I love the convenience of premium, ready-made condiments, such as Thai Red Curry Paste. They can be quite good. Especially when they are locally made and preservative-free, such as Thai and True curry pastes. But that said, ready-made can’t beat home-made. No way. No how.
For one thing, you can custom craft your home-made curry paste to your unique preferences. I go heavy on the fresh ginger, for instance. And the cilantro. And the garlic. Plus I fine-tune the curry spice mixture.
None of this is difficult. Active prep for a cup (that’s a lot) of Red Curry Paste is under 10 minutes. And the paste keeps for a good month (or longer frozen).
I use it extensively—for soups, stews, stir-fries, curries, sautés, steamed shellfish. I’ve even added Red Curry Paste to burgers, and wow, were they fabulous. You might even like to try Thai Red Curry Mac and Cheese. But, perhaps the most creative idea I’ve seen is Red Curry White Chocolate Peanut Butter Thai Truffles. True, the recipe only uses 1 teaspoon of paste, but it’s interesting nonetheless. My point is that if you have it on hand, you’ll find at least a dozen ways to use it.
Now to the chiles, which are the heart of this versatile curry paste. You can use almost any unsmoked dried chiles you want here, but each has a slightly different flavor and minor to significant differences in heat level. Many recipes for this traditional Thai flavoring paste call for dried Thai chiles, which are scorching hot–50,000-100,000 Scoville Heat Units (SHUs).
When these are specified, the author may admonish the cook not to cut back on the number of chiles in the paste, but rather to cut back on the amount of paste used—to keep the flavor balance. The problem with this approach is that you will also be cutting back on the other great flavors in the paste (shallots, garlic, fresh ginger, cilantro, lime, and spices).
So, let me suggest another approach. Use dried chiles with moderate heat levels in the first place, such as New Mexico Chilies (dried Anaheim chiles, 500-1,500 SHUs), Ancho chiles (dried poblano chiles, 1,000-1,500 SHUs), or Guajilla chiles (2,500-5,000 SHUs). For the more adventurous, you can also use De Arbol chiles (15,000-30,000 SHUs) or Japones chiles (15,000-36,000 SHUs). I don’t recommend dried Thai chiles (50,000-100,000 SHUs) for the uninitiated.