I find it slightly challenging to procure Thai ingredients in Singapore, especially when you’re living in the West and the famous Thai supermarket is located at Golden Mile Complex. I wanted to make some tom yum goong but didn’t have any good Thai roasted chili paste (nam prik pao) on hand. I did have a bottle of Thai chili paste (Maepranom brand) that someone bought for me once, but I personally think that it didn’t posses the aroma and piquant flavour I was looking for. It also lacked the essence of what a chili paste should have – spiciness. So I wasn’t very keen on using it in my tom yum goong, yet I was also lazy to go all the way to Golden Mile Complex just to get a jar of nam prik pao. Then I thought, why not make my own nam prik pao? And so I did. Making my own nam prik pao seemed demanding and I thought to myself that if the final product is just on par with the store-bought ones, then I would rather get nam prik pao from the supermarket in future. I don’t mean to blow my own horn, but after trying the final product, I was pleasantly surprised that my homemade nam prik pao was significantly more appetizing than the Maepranom brand’s chili paste. In a blind taste test I conducted with my family, they also chose my homemade nam prik pao over the store-bought one. As I wasn’t sure if the final product would taste good, I only made about 215g, which will be finished in no time if you’re making tom yum goong. I would strongly recommend you to make two times the recipe since you can keep it in the refrigerator for quite a number of weeks.
Maepranom brand Thai chili paste
Here are the ingredients you’ll need – dried chilies, belacan (shrimp paste), palm sugar, fish sauce, tamarind juice, garlic, shallots, dried shrimp, oil and water (as needed). I know it looks like an exhausting list of ingredients, but it’s worth it. Most of these ingredients are easily found in my kitchen, so I didn’t have to buy them specially to make the chili paste. The only ingredient that I didn’t have was tamarind paste, but it’s relatively cheap! The tamarind comes in a paste form so you need to add some water to it and strain to get the juice.
First, you’ll have to toast the belacan (shrimp paste) for a few minutes until it becomes crumbly. You can toast it over a strip of aluminium foil if you want, as the foil prevents the belacan from burning easily and also prevents the pan from ‘contamination’ by the belacan’s pungent odour.
Next, toast the dried red chilies until fragrant, being careful not to burn them. You can remove all the chili seeds, or leave half of them if you want more heat. Note: the blender may not be able to blend the chili seeds well so you may have to pound them if you opt to throw in some of the seeds. Anyway, I personally think that the amount of chilies I used wasn’t enough, so you can add more chilies if you like your paste spicier. I didn’t because I have some family members who cannot stomach spicy food.
Fry the dried shrimps till fragrant.
Fry the garlic till golden brown.
Fry the shallots till golden brown. Remove the shallots and leave the oil in the pan.
Put all the ingredients – dried chilies, belacan, dried shrimps, garlic, shallots, palm sugar, tamarind juice and fish sauce – into a blender and blend into a fine paste. You can add just a little bit of water if needed.
Add the chili paste into the pan with the remaining oil and fry for around 7-10 minutes until the chili paste becomes a deep red hue.
And there you have it – Thai roasted chili paste with rich, caramelized tones. It is actually good enough to eat on its own! It may seem strange but many people pair this with toasted bread as well. Some recipes may not call for frying the garlic and shallots but you really should, because the flavours are a lot richer and more pronounced if you do.
The recipe may seem slightly rigorous but I honestly think it’s worth the effort if you’re going to be using nam prik pao in several recipes. Of course if you just want to make a single bowl of tom yum goong, using store-bought nam prik pao will suffice. I have absolutely no idea how much a jar of store-bought nam prik pao will cost, but I’m guessing it’s around $5 for a 228g jar? Making it yourself doesn’t save you that much money, and admittedly, it requires a lot more effort. But it’s the difference in taste that makes the effort worthwhile.
Thai Roasted Chilli Paste (Nam Prik Pao)
- 20 g dried red chili ($0.20)
- 45 g shallots (sliced) ($0.093)
- 35 g garlic (sliced) ($0.245)
- 15 g dried shrimp ($0.48)
- 10 g belacan ($0.067)
- 90 g palm sugar ($0.753)
- 2 tbsp tamarind juice ($0.095)
- 2 tbsp fish sauce ($0.068)
- 60 ml 60 ml oil ($0.468)
- water (as needed)
- Toast belacan (shrimp paste) over a strip of aluminium foil in a pan until crumbly. This should take around 3 minutes. The aluminium foil helps to prevent the belacan from burning easily and also prevents the pan from absorbing the pungent odour of the belacan. Remove and set aside.
- Add dried chilies into pan and toast until fragrant. Be careful not to burn the chilies. Remove and set aside.
- Add 60ml of oil to the pan and toast the dried shrimps till fragrant. Remove and set aside.
- Add garlic into the pan and fry till golden brown. Remove and set aside.
- Add shallots into the pan and fry till golden brown. Remove and set aside. Leave the oil in the pan.
- Add the chilies, belacan, dried shrimps, garlic, shallots, palm sugar, tamarind juice and fish sauce into a blender and blend into a fine paste. You can add just a little bit of water if needed.
- Add chili paste into pan and fry over medium-high heat for around 7-10 minutes until paste darkens. Remove from pan and store upon cooling.