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how to make restaurant style Thai Curry?

forgive me if this has come up before, I did a quick search, but not overly complete.

does anyone know how to make an authentic thai coconut curry, like you get in a Thai resto?

I have tried using the premade red/green curries in the jar, and following the recipe, but it just does not taste even close.

I have often thought of taking a thai cooking course just to figure out what the heck I am missing.

I have had recent success with a Thai hot & sour coconut soup that came out really well, but the curries are still a mystery.

I am okay with red or green, panang coconut curries, no massam (??) though.

thanks for your help!

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  1. Depends - if you have any REALLY good Thai joints that make their own curry paste.
    BUT -
    What brand of storebought paste have you used? I only use the Maesri brand, and here's how I do it:

    Hot wok with some kind of oil (not olive) usually just corn oil, plus a few drops of sesame oil, along with some chile infused oil. The wok need not be searing hot like for stir fry or chowing, but hot enogh to cause a medium sizzle.

    Ok, so in the oil, put 1/2 can of the maesri curry paste of your preference into the oil, and blend it well with the oil. stir enough to avoid any burning, Turn the heat lower if this mixture starts to burn - you want it to sizzle, but not burn. This process is called "bhuning" I believe, and is an integral part of Thai, and Indian cooking. Sautee / stir this mixture until the oil separates back out from the paste when you drag your cooking tool through it. Takes about 3 min give or take.

    Next, I add some finely chopped onion, and turn the heat down a little more. Don't want the onion to burn here. Once the onion gets softish, add some chopped garlic, minced ginger, a few shakes of ground galangal and any extra fresh chile you would like to use. Please do not use powdered ginger, as it is completely worthless, and does not add any flavor that remotely resembles fresh ginger. Once the ginger, and garlic release their aromas (a few min more minute or so) add a spoonful of chile garlic paste, and also, a good hit of oyster sauce (two tbs,) and turn the heat up a tad. Stir constantly. Once this mixture gets warm and bubbly (only a minute or so more) add in a few dashes of some light soy (I actually use ponzu.) Still stirring, let this heat up to get a little bubbly, and then add in your coconut milk (remember to shake your can - although the seperated fat will dissolve in the heat.) Whisk your bhuned paste into the coconut milk (right in the wok) - and then squeese in the juice of half of a lime. Once it gets warmed through, give it a taste. DO NOT LET THIS BOIL. A very slow simmer is better IMO.

    At this point, I'll add in sliced chicken breast, and basically lightly poach it. At the end, I'll add in any pre - stir fried veggies (usually seared mushrooms) along with chopped cilatro, and finely minced kefir lime leaf. My method might not be proper or whatever, but I'm a coconut milk curry hound to the core, and I'll put mine up against most any in Chicago. My favorite of the Maesri flavors is red, followed by green. They are not GREAT, but if you bhun it correctly, and doctor it up, you'll be quite impressed at how little effort it takes to make a decent curry. If you are looking to create your own paste from scratch, of course that would be better, but the little maesri cans are great starting points. If anything is confusing, I'd be more happy to try and explain better. You're going to get it. It takes one or two tries, but you'll get it. Trust me, you'll be styling in no time.

    2 Replies
    1. re: gordeaux

      One more thing - some folks will like a little sugar in these. I think it ruins them, but that's me. I like it more savory than sweet. I like a more prononuced sour note to my curry than the sweet note. Just a preference thing for me. Add the sugar whenever I guess. I wouldn't go more than a tbs, but that just depends how sweet you like it. I've been places where it's super sweet, and I just think it's horrible.

    2. This is my brother's green curry recipe. The paste has a lot of ingredients but it's easy - little veg prep, and then it's all in the blender. It might be your ingredients- are you substituting things, and what kind of fish sauce and soy are you using? I usually don't bother with a mortar and pestle because I figure it's all getting blended up anyway, but you might want to do it all out the first time around and then take shortcuts.

      4 Thai bird chilies
      2 inner bulbs lemongrass
      1 cup cilantro stems and leaves
      1 hunk of galangal, peeled
      6 scallions, only the white part
      2 cloves garlic
      3 tbsp fish sauce
      1 tbsp tamari
      1 squirt honey
      1 tsp lime zest
      1 tsp ground cumin (roast and grind yourself if you have time)
      2 tsp ground coriander (roast and grind yourself if you have time)
      1 tsp ground black pepper
      couple tbsp coconut milk

      For the paste:

      1. Chop up everything chopable and put in food processor or blender.
      2. Put everything else in too, eyeballing the coco milk
      3. Taste it and add more honey if it's too spicy, more chilies if it's not, and more fish sauce if it's not salty enough.

      For the dish:

      1. Saute your ingredients (I use chicken and veggies) until about 2/3 of the way done.
      2. Add paste, saute a little more to release flavors, then add coco milk and 2 kaffir lime leaves.
      3. Let simmer a little more until meat and veggies are done, or about 5-8 minutes

      1. I took cooking classes at the Blue Elephant Cooking School in Bangkok, and at the end of the classes, I ended up buying some of their pre-made products in the store attached. I have to say, the taste of the food I made by hand, and the taste of the food made using their sauce packets was almost identical. I have since found their products in Cost Plus World Market.

        (I would give you some of the recipes I made in class, but I am at work with no access tot hem)

        4 Replies
        1. re: lulubelle

          What a treat to go on that course! We have Blue Elephant products in the UK, and the instructions on their curry pastes do indeed produce fantastic results. I must have tried more than a dozen different pre-made pastes over the last few years and B.E. are top of the pops! I also find that a decent glug of coconut cream in addition to the milk really makes a difference.

          1. re: Robin Joy

            Hi Robin, where have you found to buy the Blue Elephant paste's in London ? I bought some in the midlands afew months ago, and would love to get some in London.

            1. re: rachelknowledge

              Morning Rachel
              My local Waitrose carried it last time I looked. I'll bethere later on today and I'll check & report.

              1. re: Robin Joy

                Just been there, bought some Blue Elephant Red Paste, prawns, stir fry veg etc. and the wok will be out after Strictly Come Dancing!

        2. Making your own curry paste will generally lead to superior results. But I can be lazy sometimes. I've tried different pre-made curry pastes out there (though not Maesri) and found the best one was Nittaya. It's made in Thailand and I find it in the freezer section. A lot of restaurants actually purchase Nittaya for their restaurant curries.

          I've seen tons of posts recommending Mae Ploy. But I have to disagree with it. The paste is too salty and uni-dimensional. Nittaya really is probably the closest you'll get to a good restaurant curry. I'm lucky enough to buy it at a Thai store near me. But they also sell it online.

          1 Reply
          1. re: Miss Needle

            Thanks everyone! I have only tried 'A Taste of Thai' curry paste. I will look for the others at our Asian markets. I am interested to try the home made curry paste too. I don't know what kind of fish sauce I use is some Asian brand, I have had it for ages. The recipe on the bottle of curry paste is basically the same as Gordeaux's directions, and this is what I have done. I must admit I like the sweet curries, and this is one thing that I find I cannot get right.

            I will definitely keep trying with some of these tips!

          2. I have also taken a few Thai cooking courses, including several sessions at the Blue Elephant Dubai. None of the classes I took discourage using ready made pastes. I prefer Mae Ploy myself, Red Curry is my favorite, unlike other brands I have seen, it contains shrimp paste so it has a very authentic flavor.

            Try this recipe:

            4 chicken thighs, skinned, cut into stir fry size (or use 2 breasts if you prefer)
            3 cloves garlic
            4 cilantro sprigs WITH THE ROOT (important for Thai cooking, just wash well)
            2 tbs cooking oil
            1 1/2 TBs Mae Ploy Red Curry paste
            1 tsp ground coriander powder
            1 tsp ground cumin powder
            1 can coconut milk (I use low fat and haven't found that to be an issue)
            1 tbs Fish sauce
            1 tbs sugar
            5 kaffir lime leaves
            a handful of veggies of your choice, chopped for stir fry size. I like some chopped long beans, Thai eggplant, cherry tomatoes, just a few pieces of whatever...
            12 pieces Thai basil
            a few chopped Thai chilies if you dare, Mae Ploy is pretty hot, so you could de-seed if you want

            First, you pre-cook your protein. Say you use chicken, stir fry on very high heat to brown, but no need to fully cook. Set aside. In the meanwhile you will have blitzed the garlic, coriander roots and sprigs, and the dry spice powders together. Fry this in the hot oil for a few moments, add in your curry paste and fry for a few moments more until the spice paste and oil separate. Then add in your coconut milk. Add in the sugar and fish sauce, your veggies and the chicken, cook until veggies are slighter tender...you might want to watch the veggie timings, like carrots will take a while, the tomatoes really only need to heat through. Once the meat is cooked through and the veg is to your liking, stir in the basil leaves and chopped chilies and serve with Jasmine rice.

            4 Replies
            1. re: luckyfatima

              i've been making thai food for years and didn't know about the cilantro root, luckyfatima. thanks for the tip. how finely do you chop it before adding?

              1. re: cimui

                cimiu: I think traditionally it would be with the other curry paste ingredients in a mortar and pestle, but I just use a food processor

                *** I noticed in the recipe above I wrote 1 can of coconut milk but it should be 1 cup

                1. re: cimui

                  I have had good luck finding the cilantro root at farmers' markets, particularly if the grower is Asian.

                  I have always ground it in the mortar and pestle.

              2. Short of begging a trusted restaurant for their paste I think the easiest option would be buying a good quality paste from an asian grocery then purchase some kaffir lime leaves and thai basil.

                I think the secret to a good home version is simplicity of construction for instance my favorite restaurant (whose curries I cannot match as they make their own extraordinarily elegant pastes) only ever add a few different types of vegetables along with whatever meat you desire (or just vegetables) whereas many western interpretations tend to load up on everything leading to a very confused dish.

                Actually, although this is probably a personal preference I recommend adding anything up to an extra 100ml of coconut milk (but thats because I love a very saucy curry). also trust me on the bamboo shoots that are a lovely texture in the curry.
                I recommend the following for red curry:

                3 tbs red curry paste
                2 tbs peanut oil
                200 ml coconut cream
                Fish sauce
                1 tsp palm sugar (or brown)
                1 - 2 Kaffir lime leaves
                generous sprig thai basil

                250 g chicken breast (cut into 1x5 cm strips)
                100-200 g tin bamboo shoots
                1/2 red(or green etc) capsicum cut into strips
                5 snake beans cut into 5 cm lengths
                1 Japanese eggplant cut into 1cm thick rounds (note japanese eggplant is a similar shape to zucchini)

                Heat 2 tbs oil in wok over a med-high heat. Add chicken and cook until sealed then add beans stir frying for a couple of minutes before add capsicum and eggplant stir frying for a further 2-3 minutes. Remove from wok, add a dash of extra oil and add curry paste (you may want to reduce heat a little) heat until curry paste becomes fragrant, when this happens (should be less than a minute) add coconut milk and return chicken and vegetables along with bamboo shoots. At this point also add, lime leaves, basil and sugar. Cover wok and simmer of a low heat (note you do not want the coconut cream to boil) until eggplant is cooked (but not disintegrated!). When ready to serve add fish sauce to taste.

                1 Reply
                1. re: irisav

                  If you can get them, I highly recommend water-cooked bamboo shoots packed in plastic. The product I buy, unlike tinned bamboo, is not cut, and consists of a large, soft bamboo shoot. I cut it myself into my desired size and add it to my dish while cooking, and the taste and texture are excellent. I find that the canned product carries an aluminum taste and holds a strange and undesirable texture.

                  Baby corn can also be another good addition, and, as you mentioned in your recipe, snake beans are excellent.

                2. Hey Cleo.

                  I too make my own red curry paste at home.

                  One of the keys is to fry the in the beginning. The big difference in my way as opposed to the ones mentioned already is, I fry mine in coconut cream.
                  I watched Pilot Guides (Thailand of course) and they showed some woman making red curry chicken and that's what she did. She took a few table spoons, fried in in about a half cup of coconut cream. Then added the coconut milk.
                  I don't remember when she cooked the chicken because I have only used this method to make Thai fish curry. After the milk, I add some veggies, let them cook a bit and then add my fish at the last possible minute.

                  It's great.


                  9 Replies
                  1. re: Davwud

                    Is there a difference between coconut cream and coconut milk?

                    1. re: cleopatra999

                      Yes, a very big difference.
                      I don't know about where you live but up here, I buy the cream in a cardboard box and the milk in a can.

                      Also, it's coconut cream. Not cream of coconut or creamed coconut.


                      1. re: cleopatra999

                        Most cans (not all) of coconut milk will have a layer of cream on the top. It's usually hard or has a thicker viscosity (depending on the brand). My favorite is Chaokoh brand. If you do go to some stores, they'll sell the coconut cream separately. But it's more difficult to find.

                        And Davwud is absolutely correct -- don't ever buy cream of coconut or creamed coconut (Coco Lopez). That stuff is sweetened and not appropriate for Thai curries.

                        1. re: Miss Needle

                          And if you can't find a brand where there's separation of the coconut cream (it happens even in full-fat coconut milk because of homogenization), you can alternatively fry the paste in oil, then add the coconut milk.

                        2. re: cleopatra999

                          Davwud is correct, it's good to fry the curry in the cream of the coconut milk.

                          DON"T buy the low fat one. Get the regular coconut milk and DON'T SHAKE the can. When you open it the thick fat layer will be at the top. This is scooped up and used to fry the curry, then add the rest of the coconut milk.


                          1. re: scubadoo97

                            you know in the recipe above, I made a parenthetical comment that I used low fat coconut successfully. I was told in my Thai cooking class not to use low fat coconut milk, too. but i used it and I swear my curry tastes really good and doesn't come out too thin.

                            1. re: luckyfatima

                              Good to know.
                              The reason I suggested using full fat was to harvest the thick coconut cream to fry the curry in. My feeling is if your going to fry the curry in oil and then use low fat coconut milk after why not just use the full fat version. I love the velvety texture of coconut milk.

                              1. re: scubadoo97

                                Just a note that some cans of coconut milk I've bought recently have had the labels upside down (and only one end opens easily with a can opener). Just be ready to have some place to pour the lighter fraction.

                            2. re: scubadoo97

                              I shake the can and use it for the milk. I buy coconut cream separately.


                        3. You could try making your own paste even once for the fun of it, but having said that, by far the best meal I ever made was a red curry (a package, though I'm not sure which) with duck and bamboo shoots. So in addition to all the garlic, ginger, onion things I added bamboo shoots and the shredded meat from half a bbq'd duck from Chinatown. You know, the ones that hang in the window. Also Thai basil. It was a tad rich and a bit of work getting all the duck off the bone, but lots of ooohs and ahs. Serve with an tart salad with lots of lime and fish sauce.

                          1. As a follow up to some things brought up in this post: I had another Thai cooking class at the local Blue Elephant. I asked the chef about the diet coconut milk thing. He explained that in Thailand, the traditional way is to just fry the coconut cream as someone described above...the richer the curry the better. He said people will actually compete on who can give alms to the monks with the richest curry. That is why Lite coconut milk is not supposed to be used. I am still going to use it just to be healthier, but now I understand why a wetter Thai curry is not as authentic as a very thick creamy one.

                            He recommends Nittaya Thai and Mae Ploy brands for curry paste.

                            6 Replies
                            1. re: luckyfatima

                              Supposedly coconut fat is a very healthy fat. I've yet to confirm it though.


                              1. re: Davwud

                                very helpful posts here! do you think i can freeze the lime leaves? i got a bag and only used 3 of them.

                                1. re: jeniyo

                                  Probably. What have you got to lose??

                                  When I made my own paste in the past I just used lime zest. I really liked the taste of my curry. I didn't have access to the leave and I don't know what they taste like.


                                  1. re: jeniyo

                                    Absolutely! I can't find fresh lime leaves where I live so I buy the frozen ones. I can't taste the difference either. I try to keep a can of coconut milk, red curry paste and frozen lime leaves at hand so I can whip up a good thai curry any night of the week with any seafood/tofu/meat/veggies in the fridge. If I'm organized, I buy lemongrass. I also freeze my red curry paste (Maesri) in 1 tbsp portions too if I can't get through the can quick enough.

                                    1. re: jeniyo

                                      I keep frozen lime leaves, galangal, and lemon grass (although lemon grass seems to last for centuries in the fridge). I personally think the lime leaves do lose a bit of their punch after freezing, but my palette isn't so refined that I can tell the difference in the end result of a soup or curry, they still smell right, just not quite as strong. Freezing is very convenient since they don't always have them at the grocery store near me, when they do it is in larger portions than what I need, and the Thai grocery is far away from my house...so freezing works just fine for me. I also pull them out for a quick Thai curry as someone else mentioned.

                                      1. re: jeniyo

                                        I have and they work fine. They retain the fragrant oils that are so unique to Kafir lime leaves.