Mortar-fied: Thai curry paste with a mortar and pestle

When I recently made curry paste for a Thai jungle curry, I did it in a combination of food processor and small mortar and pestle, in batches. Since then, I’ve acquired a new, large mortar and pestle, so I promptly returned to the library to check out Hot Sour Salty Sweet again in order to make some red curry paste.

The process outlined in the book is almost exactly the one renowned Portland Thai-cuisine chef Andy Ricker recommends against, as it involves soaking the broken-up chillis and grinding them wet. But I decided to follow the recipe anyway, grinding toasted dry spices, then pounding in the wet aromatics (lemongrass, coriander roots, galangal, lime zest, garlic, shallots) to produce a “spice paste.” The soaked chillis are then pounded into a paste on their own, and the two are combined.

The mortar and pestle, like any tool, has a bit of a learning curve, and after making this paste, I understood what Ricker was talking about. I’m not sure whether it’s just my pounding technique – or, more likely, my patience – but the pieces of the chillis’ skin didn’t really break down as much as I would have liked. The paste was more fibrous than smooth. I’m sure that as I use the mortar more, I’ll better understand how it works.

In any case, the resulting chicken in red curry was still tasty, and much spicier than the jungle curry. Which is a good thing, as far as I’m concerned.

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