This convenient, flavor-boosting ingredient's potential has no limits.

By David McCann
August 12, 2020
Advertisement

When I was a wee lad, your only hope of finding Thai curry paste was if your town happened to have an Asian grocery store… and not many did. You couldn’t even go to your local Thai restaurant and ask if you could buy some because, believe it or not, there weren’t many Thai restaurants in the US when I was growing up. (And if you could find one, I imagine the owners might have laughed at you for thinking there was a prepared paste that they used instead of making their own blends!) I am thrilled to report just how much has changed on that front. Good Thai food is readily available in cities across the country. And you can find many really great varieties of Thai Curry Paste in just about any grocery store. With a little imagination, you’ll discover that there are all sorts of ways you can use these flavor-packed pastes… besides curry. 

But first, what distinguishes the 5 most common Thai curry pastes from one another?

Types of Curry Paste

Red: Generally the hottest; made with lots of dried and fresh red chiles.

Green: The most ubiquitous, and generally the mildest. A concoction of lots of fresh green chiles and green herbs.

Yellow: Somewhere in the middle, heat-wise, with yellow chiles and turmeric. 

Massaman: Fairly mild with a distinctive roasted flavor and color, featuring nutmeg and mace.

Panang/Penang: Very rich, and sweeter than the others, featuring mace and cardamom. 

What they all have in common is basic ingredients, such as lemongrass, cilantro  (roots, stems, and leaves), coriander, cumin, black pepper, garlic, galangal, shallots, makrut lime (leaves, juice, and zest), and frequently, shrimp paste.

And regardless of what your recipe calls for, these curry pastes really can be used interchangeably, just depending on the flavors and the heat level you like. 

Honestly, I am rarely without at least three containers of different curry pastes in my fridge. Here are a few ways that I use them.

Jen Causey; Prop Styling: Kay Clark; Food Styling: Rishon Hanners 

Clever Ways to Use Curry Paste

  •  Add a bit to mayo for sandwiches.
  • A small spoonful will change your scrambled eggs forever. 
  • Stir some into pasta sauce, or into plain pasta for savory oomph. 
  • Add some to sweet butter to create a compound butter for grilled chicken, shrimp, or fish. (And while you’re at it, make extra and keep some stored in your freezer.)
  • Use that same compound butter on fresh ears of corn.
  • A dollop added to your soup will wake up the whole bowl.
  • Simple sautéed vegetables are fantastic with a bit stirred in at the last moment
  • Plain rice is not so plain with a spoonful of curry paste added in.
  • Up your panini game… a little bit really wakes up chicken, mozzarella, etc. 
  • I’ve added some to the liquid when making cornbread, and wow.
  • Any ground meat dish will benefit from curry paste.
  • Just a little bit added to shrimp or crab cakes gives them an incredible pop of flavor.
  • Put a little in the batter when frying chicken, shrimp, or fish—you won’t be sorry.
  • Oh, and a little bit in your Bloody Mary is a true game changer

I LOVE a good Thai curry. But if you think a bit outside the box, you’ll realize that these wonderful blends are perfect for so much more.