Chilli Paste

Preparation info

  • Difficulty


Appears in

Balance and Harmony

By Neil Perry

Published 2008

  • About

This Thai paste is easy to make and is terrific added to water to make a Tom Yum base, or to coconut milk to make a great sauce for seafood. It also makes a nice salad dressing when thinned with a little coconut milk, and is great added to stir-fried meat, poultry or seafood with some vegetables and herbs. It is quite addictive. The most important part of this recipe is to colour the onions and garlic well; too far and they will be burnt, not enough and the paste will be insipid and not complex in flavour.

Chilli paste is, after green and red curry, the most prolific and flexible ingredient in Thai cooking. I remember eating a stir-fry of king prawns and sator beans (a bit like a cross between a broad bean and an almond in flavour) with chilli paste, down by the river in Bangkok with my old mate David Thompson. I don’t think I shall ever forget it. So if you do go to the trouble of making this paste, make sure you use it in all sorts of dishes.


  • 500 ml (17 fl oz/2 cups) peanut oil
  • 320 g (11¼ oz/ cups) finely sliced Spanish onion
  • 200 g (7 oz/ cups) finely sliced garlic
  • 60 g ( oz) dried shrimp, pounded
  • 150 g ( oz/1 cup) grated palm sugar (jaggery)
  • 125 ml (4 fl oz/½ cup) fish sauce
  • tablespoons chilli powder
  • 375 ml (13 fl oz/ cups) tamarind water


Heat a wok until smoking. Add the peanut oil and, when hot, add the onion and fry until deep golden. Remove with a slotted spoon (very quickly so as not to let it burn) and drain. Add the garlic and fry until golden, then remove and drain. Next add the dried shrimp and fry until golden, remove and drain. Return the onion, garlic and shrimp to the wok, then add the palm sugar and cook until dark brown and caramelised. Add the fish sauce, chilli powder and tamarind water and boil for 30 seconds. Pour the paste into a blender and process until smooth. Store in a screw-top jar in the refrigerator, where it will keep for several weeks — although it generally doesn’t last that long!