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Pre-made purchased curry pastes


ElsieD
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I occasionally cook with curry pastes and while I realize I could make my own, I don't want to, for various reasons. Thus this question of pre-made purchased curry pastes. To date, I have been using the Thai Kitchen brand of red curry paste. However, I see they also have green and yellow pastes. I am wondering how the heat levels and flavour profiles compare? I am also wondering about the different brands and if their heat levels can be compared to the Thai Kitchen ones. For example, I once tried the Mae Ploy brand of red curry paste and found it to be so much hotter than the Thai kitchen red curry paste that I couldn't eat the dish I had made using it. Are there any other curry pastes out there that I should try? Thanks for your help!

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This is not the answer you're looking for, but build up your tolerance. I did this by adding 1 extra Thai chile to my food every day for several days when I was cooking lots of Thai food. My chile tolerance is now nearly superhuman, but Mae Ploy stops well short of that level of heat - I usually add 6-12 Thai chiles to my dish of Mae Ploy-based Thai curry, so to me the basic paste really isn't that hot on the spectrum of things.  

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I like the Patak brand of prepared curry pastes.  Some are not quite hot enough so I cheat and add a little sambal badjak paste, either homemade (when I have been feeling ambitious) or a commercial brand - currently I have a jar of Kokita brand.

 

I "tweak" the prepared pastes to get exactly the flavor I prefer - if I want it sweeter I add a dollop or so of Mae Ploy sweet chile sauce. 

 

I've tried the Mae Ploy curry pastes - the red and the green - and I don't really care for them as to my taste the heat overwhelms the more subtle flavors that I prefer.

However, If you are cooking strictly Thai dishes, I suppose they would work.  I prefer the more versatile Patak and currently have on hand the Madras, Kashmiri Masala, Korma and the Tikka Masala.  I recently finished a jar of the mild curry paste. 

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"There are, it has been said, two types of people in the world. There are those who say: this glass is half full. And then there are those who say: this glass is half empty. The world belongs, however, to those who can look at the glass and say: What's up with this glass? Excuse me? Excuse me? This is my glass? I don't think so. My glass was full! And it was a bigger glass!" Terry Pratchett

 

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Thank you so far for your responses. As mentioned, I find the Mae Ploy unbearably hot so that one is out. I love the flavour of curry pastes but would like less heat than the Mae Ploy but more than the Thai Kitchen brand I am currently using. Part of my original question has to do with the differences between red, green and yellow curry. Is the only difference the colour of chiles used? Or is there a difference in heat levels between them. I would greatly appreciate it if someone could give me the answer to that.

Kenneth T, if you are still following this topic, can you express an opinion on the heat level of the Nittaya pastes and how they compare to Mae Ploy? If I think it more suitable for my tastes I will try and chase some down. I did go to a Thai grocery yesterday but they do not carry it although they did have the Maesri. Cheap, too. It was $1.45 a can.

Thank you for the Patak suggestions. Those I can find no problem, and will give them a try.

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 Part of my original question has to do with the differences between red, green and yellow curry. Is the only difference the colour of chiles used? Or is there a difference in heat levels between them. I would greatly appreciate it if someone could give me the answer to that.

 

 

No. My simple response is that the red is a deep almost roasted chile flavor, the green a brighter flavor with perhaps fresh herbs and kaffir lime, and the yellow seems to me more spiced with warm spices that one associates with "curry powder". 

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Would you consider blending the pastes to get the heat level and flavour you are after?  Part Mae Ploy, part Thai Kitchen.  I've seen that recommended for massaman curries to get the best flavour.

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I blend the different types of curry paste to get the exact flavor I want for a particular dish.  For some chicken dishes I want a "sweeter" flavor and it a bit more subtle so it does not completely mask the flavor of the chicken.

 

I like a more pronounced spicy flavor for lamb and goat because those meats have a basic flavor that stands up to the curry.

 

For vegetable curries, I take a middle road with one of the curry pastes that has more of a sour component  (the Korma) and I add a tablespoon or so of the Tikka Masala and mix it with yogurt (homemade) prior to adding to the vegetables that have been sauteed in ghee.

"There are, it has been said, two types of people in the world. There are those who say: this glass is half full. And then there are those who say: this glass is half empty. The world belongs, however, to those who can look at the glass and say: What's up with this glass? Excuse me? Excuse me? This is my glass? I don't think so. My glass was full! And it was a bigger glass!" Terry Pratchett

 

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Haven't had Thai Kitchen in years, but picked one up the other day (think it's a penang, not sure though). Still haven't used it, as we had to finish a Mae Ploy first, which is kind of my favourite brand next to Onoff Spices! The latter is organic in small packets and less salty. Not sure if it's availble outside of Europe though. 

I always thought yellow curries were mellow ones, but Mae Ploy's was spicier than I expected. The heat from Mae Ploy's is a bit too much for my fellow diners, even though I have been raising their tolerance for a while now. So I stretch the flavour by using the paste as a base and add some extra (roasted and ground) spices, along with coconut milk and things like pineapple for some extra soothing.
It's been a while since I had Nittaya and Asian Home Gourmet, but I think Nittaya was not as spicy as Mae Ploy and Asian Home Gourmet was the mildest. I liked them then, but that was before I dated a someone who cooked Thai really well. He liked Thai Kitchen best when he couldn't or wouldn't make or have a homemade paste on hand.

Since I started cooking Indian food from scratch, I'm not much of a fan of Patak's anymore. My mom still is, but that's more about the easy use in general and the availability of this particular brand. Sharwoods and Geetha's for instance are less common over here. As I find balancing out Indian curry's much easier to do than Thai on both flavour and ingredient availability, I hardly use pre-made Indian pastes anymore. If using pre-fab, it's a dry mix like TRS garam masala, Surinamese hindu masala, MDH Kitchen King or Shan's. The latter is my mom's favourite of dry-mixes, although she dislikes whole spices that need to be fished out of a dish.

With hot Indian food, a (mango) lassi, raita or plain yoghurt can be helpful to tone down heat as well. When I was young, my mom trained my tolerance with a helping of apple sauce/butter on the side. I've also had a bit of succes removing some of the oil floating on top, which packed most of the heat when I tried a package for Chinese/Mongolian hot pot/fondue. Maybe this helps with a curry as well?
The saltiness can be tamed down a bit with potatoes, they seem to suck up some of the salt and I like them in my curry anyway.

 

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Thank you so far for your responses. As mentioned, I find the Mae Ploy unbearably hot so that one is out. I love the flavour of curry pastes but would like less heat than the Mae Ploy but more than the Thai Kitchen brand I am currently using. Part of my original question has to do with the differences between red, green and yellow curry. Is the only difference the colour of chiles used? Or is there a difference in heat levels between them. I would greatly appreciate it if someone could give me the answer to that.

Kenneth T, if you are still following this topic, can you express an opinion on the heat level of the Nittaya pastes and how they compare to Mae Ploy? If I think it more suitable for my tastes I will try and chase some down. I did go to a Thai grocery yesterday but they do not carry it although they did have the Maesri. Cheap, too. It was $1.45 a can.

Thank you for the Patak suggestions. Those I can find no problem, and will give them a try.

It's hard for me to answer this question because I only used Mae Ploy once a long time ago. I found it ridiculously salty compared to what I had in Thailand. So I asked my Thai grocer and he recommended the Nittaya. I don't think it is incredibly hot - I find it well balanced and the most similar to what I had in Thailand. I find it better than what I can make on my own since I don't have a really good mortar/pestle and most of the ingredients I can get here in NY aren't nearly as ripe as the ones they make the paste from in Thailand. So the flavor of my own paste is not as bright. BTW, now after several trips to Thailand, all over the country (North, Central, South) I have to say that I don't think that Thai food in general is super hot. I think some dishes can be, but in general, I found the best Thai food to be spicy only to balance the other flavors, like a single color in a painting full of other colors - not a piece of modern art where the entire canvas is red! ha!
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BTW, now after several trips to Thailand, all over the country (North, Central, South) I have to say that I don't think that Thai food in general is super hot. I think some dishes can be, but in general, I found the best Thai food to be spicy only to balance the other flavors, like a single color in a painting full of other colors - not a piece of modern art where the entire canvas is red! ha!

 

 

I think this is true in general of most of the cuisines in South and South-East Asia, at least, those that have "curries" as a feature and for those that I have some experience with (like growing up with them) I don't know about the situation with African or West Asian or New World cuisines.  Many dishes *can* be very "hot" but to believe that (as a general statement) the hotter a dish is the more authentic it is is simply not true.  Malay, Indonesian, Nyonya, Thai, Indian regional cooking (within my experience) - the tastes are supposed to "balance out", as a general principle, not overwhelm with hotness.  "Heat levels" also vary widely depending on household to individual to sub-regional variations.  One exception that comes to mind would be Chettinad cuisine, where extreme hotness is a more common "feature".  I've mentioned it elsewhere here, but this phenomenon of "chileheads" especially in North America desiring hotter and hotter dishes regardless of whether a dish is even supposed to be hot in the first place is perplexing to me.

 

The "balancing" of flavors is also what trips up a lot of Thai food in the USA.  Yes, it can be "hotter" in the traditional rendition than what many folks here are able to take - but when the restauranteurs dial back the heat levels they sometimes neglect to dial back the sweet aspect (or sour or whatever) so the resulting dish comes out overly sweet.  (Besides, there is also the perception that USAmericans like sweet food) (and one also notes that the Thais themselves like sugar...)

 

Another thing is the proportion of carbohydrate to curry that is typically served.  In SE Asia one eats a curry (hot as it may be) with much more rice than might be done with (yes, Caucasian) folks in the USA where the ratio of rice to curry is often far smaller.  Sometimes one reads about folks eating *just* the curry without any rice or noodles - certainly in those cases the heat level of the dish becomes much more pronounced because there is no "leavening" of the heat with the rice or noodle.  Or the omission of yoghurt or other forms of "cooling accompaniments" to moderate the heat levels of the dish.

 

"Steamed fish? Tasteless!!  I need chiles! More chiles! MORE!!"  :-)

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 One exception that comes to mind would be Chettinad cuisine, where extreme hotness is a more common "feature".  I've mentioned it elsewhere here, but this phenomenon of "chileheads" especially in North America desiring hotter and hotter dishes regardless of whether a dish is even supposed to be hot in the first place is perplexing to me.

 

Another exception is the original version of green papaya salad, from Laos, known as tam mak hoong in Lao and of course, altered a bit, as som tam in Thai. From my experience with Lao food, the overall cuisine is not that hot, with the exception of papaya salad and to a lesser extent laap. At my local (and from what I heard from a disinterested Lao customer, quite authentic) Lao place, dishes can be requested "mild", "Thai hot", or "Lao hot". I always order "Lao hot" (or more, see below) but only the papaya salad is truly incendiary - everything else is fairly balanced. Lao curries are barely hot, if at all, and their dips/chile pastes aren't that hot either.`

 

NB. For what it's worth, the spice levels at this place are marked with an X when the servers take the order or when the bill is presented, with "Lao hot" represented by "XXX." They will, upon request, make 5, 6, or 7 X if you're a regular customer, and, like me, notorious for taking the on-menu XXX as if it's nothing. I once asked how the chef-owner would have her papaya salad, and was told 6X, so I ordered it. That pushed the limits a bit. Now I hang comfortably at XXXXX  :laugh: 

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Lots of interesting suggestions and I thank you for them. I did decide to buy some Nittaya curry pastes but the only on-line source I found other than Amazon, which was very expensive, seems to have gone out of business. Does anyone know of an on-line source for this? I am in Canada and I doubt it can be shipped here, but I can have it shipped to a USA address.

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