This is an update of a post I made in 2010 at the request of friends and readers Chris and Skip. One of my regular favorites these days is: Duck and Lychee Red Curry. An easy dish that can be whipped up in 20 minutes. However, the key to making it next level is using homemade curry paste.
The paste itself is not hard to make, what can be hard is finding all the ingredients!Here in New York we are very lucky to have a large Chinatown with a Thai grocery store where you can get everything you need (Bangkok Center Grocery – I love this place!)
A few blocks from our apartment on the south-west corner of Chrystie and Grand streets is the Hua Du Dumpling shop which has two areas that sell produce, the one that runs along Chrystie street is the place you want to go when looking for supplies to make your curry paste. If you don’t see something ask! I wanted Galangal they didn’t have any out, but when I asked the woman assisting me she had a helper bring up from the cellar the biggest galangal root I had ever seen! It weighed a pound and a half. I bought it all as I was throwing a Cambodian benefit dinner (menu below) and needed a lot of it. Total coast was $11.This place rocks. They have a surprising amount of hard to find produce items like fresh galangal, coriander with the roots still attached, green mango, green papaya and even lime leaves, tho for this recipe you need to find an actual Kaffir Lime*.
Just a few stores down is a place with two names: Sieu Thi Viet Nam (Vietnam Grocery store I believe is the translation) and Ken Hing Food Market, whatever you call them they have a wonderful supply of SE Asian groceries including a lot of hard to find fresh herbs.
The only place in town that sells the entire lime is the Bangkok Center Grocery. Just beware they aren’t cheap, I bought 1 lime and it cost $4.The sweet Thai man ringing me up looked up from his cash register picked up the lime and said: It’s 4 dollars. Which made me smile as obviously even he thinks its expensive. You can also get them for cheaper frozen, and because you only use a small part of the peel for this recipe if you do splurge (can find) a fresh one it will keep for a very long time in your freezer.It is often suggested that regular limes can be substituted, but I would strongly urge you to go the extra mile and find the real thing. Here is an online resource.
This recipe calls for dried Thai chili peppers. As you can see I used a mix of peppers mostly Chile de árbol . Our friend Anthony sends use hot peppers from his garden (the red ones you see in the picture) which he calls Indian peppers. I bought a bunch of fresh Thai red chilis recently and am in the process of seeing if I can successfully dry them.*The term “Kaffir” is derogatory and both Wikipedia and Naomi Duguid and Jeffery Alford (authors of the classic SE Asia cookbook Hot, Sour, Salty, Sweet) suggest alternative names, the former Makrut the later Wild Limes. The problem I find is when I’ve tried to use an alternative name all I get in return is a blank stare. I believe the K word means the same as the N word.
Red Curry Paste
De-seed and stem 1 1/2 cups of dried Thai red chiles (this is tedious work as the seeds often are not so willing to leave their home, my 2 cents worth is not to get to hung up on removing every seed, just be aware that the seeds will make your paste hotter. Also always use latex or rubber gloves when handling hot peppers!)
Place the prepared chiles in a bowl and cover with hot water, place a plate on top to make sure they’re submerged and leave sit for 30 minutes or longer.
In a cast iron skillet over medium high heat add: 1 1/2 tablespoons coriander seeds, 1 teaspoon cumin seeds and 1/8 teaspoon black peppercorns. When the mixture becomes aromatic and the coriander and cumin seeds have started to change color remove from the heat and place either in a spice grinder (a cleaned out coffee grinder is what I use) or a mortar and pestle. Grind to a fine powder.
If you have a mortar and pestle it takes longer, but I find there is something very gratifying about grinding warmed spices in it.
Trim and mince 3 stalks of lemongrass (you really need to be ruthless here you want to take off all the outer dried leaves and just work with the softest inner leaves, in the markets of NYC you can now find local lemon grass in late August and September. The outer tougher parts can be used to make tea).
Roughly chop 1 Tablespoon of coriander root (all fresh coriander/cilantro bought from an Asian food store will still have the roots on usually this is not something you can find at the local grocer).
Trim, peel and roughly chop 1/4 cup of garlic and shallots.
Trim, peel and roughly chop 1/4 cup of galangal (this is a gnarly rhizome related to ginger, but it is not something you can substitute with ginger even though some recipes say you can. It is one of the things that give this a true authentic Thai flavor. See above for online and NYC stores where you can find it.
Zest and roughly chop 1 teaspoon of Kaffir lime .
Place all fresh/wet the ingredients in the bowl of a blender. Not the dry spices.
Drain the hot peppers reserving the liquid.
Add the peppers to the rest of the ingredients in the blender. Add 2 Tablespoons of reserved liquid and blend until for a minute or more until the lemon grass and galangal have started to break down.
Add the peppers, continue to blend and add liquid as you need — I usually use most of it.
When this mixture has become a paste add: the dried spices, 1 teaspoon of sea salt and 11/2 teaspoons of shrimp paste (if you are keeping kosher you can substitute 3 teaspoons of anchovy paste for the shrimp paste ). Process, adding as much reserved pepper water to blend into a paste. You can do this all in a mortar in which case you want start with the lemongrass, galangal, coriander root and salt, when they break down add the garlic and shallots, pounding again until they are all incorporated and form a paste then add the peppers, pounding and grinding again until all the ingredients are well incorporated (adding liquid as needed). Add the spices, shrimp paste and stir well. This can take a very long time and requires a large mortar, but if you are up for it and looking for a very authentic paste this is the traditional method.
Place the paste in a sealed jar in the fridge. It keeps fr a very long time and as it sits over time will mellow and become less hot. I can’t stress how rewarding it is to make your own red curry paste. I usually double the recipe so I always have some in the fridge. It’s also a key ingredient in my peanut dip.