refined. When using ready-made paste, I recommended that you add ingredients such as extra shallots, garlic, Kaffir lime leaves or lime zest if not available, and fresh bird’s eye chilies to enhance the flavor, aroma and body of the paste.
- KNOWING THE INGREDIENTS
Most Thai Curry dishes consist of :
- PASTE- All types of curry pastes. Red, green, yellow, and massaman being the most popular ones.
- CHILIES- *Spur Chilies* or phrik chi fat. These chilies give color but not much of the spicy flavor. The fresh ones (comes in red, green or yellow color) and are mostly used in stir-fries, relishes or as a garnish. Only sometimes they are used in curry paste. Dried spur chilies are pounded and used mostly in curry paste. They must be deseeded and soaked in water to soften before using it.
- ‘Thai Chilies’, some Thais would call them phrik china. They come in green and red color, smaller than spur chilies. They are less spicy than bird’s eye chilies but the heat is intense to western standard. Both fresh and dried forms are used.
- ‘Bird’s eye Chilies’, or phrik khi nu sun. These little scuds are know for their fiery hotness and signature aroma. Like spur chilies, both fresh and dried forms have their own place in Thai kitchen. The dried chilies are soaked to soften (no need to deseed). Steams are often discarded.
- ‘Isan Chilies’, crucial in northeastern kitchen, Isan chilies are uniquely aromatic. Once cooked, the heat noticeably faded away. There is no exact substitute that would give the same flavor and aroma. However, you may use dried Thai chilies in less amount as closest alternative.
- ‘Karen Chilies’, extremely spicy, Karen chilies are popular for jungle curries and stir-fries. Like Isan chilies, there is no exact substitute. You may use the same (or more, if you want) amount of dried Thai chilies are the closest substitute.
FRESH AROMATICS- Lemongrass- gives wonderful aroma and texture. Usually only the bottom thirds are used as they contain more aromatic oil. The fibrous outer layers are discarded. Inner parts of fresh lemongrass should be pinkish purple. The top parts are ideal for soups or lemongrass drink. Just bruise them and cook in boiling water.
- Galangal- Similar to lemongrass, galangal gives wonderful aroma when cooked in hot liquid. Young galangals are bruised and used in soups while mature ones are good for making curry paste as they are pungent and peppery.
- Ginger- Thai kitchen utilizes ginger much less than galangal. Mature ginger is mostly seen in Indian-influenced curry paste and Chinese stir-fries.
- Turmeric- Is a crucial ingredient in southern Thai kitchen. It has a softer flavor and aroma. It also contains medicinal properties. Turmeric skin should be scraped off using the tip of a paring knife. Turmeric stains everything so it is advised to wear a pair of gloves when handling. Turmeric pairs very well with fish and chicken. Do not substitute with powdered turmeric.
- Coriander- Also known as cilantro or Chinese parsley, in an annual herb in the family Apiaceae. All parts of the plant are edible, but the fresh leaves and the dried seeds are the parts most traditionally used in cooking. Whole coriander plant is good in Thai cooking. Coarsely chopped leaves and stem are used as delicious and attractive garnish. The roots are extremely aromatic and sweet. Choose the smaller roots as they are sweeter and more aromatic than the large, fibrous roots.
- Kaffir lime rind- The rind delivers floral aroma to the curry paste. Use a sharp paring knife to peel off only the green part. Just like when you zest a lemon, the white pith is bitter and should not be used.
- Kaffir lime leaves- Slice or torn kaffir lime leaves makes the curry pleasantly scented. Choose the leaves that are neither too young nor too old. Young leaves are light green and soft to touch. Old leaves are dark green and rather stiff. Stack and roll up the leaves then finely slice to use in curries or stir-fries. If the recipe calls for torn kaffir lime leaves, remove the bitter midribs first then tear. In general the leaves should be added at the very end of cooking process. You add the leaves, stir lightly to mix, turn off the heat.
LIQUID: Such as water, stock and coconut milk. As an experienced cook, I do NOT recommend using LOW FAT coconut milk, as it will affect the flavor of your curry.
PROTEIN: Such as Meat, poultry, and seafood.
VEGETABLES: Such as Thai eggplant, Pea eggplant, Kabocha, White cabbage, Okra, Morning glory or water spinach, Bean sprouts, mushrooms, tomatoes, bamboo shoots, and many others.
HERBS: Such as Holy basil leaves, Kaffir lime leaves, (Cilantro|Coriander), scallions, and mint which is mostly used in salads and dips.
SEASONING: A balance of SALTY (Fish Sauce, Soy sauce, salt), SOUR: (Lime juice, Tamarind juice),
SWEET: Palm sugar, Granulated sugar.
RICE: Jasmine rice and long grain sweet rice.
To make this Authentic Thai Curry Shrimp I made my own curry paste. Here are the steps to it:
- Warning: When dealing with Thai bird’s eye or long green chillies I recommend using latex gloves or if you don’t have a pair of gloves available, to wash your hands immediately with lots of soap after finishing chopping your chillies, and to wash your cut board, in order to avoid rubbing your eyes by accident and ending up with a pepper burn. This could be extremely painful and in some cases it could even cost you a trip to the emergency room!
Step one: Lightly toast coriander seed, cumin seed and black peppercorns in a dry sauté pan. Grind them together in a spice grinder or with a mortar and pestle. Finely chop the rest of the fresh ingredients as seen in the picture. It will be easier to grind the mixture in a mortar if you chop everything very finely to begin with.
Step two: Begin by pounding your dry ingredients together. Start off first with the dry seeds, and then pound the fresh ingredients one by one, both kinds of chilies with the salt, the galangal, lemongrass, kaffir lime zest, cilantro roots, garlic, and shallots. Garlic and shallots should be added last because shallots contain water, and the liquid can splash out of the dish. (Add the garlic before shallots). This should take about 10-15 minutes, so pace yourself.
Step 3: Add the ground dried spices, and the shrimp paste and continue pounding to obtain a coarse curry paste. Mix everything together and set aside for immediate use, or refrigerate in a glass food storage container. To store curry paste, transfer to a clean screw-top jar, cover with a layer of oil. Storing it this way will allow the paste to remain fresh tasting for up to one month. To freeze curry paste, spoon into ice-cube trays and freeze. Transfer to a seal-able plastic bag and freeze for up to 3 months. Frozen curry paste will loose some of it’s heat. You can fix that by adding some fresh sliced spur chilies to your curry dish when cooking.
Once your curry paste is ready, it’s time to make your Authentic Thai Green Curry Shrimp. In a wok or large sauce pan heat the oil, cook the onions, add the scallions, curry paste, and then cook the remaining ingredients one by one. Recipe to follow.
Once your Authentic Thai Shrimp Curry is ready add the cilantro and spur chili if using it. Serve immediately with steamed jasmine rice on the side. Enjoy!
- 2 Tbsp vegetable oil or coconut cream
- I large yellow sweet onion finely sliced
- ¾ cup finely sliced scallions
- 2 Tbsp Thai green curry paste homemade or store bought
- 1 can of coconut milk
- ⅓ cup of water
- ½ Tbsp of palm sugar or granulated cane sugar
- 3 Tbsp of Thai fish sauce
- 2 pounds of prawns or shrimp, uncooked, and cleaned leaving the tails on for flavor
- 3 kaffir lime leaves, midribs removed and torn, or 1 Tsp of lime zest
- 1 Tbsp coriander-cilantro chopped
- 2 red spur chillies, sliced diagnolly
- * FOR THE CURRY PASTE
- Yield: 6-7 ounces
- 1 Tsp coriander seed
- Half Tsp cumin seed
- 1 Tsp whole black peppercorns
- 5 green spur chilies, finely sliced
- 15 Thai bird's eye green chilies, finely sliced
- 1 Tsp sea salt
- 1 Tbsp mature galangal or ginger root, peeled and finely chopped
- 2 lemongrass stalks, outer layers discarded, bottom thirds only, finely sliced and fibrous cores removed
- 1 Tsp kaffir lime zest or lime zest
- 3 Tbsp cilantro stems, finely chopped
- 2 Tbsp of garlic, skins removed finely chopped
- 3 shallots, peeled and finely chopped around 3 Tbsp
- 1 Tsp Thai shrimp paste
- * FOR THE CURRY PASTE
- In a saute pan, lightly toast the coriander seeds, cumin seeds and peppercorns until they get brown in color, around 3 minutes.Transfer them into a mortar and pestle and pound them together and scoop them out to a bowl. Pound both kinds of chilies together with salt as fine as you can. Sea salt helps the chilies get smooth faster and easier. When pounding chilies, you may use your other hand to cover half of the mortar mouth to prevent the liquid bursting into your eyes. Then add the galangal, lemongrass, kaffir lime zest, cilantro steams and continue to pound until they are coarse. Add the garlic pound, and then add the shallots. Continue pounding until as coarse as possible. Add the reserved ground dried spices and the shrimp paste. Mix everything together and pound for another minute. Your homemade curry paste is almost impossible to be smooth. It should look very coarse though. Store the curry paste in a glass food storage container. Curry paste can be refrigerated for up to 1 month. To store curry paste, transfer to a clean screw-top jar, cover with a layer of oil.
- * FOR THE THAI GREEN CURRY SHRIMP
- Put the oil or coconut cream into the wok and increase the fire to high. Add the yellow sweet onion. Cook the onion until it gets soft and golden in color about 3 minutes. Lower the fire to low. Add the scallions and the curry paste and cook stirring constinuously until fragrant for about 30 seconds.
- Add the coconut milk, kaffir lime leaves, the water, palm sugar and fish sauce. Increase the fire to medium-high and bring to a boil.
- Add the prawns and cook until tender, stirring often, about 3 minutes.
- Add the kaffir lime leaves. Cook for one minute.
- Turn off the fire. Add half of the chopped cilantro and spur chilies. Stir it.
- Pour into bowls, and decorate with the remaining cilantro leaves and sliced spur chilies.
- Serve with steamed jasmine rice.