Thai Red Curry Paste

Preparation info

  • Difficulty


  • Yield:

    1 cup

Appears in


By James Peterson

Published 1991

  • About

Red curry paste (as all curry paste) is somewhat labor intensive because there is no adequate substitute for slow grinding with a mortar and pestle. Curry pastes do freeze well, however, so the slow grinding process isn’t necessary every time a dish calls for one. It’s worth making a large batch, freezing it in smaller quantities, and using it as needed.

Dried guajillo chiles are suggested here, but it’s worthwhile experimenting with different dried red chiles to come up with varying nuances and heat.

Shrimp paste, listed here as optional, is traditionally cooked in a skillet before it is combined with the other ingredients. To avoid an aroma that many Western cooks find unpleasant, do this in a well-ventilated kitchen, or simply add the shrimp paste to the curry without cooking it. (Some cooks wrap the shrimp paste in aluminum foil and toast it in a skillet so the aroma doesn’t escape.)


guajillo or ancho chiles, about 10 oz 70 g
coriander seeds 1 tbsp 15 ml
lemongrass 2 stalks 2 stalks
thai chiles, stemmed and seeded or serrano chiles, stemmed and seeded 6 or 3 6 or 3
peeled galangal, sliced ¼-inch (5 mm) thick 8 slices 8 slices
shallots, peeled 4 4
garlic cloves, peeled 4 4
cilantro roots or cilantro stems, coarsely chopped 2 or about 2 heaping tbsp 2 or 40 ml
zest of 1 lime, cut in strips or makrut lime leaf or 1 or 1
shrimp paste (optional) 1 tbsp 15 ml


  1. Wipe the guajillo chiles with a dry towel. Cut off the stems and slice the chiles in half lengthwise. Shake out the seeds.
  2. Put the guajillo chiles and coriander seeds in a food processor and grind to a powder, about 3 minutes.
  3. Peel the outermost sheath off the lemongrass stalks and discard. Cut off 5 inches (12.5 cm) of the tender end and thinly slice. Discard the rest of the stalks or dry them and reserve them to add them to broths for other Southeast Asian dishes. Add the slices to the chile mixture.
  4. Add the rest of the ingredients to the chile-lemongrass mixture and purée for about 10 minutes, scraping the inside of the food processor bowl with a rubber spatula every minute.
  5. Transfer one-third of the paste to a mortar and grind with a pestle to a smooth paste, about 10 minutes. Repeat with the remaining two-thirds, a third at a time. (If a very large mortar is available, grind the paste all at once.)