Northern Thai red curry, local style

MasterChef finalist Andy Oliver visited Chiang Mai and discovered a very different type of Thai red curry

Food & Drink
02 November 2011

In Northern Thailand, they do red curries a little differently from the rest of the country. They are red curries in that the paste is deep-red due to the dried long red chillies pounded into it. But it’s not like the red curry most people will be familiar with.

Why? Well mainly because a) there’s no coconut cream used, and b) the paste has much fewer ingredients in and is boiled, not fried.

So if you’re craving that classic ubiquitous style of Thai red curry then this isn’t it.

But if you want to try something different, a slightly spicy, pork and vegetable curry with clean flavours and a richness of good dried chilli, then give this one a go. To me, it’s a great introduction to the style of some Northern Thai dishes.

Northern Thai-style pork curry

Here’s a recipe for a Northern Thai-style pork curry. It’s something I’ve eaten in and around Chiang Mai. On my latest trip, I had an especially good version at great restaurant a bit out of the city where I was taken by Robyn and Dave, the very knowledgeable and lovely people behind EatingAsia.

Serves: 2 generously, or for 4 as part of a shared Thai meal


400g of good quality pork ribs, cut through the bone into chunks
3-4 apple aubergines, cut into bite-sized chunks
5 or 6 small Asian shallots, peeled
100g of bamboo shoots or boiled heart of bamboo, cut into bite sized chunks
10-12 cherry tomatoes


Sea salt and perhaps a splash of fish sauce, plus possibly a pinch of white sugar

Curry paste

5-6 long dried red chillies, de-seeded and soaked in water for 20 minutes
2 sticks of lemon grass, sliced (save the trims)
2 tablespoons of chopped galangal
3 small Asian shallots, chopped
3 garlic cloves, chopped
1 good teaspoon of gapi (shrimp paste)


Make the paste by pounding the ingredients one by one in a pestle and mortar until fairly smooth. Start with a pinch of sea salt and the hardest ingredients – like galangal and lemongrass – first, and before pounding the dried chillies be sure to squeeze them dry and chop them up a bit.

Give your pork ribs a rinse and then put them in a pot with enough water or chicken stock to cover plus an inch or so. Add the shallots, plus a piece or two of lemongrass or galangal trimm and a good pinch of salt. Bring this to a gentle simmer and cook until the pork is tender (30-40 minutes), skimming any scum so you have a nice clear broth.

Now fish out any trims of what not you’ve put in, turn up the heat to a boil and dissolve two generous tablespoons of the paste in boiling stock. Boil for a minute or so then turn back down to a simmer and add your apple aubergine, bamboo and cherry tomatoes. Season with sea salt and optionally a splash of fish sauce too, plus a pinch of white sugar, if it needs it.

You’re ready to serve once your tomatoes and aubergine are tender.

Eat with rice, and ideally as part of a Thai meal.

Quick red curry with roast duck & lychees

Here’s a quick and easy way to make a very tasty Thai curry. It won’t be as tasty as if you made fresh coconut cream and pounded the curry paste yourself but it will take a fraction of the time.

You can find Chinese style roast duck in Chinatown or in almost any Chinese restaurant; it’s normally pretty good. Plus if you don’t have chicken stock you could simmer the duck bones for 40 minutes or so, strain the liquid and use that instead.

The Thai basil and the fresh lychees should be the only tricky things to find, at a push you could use Western basil and green grapes as substitutes (but you didn’t hear that from me!).

Serves: 2 generously, or 4 as part of a shared Thai meal


1/2 a Chinese ready roasted duck, meat taken from the bone and sliced
2 tbsp of Thai brand red curry paste (eg Mae Ploy)
1 can of Thai brand coconut milk (eg Aroy-D)
1 tbsp of vegetable oil
300ml of chicken stock
1 tsp of palm sugar
2 sticks of lemongrass, and 3-4 torn kaffir lime leaves (optional extra)
2-3 tablespoons of fish sauce
4 red or green long chillies, sliced at an angle into bite sized pieces
A bunch of Thai sweet basil, leaves picked
6 fresh lychees, stones removed


In a wok or pan, boil the thick cream from the tin of coconut milk with the tablespoon of oil until it starts to split and look oily. Now add your curry paste and fry on a medium heat for 2-3 more minutes, mix in the palm sugar and add a tablespoon of fish sauce. Fry for another minute or so before adding the rest of the coconut milk and the stock.

Bring to the simmer, bruise the lemongrass stalks and throw them in with the lime leaves (if using). Now add you sliced duck meat and sliced chillies, simmer for another minute and taste – add more fish sauce if it needs it. Finish by adding the lychees (cut in half if they are big) and basil. Stir through and serve.

Southern-style tiger prawn curry

This next recipe is a delicious curry that would work well with almost any seafood.

Serves:2 generously, or 4 as part of a shared Thai meal


300ml of fresh coconut cream or 1 tin of coconut milk
150ml of chicken or fish stock, or even water
Pinch of palm sugar
2-3 tbsp of fish sauce
3 lemongrass stalks, bruised
4-5 betel leaves roughly torn (optional)
5 kaffir lime leaves, finely shredded
8 raw tiger prawns, shells and vein removed but heads left on


6 long dried red chillies, soaked and de-seeded
About 5 cleaned coriander roots
4 sticks of lemongrass, tough outside peeled off
5 Thai red shallots, peeled
3 cloves of garlic, peeled
A small piece of fresh tumeric, peeled
1 square inch of peeled galangal
1 tbsp of shrimp paste (gapi)


Make the curry paste by pounding each ingredient in turn (or you could use a small blender, but the paste needs to be really smooth).

When the paste is ready, heat the coconut cream in a pan until just starting to boil. Stir in all the paste and boil for a couple of minutes, start the seasoning by adding half the sugar and fish sauce, add the stock (or water) and lemongrass stalks.

Now turn off the heat and leave the curry to infuse for 10 minutes. Then bring it back to the boil and add the prawns, gently simmer for 2 more minutes or until the prawns are just cooked. Taste again and adjust the palm sugar / fish sauce levels to taste. Stir through the torn betel leaves (if using) and serve, scattered with the shredded lime leaves.

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