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I noticed that many Thai curry recipes start with a foundation of red curry paste.

My local grocery store has one, small, overpriced jar of the stuff. The Asian grocery store, located at a very inconvenient distance, has several varieties as you would expect.

I found very straight forward recipes for making the paste myself. However, they use ingredients that I would have to get from the asian grocery store anyway.

Is the quality and cost of bottled products comparable to what I can make myself?

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4 Answers 4

up vote 8 down vote accepted

You should definitely have a go at it, but I am afraid your time and effort would be better spent on finding a quality source of pre-made paste. This applies to most Asian cooking pastes and sauces.

In most non-Asian countries you cannot get the fresh ingredients required to make them. If they are available, they generally are not the same variety and quality to make a suitable analogue of the Asian masterpieces.

I live in a country with a sub-tropical climate; we have soil that can grow anything, including really good Ceylon tea leaves, and even Chinese Gooseberries (Kiwi Fruit). 10% of the population is Asian. However, for that recipe, alone, I would be faced with these problems:

  • Cilantro (coriander) roots - most growers trim the roots for presentation and because they tend to rot quickly. You can get bottled roots but they are't very nice
  • Chillies - There is a reasonable range of chillies available, but which one. Asian chillies have totally diffident taste profiles than our local ones for some reason
  • Galangal - you can substitute local ginger which is excellent, but not the same as Galangal. I can get seeds to grow my own but that is even more work, and may still not taste right
  • Garlic - local stuff is English style, imported Asian Garlic has been fumigated and stored for too long to be any good. It loses its pungency very fast!
  • Lemon Grass - the local stuff is VERY expensive and not quite as pungent as Asian grown variety.
  • Shrimp paste - imported from Thailand anyway, hmmmm.
  • Kaffir Lime - you can get the leaves, but the fruit doesn't really grow here.

The difference if flavours from herbs and spices growing in Asia and growing in your own local climate is similar to why same varieties of wines taste different too. The soil and weather "makes" the flavours

In general I have found pastes vacuum packed in plastic pouches to be of better quality and freshness than the large jar varieties.

Good luck

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@Kristina Lopez thanks for edits –  TFD Oct 5 '12 at 3:01
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Worth mentioning this old question with regards to coriander roots cooking.stackexchange.com/questions/2610/… –  Jeremy French Oct 8 '12 at 10:31

Homemade curry pastes, red Thai or otherwise, are always in my experience far superior to those in a jar. They are fresher, tastier and allow you to tweak the spice blends to your liking.

They might cost a little more to put together, but good food is always worth paying a little more for.

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I expect you could make extra and freeze it, since the increased time in the kitchen can be a big deal too. –  Jefromi Oct 4 '12 at 19:51

Homemade will most likely not achieve the quality of the Asian store-bought pastes but could be better than what is on offer at the local supermarket: water or preservatives should not be in a Thai paste, for example.

If going the homemade route, then a few ingredients can be bought frozen in good quantities to last and most others are either dry spice or locally procured. Coriander green (cilantro) chillies and shallots at supermarket?

A nice little cheat is to buy Thai yellow paste and to doctor that as required to become Red Green or Mussamam. Red chillies for the first, Coriander the second and spices for the third of star anise cinnamon cardamom. Needn't be ground into the paste, merely added to curry pot. A browse thru paste recipes will put you in the right direction.

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As long as you can get the key ingredients in an asian supermarket, home made curry paste will ALWAYS taste vastly superior to any store brought paste, I've never been able to find a curry paste that can match the one i make at home. Usually the ingredients will make a huge patch of curry paste than you can freeze and then use later, basically as long as you can get galangal, lemon grass and shrimp paste and maybe little asain shallots, you're good to go !

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