Thai red curry is one of our favorite dinners. Succulent, juicy shrimp, in an aromatic sauce with tender and sweet pumpkin and spinach. This curry is packed with flavor, easy and comes together in no time.
For more Thai recipes, check out my Thai coconut sticky rice with mango!
THAI RED CURRY INGREDIENTS and SUBSTITUTIONS:
You can get all the ingredients for an authentic Thai curry at a well-stocked supermarket, in an Asian store or on the internet. Since you already need to buy Thai curry paste, as this is one ingredient that you just can not omit, it’s good to also look for the other traditional ingredients and enjoy wonderful taste of this popular dish. The curry paste and sauces have a long shelf life, so once you buy them, you can store them in the fridge for a long time and make tasty curries many times. Vegetables can be freely changed, depending on what you have on hand, keeping the curry base unchanged.
THE BASE OF ANY RED CURRY:
- Red curry paste – This is the base of the curry. The authentic curry paste is made of hard-to-get ingredients, so it’s best to buy a ready-made one. Please read the ingredients list on the package and choose that paste that lists only spices and aromatics, but no artificial ingredients. The pastes can vary depending on the brand – some are more aromatic, and some are spicier than the others. If you don’t like very hot dishes, mare sure to choose a red curry paste that is not overly spicy (it’s best to try them before adding it into a pot, it should be spicy but it should not completely numb your tongue). Most pastes, that I’ve tried, are moderately hot. I’m also adding ginger, garlic, and lemongrass. Garlic and lemongrass are already ingredients of my curry paste. The curry paste is good and aromatic but when I don’t add these fresh ingredients I always feel there is some flavor lacking. If you find your paste aromatic enough you don’t have to add this. Ginger is not a red curry paste ingredient and should not be substituted for galangal, but I personally like its taste in this curry (these two spices look similar but their flavor is different). This recipe will also work with green or yellow curry paste.
- Coconut milk – it’s best to buy coconut milk that lists only two ingredients (coconut and water) and doesn’t contain any stabilizers. For the best flavor, use full-fat coconut milk. The coconut content should be at least 60%. Try to not shake with the can prior to opening it. Natural canned coconut milk should separate into two layers: top coconut cream layer (very thick and white) and coconut water layer at the bottom – looks like cloudy water. You need to scoop a part of this thick cream layer from the top, add it to the pot and cook with the curry paste. If your coconut milk hasn’t separated, you can cook your paste in a tablespoon of vegetable oil. I’ve seen these two curry preparation methods in Thai cookbooks, but I encountered cooking the paste in coconut milk more often.
- Broth – for the best flavor use chicken broth, but vegetable broth or even water will also work. You could also add coconut milk instead of broth, but I prefer this lightened-up version, with coconut milk:broth 1:1 ratio.
- Lemongrass – can be omitted, but I really recommend adding it as it adds wonderful, fresh, lemony flavor. You can also use store-bought lemongrass paste.
- Seasonings: they are used to add saltiness, sourness, and sweetness to the dish. Providing exact measurement is not accurate, as these products vary from brand to brand. Add them to your taste. If the curry is not enough salty – add more fish sauce, not sour enough – tamarind paste, not sweet enough – sugar. It can also vary depending on your preferences. I remember, a good couple years ago, when I just started to learn Thai cuisine, I’ve been adding a lot less fish sauce to the dish that I’m adding today, it’s flavor was too strong for me.
- fish sauce – adds saltiness to the dish and umami flavor. It is one of the most important ingredients in Thai cuisine. It is used like salt in Western countries. It is called in Thai language nam pla or nahm pla, which means fish water. Make sure it says so on the bottle and don’t confuse it with oyster sauce. Fish sauce looks from the consistency and thickness like soy sauce. Oyster sauce is much thicker. Fish sauce is made from fermented fish. The ingredient list should include fish, water and salt (not sugar, caramel, MSG, any artificial coloring and flavorings). If it tastes too fishy for your liking, just try another brand.
- tamarind sauce – adds sourness. Tamarind paste can be replaced with the lime juice, although it lacks its fruity sweetness.
- palm sugar – adds sweetness. I really love palm sugar, for me, this is not just a sweetener. Palm sugar is made from the coconut palm tree and is really delicious, it tastes like lemony sugar. You can add coconut sugar or brown sugar instead of it. It’s selled either in blocks, that need to be crushed or in the form of honey consistency.
- VEGETABLES – you can add any vegetables that you like, adjusting cooking time to each vegetable. I added pumpkin/squash – it adds sweetness, soaks up the sauce and naturally thickens the curry. You can add any pumpkin type, that you like. Much preferred would be orange-colored pumpkin as opposite to yellow-fleshed, but only because it looks nicer (fish sauce and tamarind sauce have deep brown color). Out of the pumpkin season, you can use sweet potato. I also added spinach, but it can be easily omitted.
- MEAT/PROTEIN: My recipe uses shrimps. They come out delicious, succulent and juicy – all thanks to preparation method I’m using – poaching the shrimp. They don’t need to be cooked, just add them to the hot broth and they will be ready in about 3 minutes. Overcooked shrimp will be tough and rubbery. Instead of shrimp you could add poach salmon or any other fish or add chicken breast.
For this recipe, you’ll need thawed, peeled and deveined shrimp. This is a great article, which explains how to peel and devein shrimp.
- How to make it vegetarian – you need to buy red curry paste that is vegetarian- friendly (doesn’t contain shrimp paste), instead of fish sauce you can use soy sauce (but bear in mind, that the flavor will differ from an authentic curry), then omit the shrimps. You can add baked or pan-fried tofu or canned chickpeas, for more protein.
HOW TO MAKE AUTHENTIC THAI RED CURRY step-by-step:
STEP 1: Open a can of coconut milk (do not shake with the can), a thick mass should be at the top (coconut cream), and thin liquid at the bottom (coconut water). Spoon out about 2/3 of the cream, add to a large pot, heat over medium heat until bubbling.
STEP 2: Add the red curry paste, finely chopped garlic, ginger to the pot.
STEP 3: Add bruised lemongrass stalk and cook the paste for about 2 minutes or until fragrant.
STEP 4: Add the cubed pumpkin, cook for a minute.
STEP 5: Pour in the coconut milk and broth, cook for another 10 minutes, or until the pumpkin is tender.
STEP 6: Poach the shrimp.
STEP 7: Add the spinach. Stir the curry until the leaves are wilted.
STEP 8: Season the curry: add finely crushed palm sugar, fish sauce, and tamarind paste to taste. If the curry is not enough salty – add fish sauce, not enough sour – tamarind paste, not enough sweet – sugar. Serve and enjoy!
HOW TO POACH SHRIMP:
- Use peeled, deveined and thawed shrimp.
- Add the shrimp to a pot of hot water. Take the pot off the heat.
- Stir the shrimp in the pot until cooked through. It should take about 3 minutes. The shrimps are ready when they’ve changed their color to pink and are no longer gray/translucent. The cooking time will depend on the number of shrimp / how big the pot is / how much liquid is in the pot. Take on shrimp out and cut it in half to check if it’s cooked through.
How to check if the shrimp is cooked through: it will change its color from grey/translucent to white/pink.
Adjust the hotness of the Thai red curry:
- do you like fiery hot dishes? add fresh chopped chilis as a garnish
- does your curry came out too hot – add more coconut milk and broth to dilute the chili flavor. The taste of your curry will be more mellow, so make sure to season to your taste (as mentioned above: more sugar for sweetness, more fish sauce for saltiness, more tamarind sauce/lime juice for sourness).
HOW TO SERVE THAI RED CURRY:
- Red curry can be served as a soup (without any additions).
- I served it with rice. It’s best to use Jasmine rice, it’s very fragrant and flavorful. Coconut rice or cilantro and lime rice would also be lovely.
- Instead of rice, you could serve it with angel hair pasta, thin rice noodles, quinoa, brown rice or any other grain, that you like.
- Sprinkle with fresh coriander leaves or Thai basil and/or chopped fresh chilis if you like more heat!
HOW TO COOK JASMINE RICE:
The rice: water ratio is 1:1 3/4. Rinse the rice, cook it with 1 teaspoon of coconut oil (or vegetable oil), add the cold water, bring to a boil, cover, cook over very low heat for 15 minutes (don’t stir during cooking and don’t lift the lid). Take off the heat, leave to rest for 10 minutes. Fluff with a fork and enjoy.
HOW TO STORE THE THAI RED CURRY / MEAL PREP:
- I would omit the spinach, as it will become totally wilted and won’t look very appetizing.
- Store the curry without the rice/noodles, or they will soak up the sauce and be soggy.
- Be careful when reheating the curry to not let it boil (you will overcook the shrimp), just warm it up until almost boiling. When making vegetarian red curry, this is irrelevant.
- The curry can be stored in the fridge for up to 3 days or can be frozen for 3-6 months (don’t freeze the curry if you’ve used frozen shrimp or vegetables to make it).
This is actually a sign, that your curry was properly made! For more on this subject, these two articles are worth reading:
Homemade curry paste is much more flavorful, but if you can’t find all the fresh ingredients for red curry paste (listed below) than it’s better to buy ready-made red curry paste.
You can add any fresh red curry ingredients, that you can find. An authentic red curry paste contains: galangal, lemongrass, kafir lime peel, coriander root, shallots, garlic, shrimp paste, and chili peppers. Adding fresh lemongrass to infuse the sauce makes the biggest difference for me. I also added fresh garlic and ginger. Ginger is not a red curry paste ingredient and should not be substituted for galangal, but I personally like its taste in this curry. These two spices look similar but their flavor is different.
It’s possible if your coconut milk contains stabilizers, which prevent coconut milk from separating. The second reason could be that you have shaken with the can prior to opening it.
It’s possible if your coconut milk was low-quality (had very low coconut extract percentage, which means that a part of coconut was swapped for water). My curry recipe will be also a little more watery than regular, 100% coconut milk curry, as I’m also using broth to make it.
Thai shrimp, pumpkin and spinach red curry
- 1 14 oz can coconut milk 400ml
- 1 2/3 cup chicken/vegetable broth 400 ml
- 3 tablespoons Thai red curry paste
- 2 cloves garlic
- 1- inch piece of ginger about 3 cm
- 1 stalk lemongrass optional
- 1.3 lbs pumpkin 600g or butternut squash (skinless, seedless), this is about 2 lbs/1kg whole butternut squash
- 1 lb shrimp 450g, peeled and thawed
- 2 large handfuls spinach 4.4 oz/125g, can be omitted
- 3 tablespoons fish sauce
- 2 tablespoons tamarind paste or less lime juice
- 1- inch piece of palm sugar 2.5cm, or light brown sugar
- 1 cup jasmin rice 180g
- fresh coriander leaves
Prepare the ingredients:
- Chop the ginger and garlic very finely or pulse them in the food processor with the curry paste until smooth (if it’s too thick, add a little coconut milk to thin it).
- Bruise the thick part of lemongrass with a knife handle.
- Peel the pumpkin/squash and cut into 1/2-inch / 1.5 cm cubes.
- Peel and dewein the shrimp. Thaw the shrimp (just put them into a bowl with cold water for 10 mins).
Cook the curry:
- Open a can of coconut milk (do not shake with the can), a thick mass should be at the top (coconut cream), and thin liquid at the bottom (coconut water). Spoon out about 2/3 of the cream, add to a large pot, heat over a medium heat until bubbling andoil begins to separate from the cream (if this is not happening, just continue with the recipe).
- Add the red curry paste, garlic, ginger and lemongrass to the pot and cook over medium heat for about 2 minutes or until fragrant.
- Add the cubed pumpkin, cook for a minute.
- Pour in the remaining coconut milk and the broth, cook for another 10 minutes over medium-low heat, or until the pumpkin is tender (cooking time depends on the type of pumpkin and how big the pieces are).
- Poach the shrimp: add the shrimps to the pot, then take the pot off the heat. Leave for a couple of minutes, stirring from time to time (shrimps should be submerged in the broth). You can take one shrimp out and cut it in half to see if it’s cooked through (it will be white/pink in the middle instead of grey/translucent).
- Add the spinach (if using baby spinach). Stir the curry until the leaves are wilted.
- Season the curry: add finely crushed palm sugar, fish sauce and tamarind paste to taste. If the curry is not enough salty – add fish sauce, not enough sour – tamarind paste, not enough sweet – sugar. Serve with rice and sprinkle with fresh coriander leaves.
- If you’re making your red curry paste from scratch, omit the garlic, ginger, and lemongrass. Their job is to enhance the flavor of the store-bought curry paste.
- Vegetables: you can use any vegetables you have on hand. It can be fresh or frozen. Instead of pumpkin/squash, sweet potato is a good substitute. Pumpkin cooking time may vary, depending on pumpkin/squash type and how big the pieces are.
- Lemongrass: can be omitted. You can also use store-bought jarred lemongrass paste.
- Instead of shrimp, I would add chicken breast (poach in hot broth or pan-fried) or any other protein source that you like: chicken thighs, steak, etc.
- How to make it vegetarian – buy red curry paste that is vegetarian-friendly (doesn’t contain shrimp paste), instead of fish sauce you can use soy sauce (the flavor will differ from an authentic curry), then omit the shrimps. You can add baked or pan-fried tofu or canned chickpeas.
- If your curry has split (red oil droplets are floating on the top), this is how an authentic curry should like.
- How to cook Jasmine rice: The rice: water ratio is 1:1 3/4. Rinse the rice, cook it with 1 teaspoon of coconut oil (or vegetable oil), add the cold water, bring to a boil, cover, cook over very low heat for 15 minutes (don’t stir during cooking). Take off the heat, leave to rest for 10 minutes. Fluff with a fork and enjoy.
- Spinach leaves: if you’re using big and older spinach leaves, cook for 1 minute or until the leaves are wilted, before adding the shrimp.
- How to serve Thai red curry: Instead of plain rice, you can make coconut rice or cilantro and lime rice. Other alternatives: angel hair pasta, thin rice noodles, quinoa, brown rice or any other grain, that you like. Sprinkle with coriander leaves of Thai basil leaves.
- How to store the curry/meal prep: Omit the spinach (will be too wilted). Store the curry without the rice/noodles (will soak up the sauce and be soggy). Do not let the curry boil to not overcook the shrimp (when making vegetarian red curry, this is irrelevant). The curry can be stored in the fridge for up to 3 days or can be frozen for 3-6 months (don’t freeze the curry if you’ve used frozen shrimp or vegetables to make it).
- Calories count = 1/4 of the recipe, including rice. This is only an estimate!
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