Intensely flavored curry pastes are a staple of Thai cuisine. These moist, concentrated blends of chiles, spices, and aromatics like lemongrass, lime leaves, shrimp paste, shallots, garlic, ginger, or cilantro are stirred into coconut milk or broth to make the sauce for all sorts of curry dishes.
Thai curry pastes are classified according to their color. Green curry pastes get their color mainly from fresh hot green chiles like serranos; they tend to be the hottest curry pastes. Red curry pastes are made with dried red chiles; they’re pretty fiery, too, but not quite so much as green pastes. Yellow curry pastes are colored by turmeric and Indian-style curry powder; their spice level is relatively mild.
Making and buying curry pastes:
You can make curry paste—it’s relatively straightforward—or you can buy it. Homemade curry paste will undoubtedly taste fresher. Any good Thai cookbook will have at least a few recipes for it. If you’re pressed for time or are new to Thai curry, store-bought pastes are convenient and a good way to get acquainted with this ingredient. Thai Kitchen, a brand carried by many super-markets, makes good jarred green and red curry pastes; we used this brand to test the Spicy Coconut Curry Sauce for Seared Scallops as well as Slightly Spicy Sugar Snap Peas with Mint & Lime.
You can find Thai curry paste in Asian markets or in the Asian section of your grocery store. For an online source, try Templeofthai.com, which not only carries red, green, and yellow curry pastes ($2.89), but also ingredients like lemongrass (4 ounces for $2.99) and shrimp paste ($2.99).
Storing curry pastes:
Tightly wrapped or sealed, curry paste lasts for about a month in the refrigerator and up to three months in the freezer.