Until I ate my way through New Orleans a bunch of years ago, I lived in fear of spicy food.
It's hard to imagine now.
Without jambalaya, Szechuan tofu and fiery lamb vindaloo, my life would be empty.
My pantry would be empty, too. The spice rack holds an entire shelf of ground and whole dried peppers. In the fridge, you can always find Sriracha and harissa, and in the cupboard, red curry paste and green curry paste, chili paste with garlic and hot bean paste, and sauces with names like Hotter Than Hell, Pain Is Good, and Scorned Woman.
Red curry paste is one of the convenience foods I keep on hand, for quick curries and great vegetable dips. It's easy to make your own, but there are great products available at Asian markets and online.
What is red curry paste?
A thick, medium-hot paste made of fresh or dried red chilies, dried spices, plus fresh lemongrass, galangal, garlic, shallot, kaffir lime, cilantro roots, and sometimes shrimp paste, all ground together.
How/where to store it?
Unopened: in the cupboard. Opened: in the refrigerator, for a year or more. Homemade: must be refrigerated.
More facts about red curry paste, and ingredient photos, on The Perfect Pantry:
Red curry paste (Recipe: mussel stew)
Salmon choo chee
Ted and I had the most amazing salmon choo chee at a restaurant in Boston a couple of weeks ago, and while the taste memory was still in my head, I had to replicate the dish. On a visit to an Asian supermarket with my friend Lilly, I found choo chee paste in a can, and I compared the ingredients to red curry paste. Almost identical. If you can't find coconut cream, you can use coconut milk; boil it down a bit to thicken it. Make some steamed rice, to temper the heat of this salmon. Serves 6.
2 tsp canola oil
1-1/2 lb salmon fillet, skin removed, cut into 2-inch pieces
4 oz choo chee paste or red curry paste (this will be very spicy; use 2 oz for a less fiery dish)
14-oz can coconut cream
1 Tbsp fish sauce
Juice of 1/2 lime
4 oz can pineapple cubes in natural juice (no added sugar)
1-1/2 cups snap peas
1 red bell pepper, cut into strips lengthwise
2 Tbsp cilantro, roughly chopped
In a wok or nonstick frying pan, heat the oil over medium-high heat. Add the salmon pieces, and let them sit for 20-30 seconds, to brown on one side. Toss gently, and brown on the other side. (The salmon will not be fully cooked at this point.) Remove salmon with a spider (skimmer) to a plate, and cover lightly with foil.
Add the curry paste to the wok and stir for 15 seconds to warm the paste. Add the coconut cream, fish sauce and lime juice, and stir to combine. Cook in the wok for 1 minute, until the sauce has come together. Add the pineapple, peas and red pepper, and cook for 2 minutes until the peas and pepper are just cooked through but still crunchy. Return the salmon to the wok, with the cilantro. Stir gently, cook for 1 minute, and serve hot with steamed rice.
Other recipes that use red curry paste:
Thai red curry, from Rasa Malaysia
Red curry fried rice with seared pineapple, from Herbivoracious
Long beans with tofu in red curry sauce, from My Feasts
Thai red curry with root vegetables, from Sassy Radish
Red curry sweet potato croquettes, from A Crafty Lass
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