nam prik pao (thai chilli paste)

nam prik pao (Thai chilli paste)
Cooking chillies can be lethal (as I know to my cost). I am sensitive to chillies, so have to make sure that I wear rubber gloves (and probably a wet suit) to prevent the pain that envelops me if raw chilli gets anywhere near my skin. So do watch out when cooking the chilli itself. The fumes can be noxious, as an unsuspecting public and Thai restaurant in central London discovered to its cost a few years ago, when it set off a terrorist alert!

I wanted to make a spicy Thai hot and sour soup (tom yum goong) to use up Christmas leftovers. Unfortunately as it turned out, we didn't have turkey in the end (which makes me very happy as I loathe the stuff), but I do have the spicy paste, which will be put to a very good use!

Thai chilli paste (nam prik pao) is a fabulous foundation of a whole number of dishes - perfect in stir fries of rice, noodles or vegetables. It makes a great dipping sauce or a topping for burger and is lovely here cooked through a spicy hot and sour soup (tom yum soup). There's not much that isn't improved by a dollop of nam prik pao (well maybe custard perhaps, although I am sure there is some enterprising gastronaut out there prepared to prove me wrong!)

Some versions of nam prik pao contain shrimp paste and tamarind, I find this one both exceedingly easy. It has a relatively good shelf life (stored in the fridge) and is perfect for vegetarians and non-veggies alike, which helps to keep all my cooking options open. If you wanted to keep things even more simple, then don't bother cooking the separate constituent parts and merely blend them together in the style of a sambal. Although sadly, you won't get the incredible depth of flavour you get from making it this way.

Skill level: Easy


3-4 tbsp vegetable oil
3 x large garlic cloves, finely chopped
4 x shallots, finely chopped
3 x large red chillies, seeded and roughly chopped (or about 5 birdseye chillies - how many you choose really depends on how hot you like it!)
150ml water
2 tbsp sugar (I use palm sugar or light brown sugar)


  1. Begin by making the nam prik pao sauce. Heat a little of oil and fry the garlic over a medium heat, stirring often, until the garlic is a light golden brown. Drain the garlic and return the oil to the pan.
  2. Reheat the oil with a little more if necessary and add the shallots. Sprinkle over a little salt in order to ensure that the shallots release their juices. Stir until softened and golden. (This should take about 10 minutes). Drain and retain any oil.
  3. Return the oil to the pan and more if necessary. Add the chillies. Cook the chillies, stirring often, until they have darkened in colour.
  4. Drain the chillies and place them with the cooked garlic and shallots in a blender. Add the water and sugar and puree until smooth.


Louis said...

Going to make this tonight! What's the life expectancy of this in the fridge, though?

Marmaduke Scarlet said...

Hi Louis

I find that since the paste is quite "oily" that is has a good shelf-life in the fridge - well at least a week. If you add an additional layer of oil over the surface before storing in an airtight jar it will last a bit longer. I don't find that the extra oil is a problem since you need to stir-fry the paste anyway.

Hope this helps!