Profoundly redolent of all things oceanic, shrimp paste is an essential and treasured source of flavor and texture in curry pastes and in nahm prik, the beloved genre of hot chile dipping sauces. Made from tiny shrimp which are boiled, peeled, salted, dried, and then ground to a fine, sturdy, and very aromatic paste, it ranges in color from purplish-red to brown, with a firm but moist texture. It packs a powerful scent and super-salty flavor, but it melds into curry paste without a trace of its original intensity.
Look for it in small plastic jars and keep it tightly closed until you need it. If it’s sealed with a layer of wax, simply break the wax and discard it. Store it at room temperature, tightly sealed, for up to six months.