If you’re a fan of Thai food, making your own Thai Red Curry from scratch is a must try at least once in your life. It’s quite extraordinary how much better it is than using store bought curry paste. This is truly restaurant quality food made at home!
Patience has never been my greatest virtue. I was itching to publish this Thai Red Curry recipe alongside the Thai Red Curry Paste I shared on Friday, but the sensible side of me (which more often than not is completely overpowered by my impulsive side) told me to be patient, file away each recipe separately, share them one at a time.
I’m particularly excited about this Thai Red Curry because it’s been years in the making. I even have a distinct memory of having a red curry conversation with a foodie friend of mine almost 10 years ago, both of us expressing frustration about having never found the “perfect” red curry paste recipe. The one that makes a curry that makes you jump up and down with glee because it truly tastes as good as the curries you get at (good) Thai restaurants.
The Thai Red Curry Paste used in this Thai Red Curry recipe is a RecipeTin Family effort. It’s The One. It’s a Keeper. I won’t go on and one about it because I already did that in the Thai Red Curry Paste post. 🙂
Yes, you will likely need to take a trip to your Asian grocery store. But once you’ve gathered the ingredients, it’s extremely straight forward and quick to make, as many curry paste recipes are!
PS Notice how the curry paste is not a bright, deep red colour, like the jarred stuff? That’s because the jarred stuff usually has artificial colouring or a red spice like paprika added.
What does a Thai Red Curry Taste like??
Someone asked me this question and I had to pause for a minute to think how best to describe it! Here’s my best effort:
Thai Red Curry, like most Asian curries, has a great depth of flavour. The sauce flavour is complex, it has many layers from all the ingredients in the paste that is then simmered with broth and coconut milk. It’s sweet and savoury, and it is quite rich. The use of shrimp paste and fish sauce provides the saltiness as well as the umami (which is the food-nerd word for savouriness, now officially considered to be the 5th taste in food along with sweet, salt, bitter and sour), however, with the amount that is used in this recipe, it does not have a strong fishy or fermented shrimp flavour (some “hardcore” Thai restaurants have a much stronger fermented shrimp flavour).
The presence of coconut flavour is unmistakable. And while one may assume Thai Red Curry is fiery hot, if from the colour alone, in actual fact it is not! It is actually quite mild, and generally most restaurants tend to stick with the mild level of spiciness though you will find some restaurants that dial up the heat considerably.
It’s one of those dishes where only those who are quite knowledgeable about South East Asian Cooking can pick the ingredients in the sauce – other than coconut milk and chilli, the two most obvious ones! Most people will scoff it down, smacking their lips, but can’t tell what’s in the sauce. And that’s a classic characteristic of great curries – that there’s so many flavours going on in there, but they’re all beautifully melded together so they become one, so you can’t distinguish individual flavours.
How’d I do, describing Thai Red Curry?? ❤️
I have one word of advice when making Thai Red Curry from scratch – be patient.
Developing this recipe was frustrating because it’s virtually impossible to tell how it is going to taste until right at the very end, once the sauce has reduced down and thickened when you can finally do a true taste test.
It’s kind of like baking – you know how you make the batter, bake it, then have to wait until it’s cooled and even more patience is required if you have to frost it, and then only then can you cut into it to see what it’s like on the inside and to taste it…… Heaven forbid if it’s a fail. 🤯
Thai Red Curry is kind of like that. You’ll taste the curry paste and won’t think it’s anything extraordinary. You’ll start cooking the curry and will be dubiously looking at a pool of pale liquid simmering, and you’ll probably start doubting me.
You’ll stick a spoon in for a taste test and wrinkle your nose, thinking meh! This is blah!
Then you’ll add the chicken, let it simmer away and miraculously the colour of the sauce starts darkening, the sauce starts thickening…
And then you’ll do another taste test.
And hopefully, like I do, you’ll jump up and down with glee and do a fist pump because it’s so darn good.
I honestly can’t talk it up enough. It’s so. Darn. Good! – Nagi x
PS The final time I made this before publishing the recipe, I made a version using store bought curry paste alongside this homemade version. Just so I could truly satisfy myself how much better homemade is. I even doctored the store bought paste, starting with sautéed fresh aromatics. And I can honestly say – the difference is off the Richter scale. I was actually shaking my head at how unbelievably different they are!
PPS If you’re wondering if the sauce is supposed to look sort of split – yes it is. The oil is actually supposed to separate. I’ve included some general commentary in the recipe notes, for those that are interested. 🙂
- 3 tbsp vegetable oil (or canola or peanut)
- 1 quantity homemade Thai Red Curry Paste
- 1 cup / 250 ml chicken broth , salt reduced
- 400 ml/ 14 oz coconut milk (full fat!)
- 6 kaffir lime leaves (Note 1)
- 1 tbsp sugar (white, brown or palm)
- 2 tsp fish sauce , plus more to taste
- 350g / 12 oz chicken thighs (boneless and skinless), cut into 0.75 / 1/3" thick slices (Note 2)
- 150 g / 5 oz pumpkin or butternut squash, cut into 1.5cm / 3/5" cubes (~1 heaped cup)
- 120 g / 4oz green beans , trimmed and cut into 5cm/2" pieces
- 12 Thai basil leaves (Note 3)
- Fresh red chilli slices (small chilli - spicy, large = less spicy)
- Fresh coriander / cilantro leaves
Heat oil in a large heavy based skillet over medium high heat.
Add curry paste and cook for about 2 minutes - at first, the curry paste will be sloppy with wetness but the liquid will cook out and you'll end up with a dry-ish paste. (See video)
Add chicken broth and stir to dissolve paste. Simmer rapidly for 3 minutes or until liquid reduces by half.
Add coconut milk, lime leaves, sugar and fish sauce. Stir, then add chicken.
Spread chicken out, bring to simmer, then turn heat down to medium. Simmer for about 8- 10 minutes or until Sauce reduces, the chicken is cooked and the sauce is almost at the thickness you want.
Do a taste test. Add more fish sauce (or even shrimp paste) to add more saltiness, sugar for sweetness.
Add pumpkin and beans, stir. Cook for 3 minutes or until pumpkin is just cooked through and Sauce is thickened - see video for Sauce thickness.
Remove from heat. Stir through a handful of Thai basil leaves.
Serve over rice, garnished with fresh red chilli slices and fresh coriander/cilantro leaves, if desired.
1. Kaffir Lime Leaves are the leaves of a kaffir lime tree. It's used to add earthy citrus flavours into Asian food. In Australia, you can find kaffir lime leaves at Asian stores, Harris Farms and even large supermarkets (Coles, Woolies). Dried is an ok substitute (use the same amount), but I really urge you to try to find fresh if you can because it adds that "something-something" that really makes this "restaurant quality".
2. Thigh is best for this recipe because it's nice and juicy. If you really want to use breast, I urge you to tenderise it the Asian way to make it juicier and ensure it doesn't dry out. To do this, slice breast thinly per recipe, then coat with 1 tsp baking soda / bicarb soda. Use fingers. Leave 20 minutes, then rinse thoroughly, remove excess water with paper towels. Proceed with recipe.
3. Thai Basil looks like normal basil but has pointier leaves and a purplish tinge. It tastes like basil + aniseed. It's not the end of the world if you can't find it, but if you can, it will give your curry that flair of authenticity. In Australia, you can find Thai Basil at Asian stores, Harris Farms and even large supermarkets (Coles, Woolies). If you can't find it, ordinary basil will be an adequate substituted but only use a small handful.
4. STORE BOUGHT CURRY PASTE: Please do not use this recipe using store bought curry paste, it is not intended for that purpose. If using store bought, it needs to be doctored to make it as good as possible, and I haven't done that for a straight red curry recipe yet.
5. General recipe notes: Thai red curry sauce doesn't look completely smooth, it looks a bit split because of the oil and that's the way it is supposed to be. But it tastes completely smooth.
There are no hard and fast rules about what goes into a Thai Red Curry. You'll find Thai eggplant in curries at very authentic Thai restaurants but to be honest, I am not a huge fan of them - they are like tiny eggplants and kind of hard (also not easy to find in shops). However, here in Australia, I'd say that the two most common vegetables I've noticed are pumpkin and green beans or snake beans. While pumpkin may not sound "Thai", don't dismiss it, it is spectacular in red curry for both the texture, the sweetness and also because it soaks up the sauce.
Also, you will notice that homemade Thai Red Curry is not a brilliant red like when it's made with paste from a jar. Store bought quite often uses food colouring or spices to add colour (like paprika).
Thai Red Curry is supposed to be pretty mild, so this curry is not overly spicy. The thickness and sweetness of the sauce varies drastically between restaurants - at some it is almost watery, at others it is really thick and seems to be made with coconut cream. I like mine in between - a sauce that is pourable but with a gravy like consistency. I am not a fan of very sweet Red Curry, but if you are, just add more sugar.
For extra heat, serve with slices of fresh chilli. The smaller the chillies, the spicier they are. If you use large red chillies, like I have as the garnish in the photos, they are barely spicy at all.
WATCH HOW TO MAKE IT
LIFE OF DOZER
It’s lucky he’s so cute because he isn’t going to win any prizes in the spelling bee…. When he bonks his head on the door frame, it sounds hollow. I swear!