Thai Red Curry Chicken

by Jen on September 13, 2012

I credit my father for introducing me to Thai cuisine. As a young child, my first taste of Thai food was from this restaurant called Flavors of Thai. It was the 80′s and Thai cuisine was all the rage in Manila! From my first sip of tom yum gung (hot-and-sour soup), to the stringy mess of my phad Thai (Thai classic noodles), to the last bite of kluay kaeg tod (banana fritters), I was addicted!

When I was starting my cookbook collection back in 1995, I bought a book called True Thai by Victor Sodsook, Theresa Volpe Laursen, and Byron Laursen (published by William Morrow and Company, 1995). I found the recipes contained therein to be a no-shortcut way to authentic Thai food. It became my window into that exciting and colourful cuisine! You should know that there are no delicious coloured photos in that cookbook, but boy-oh-boy, when you follow the recipes, you will be rewarded with the most phenomenal dishes! That book is my Thai food bible, and if I ever lose it...ahh, I don’t even want to think about that!

So, follow me to today’s recipe: Thai Red Curry Chicken. The chicken can be replaced with shrimp, beef, or just veggies – it’s the Thai red curry paste that is the hero of this recipe, which I lifted from True Thai cookbook. I didn’t change a thing from the original  (please endeavour to remain faithful to the ingredients when you make this), because it’s been tried and tested…and it has been found worthy!

On that note, there’s nothing wrong with using store-bought curry pastes for busy home cooks like you and me. But once in a while I like – and maybe you like it also – to make something special from scratch. So if you find yourself with an afternoon free, why not try to make this?

Homemade and handcrafted curry pastes are far more superior than store-bought ones because of the deep, complex, and enriched layers of flavour they produce. When you take the time to dry-roast, toast, and grind your own fresh spices and herbs, the result is a profoundly robust paste that none of the pre-made ones can live up to. I promise.

Take your time with this curry; it’s definitely not for the one in a hurry. Here we go…

4.9 from 7 reviews
Thai Red Curry Chicken (Kaeng Phed Kai)
Prep time: 
Cook time: 
Total time: 
Serves: 4 to 6
Taken from True Thai by Victor Sodsook, Theresa Volpe Laursen, and Byron Laursen. Published by William Morrow and Company, Inc. in 1995.
  • ~~ For the red curry paste ~~
  • 3 oz (85 g) dried red New Mexico or Guajillo chilies
  • 12 small dried Japanese red chilies
  • 1 tablespoon whole coriander seed
  • 1½ tablespoons shrimp paste (kapi), wrapped neatly in a layer of thick aluminum foil
  • ¾ cup (230 g) shallots, roughly chopped
  • ½ cup (155 g) peeled whole garlic
  • ½ tablespoon fresh or frozen Kaffir lime peel or domestic lime peel
  • 2 large stalks lemongrass, tough outer leaves discarded, lower stalks trimmed, and finely sliced
  • ⅓ cup (100 g) finely chopped peeled fresh Siamese ginger (galanga or kha) or common ginger
  • ~~ For the chicken ~~
  • 1 large can (19 oz / 560 ml) unsweetened coconut milk
  • 1 cup (8 oz / 235 ml) Thai red curry paste (above)
  • 1 pound (454 g) boneless, skinless chicken breast, cut crosswise into ¼-inch thick slices
  • 10 pieces (5 pairs) fresh or frozen Kaffir lime leaves (bai magroot) or strips of peel from 1 small lime
  • 1 red bell pepper, julienned
  • 3 tablespoons coconut-palm sugar or golden brown sugar
  • 2 tablespoons Thai fish sauce (nam pla)
  • 1 cup loosely packed Thai basil (bai horapha) or purple basil or Italian basil
  • 1 cup loosely packed Thai basil
  • cilantro sprigs
  1. To make the red curry paste, first use kitchen shears or a knife to remove the seeds and the tough, dry ribs of the chilies. Wear gloves to protect your fingers.
  2. Put all the chilies in a bowl and soak in lukewarm water for 30 minutes.
  3. Meanwhile, dry-roast the coriander seed in a small skillet over medium heat for 3 to 5 minutes, until toasty and aromatic, shaking the pan often to prevent burning. Set aside the coriander seed.
  4. Set the skillet back over medium heat. Place the foil-wrapped shrimp paste in the skillet and cook for about 5 minutes, until aromatic, turning the packet once or twice. Remove packet from skillet and set aside to cool.
  5. Combine the shallots and garlic in the skillet and dry-roast over medium heat until tender and slightly browned, about 5 minutes, stirring often. Remove from pan and set aside to cool.
  6. Put the coriander seed in a large, heavy mortar and smash to a coarse powder. Transfer the ground coriander to the bowl of a food processor fitted with a metal blade.
  7. Combine the minced lime peel, lemongrass, ginger in the mortar and pound for a minute or so to break down the fibers. Transfer the crushed mixture to the food processor.
  8. Transfer the shallots and garlic to the food processor.
  9. Unwrap the shrimp paste and add it to the food processor.
  10. Drain the chilies, reserving about ½ cup of the soaking liquid. Add the chilies to the food processor.
  11. Process the ingredients until a rich, moist paste forms. Stop occasionally to scrape down the sides of the work bowl. Add a few tablespoons of the chili-soaking liquid now and then, if needed, to ease the grinding.
  12. The paste can be stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator for 1 month, or in the freezer for up to 3 months. Makes about 2 cups of paste.
  13. To make the chicken, skim the thick cream from the top of the canned coconut milk into a soup pot, reserving the thin milk. Set the pot over medium heat.
  14. Stir in the red curry paste until blended with the coconut cream, and bring to a low boil. Cook, stirring constantly, for 2 minutes.
  15. Increase the heat to medium-high and add the chicken. Cook for 1 minute, stirring occasionally.
  16. Add the reserved coconut milk, and cook for 1 minute, stirring often.
  17. Tear each kafffir lime leaf in half and add to the pot. Or if using lime peel, simply add it to the pot at this point. Lower heat to medium.
  18. Add the red bell pepper and cook for 1 minute, stirring occasionally.
  19. Add the sugar and fish sauce, stirring until dissolved and blended.
  20. Simmer, covered, for 3 minutes. Turn heat off and stir in the basil and cook for a few seconds.
  21. Garnish with snipped cilantro sprigs. Serve hot.


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{ 33 comments… read them below or add one }

Patty September 13, 2012 at 11:06 pm

Beautiful pictures of your Thai red curry chicken and your homemade re curry paste, wow- that looks so good;-)
I can’t remember the first time I tried Thai food, just remember I loved it and never turned back- the herbs, freshness of all the flavors- I can honestly say I’m hooked on Thai food and am so lucky we have many excellent Thai restaurants here locally. I should take the plunge and make my own Thai curry, I grow my own Thai basil and now I have your wonderful recipe! Thanks;-)


Chung-Ah | Damn Delicious September 14, 2012 at 12:17 am

Gorgeous photos, as always! And I am definitely bookmarking this – Jason and I are HUGE thai curry fans!


Laura September 14, 2012 at 12:55 am

That’s my bible too! And when I went to Thailand and took a Thai cooking class and discovered once and for sure that it was definitely right!? Swoon! That’s a fantastic recipe and your pics are gorgeous!


Laura (Tutti Dolci) September 14, 2012 at 1:30 am

I love Thai flavors and curry is one of my favorite dishes. I usually pick yellow curry but I must try your red variation!


Liren September 14, 2012 at 2:57 am

I have never made my own curry paste, thank you so much for showing me how easy it is! This is definitely a must try. Gorgeous as always, Jen! xo


Choc Chip Uru September 14, 2012 at 6:43 am

Homemade curry paste and such a beautiful spicy curry!? Nice :D
Very nice!

Choc Chip Uru


Tessa September 14, 2012 at 9:38 am

Beautiful photos and fabulous recipe!


amy @ fearless homemaker September 14, 2012 at 10:14 am

I love thai dishes + this one looks absolutely divine. I’ll have to give this a try on a quiet afternoon when I have a few hours to myself to cook + photograph!


Heather September 14, 2012 at 1:30 pm

Your photography is amazing!

I love the idea of making your own curry paste – it looks like I could easily veganize the recipe too :)


Sandra's Easy Cooking September 14, 2012 at 2:41 pm

You are so lucky to be introduced to such a gorgeous and tasty cuisine in a young age…I didn’t have that opportunity until I started to explore it myself.
This red curry with chicken is absolutely amazing..I can imagine the fantastic flavors from homemade curry paste. And you done it again from the recipe, presentation to amazing photos. Brava!


The Squishy Monster September 14, 2012 at 4:50 pm

*happy sigh* I could just look at your pictures all day—soooo pretty!!


Eha September 14, 2012 at 11:17 pm

Funny? As far as most Indian, Pakistani, Bangladeshi, Malaysian, Indonesian etc recipes go, I mix my own spices and cook them off: give me a beloved Thai recipe and I go and use a pre-prepared mix!!!! Whether it be a green or red ‘curry’! Yours is in no way difficult- it just means taking a little bit of time and reaching into the pantry! Methinks you have convinced me to try :) !


Roxana | Roxana's Home Baking September 15, 2012 at 10:26 pm

my first taste of Thai was fish in banana leaves. It was so good I always try to get it at every That restaurant we go to.
Your chicken looks so good, we only eat fish, but I’d be tempted to try if we were eating.
Beautiful images as always Jen


Haley August 8, 2013 at 12:54 pm

Roxana, just a suggestion. Red curry is also delicious with fish. I have done a red curry hot pot with flounder, scallops, shrimp, and clams instead of chicken via this recipe > and it turned out phenomenal. I used store bought curry paste for my previous attempts, but I am going to be trying this recipe very soon!


Lisa {AuthenticSuburbanGourmet} September 16, 2012 at 1:21 pm

I adore Thai food! Now I have a wonderful recipe for red thai curry – thank you Jen! My mouth is watering and I just adore all of your lovely photos!!! Pinning now…….


Erin @ Dinners, Dishes and Desserts September 16, 2012 at 8:03 pm

Jen – This is gorgeous! We love Thai flavors and curries in this house. I would love to try to make my own curry sometime. Finding the ingredients might be a little bit of a challenge though :(


Cass @foodmyfriend September 17, 2012 at 2:40 am

What a beautiful and vibrant curry paste! The colours are all perfect. Very nicely done :)


Raymund September 17, 2012 at 3:56 am

Wow that curry is so life like, I feel I want to grab some rice


Joanna @ Chic & Gorgeosu Treats September 17, 2012 at 8:51 am

Hi Jen! I am thrilled that you found my blog and now I get to follow your AMAZING blog. You have really stunning photos and I am truly inspired by all your beautiful posts. I have always loved Thai curry, but can’t handle it well when it’s overly spicy; although I am M’sian Chinese. LOL.. Off to check out your fab blog and I am also glad we connected in a significant way sharing our passion for food and travel. Hopefully I get to meet you in person one day too. Hugs, Jo


Bianca @ Confessions of a Chocoholic September 17, 2012 at 9:07 pm

Remember chicken pandan?? When I first moved to Boston, I kept looking for that in the Thai restaurants here. I don’t eat a lot of Thai food but when the craving hits, it hits me big!


Nami | Just One Cookbook September 18, 2012 at 2:14 am

I’ve never had Thai food until I came to the US, so my discovery of Thai food was definitely later. However, now it’s one of my most favorite food and I get excited by just looking at your photos. Red curry is my husband’s choice as he loves spicy and my tummy can only handle less spicy yellow. How wonderful to make your own curry paste! I need to take it serious about Thai cuisine one day so that I have good recipes at home for ANY DAY. I wish I have more time to try out new recipes. Right now even making dinner is getting hard with all the activities and homework. Your photos are always so gorgeous!


Rowena @ Apron and Sneakers September 18, 2012 at 3:59 pm

I never even thought of making my own curry paste. It seems so difficult and way out of my reach. But with your approach, I see a light. Maybe? Someday? This recipe is actually making me drool. I will just have to satisfy myself with the store-bought curry pastes for now.


Lora @cakeduchess September 19, 2012 at 6:34 am

I never had Thai food growing up. I did introduce it early to my kids and they just love Thai food. Your curry paste looks incredible. Could you send me some?:)This is what I want for dinner tonight-delicious!


mina September 19, 2012 at 1:28 pm

i admire the effort you put into your meals.

i hope i get around to trying this because it looks and sounds amazing.


Amy (Savory Moments) September 19, 2012 at 6:47 pm

This looks FANTASTIC! I loved that you made your own homemade curry paste. It’s wonderful and looks beyond delicious!


Jean | Lemons and Anchovies September 21, 2012 at 1:34 pm

Homemade curry paste is definitely much better but I have no problem using store-bought when pressed for time. This recipe is begging to be borrowed. Love the vibrant colors in the dish imparted by your homemade paste. :)


Kiran @ September 23, 2012 at 10:43 pm

I need this curry paste in my life!! Love the flavors in this recipe :)


Michelle Szauter January 21, 2013 at 8:45 am

Hi love the picture but there is some confusion in your recipe to photo! I made the paste on the weekend, in your photo of the food processor you have the lime leaves showing but in the recipe it was suppose to be the lime peel? Then you say later when cooking the chicken you rip the lime leaves and throw in, can you eat them? You also dont have when you add the coconut milk. One more thing for one pound of chicken to use all the paste seems strange and I am not sure how in your beautiful final photo it seems to have more than 19 oz of liquid which is the coconut milk and the only liquid in the recipe. how did you get so much sauce? I am making this recipe this weekend and would like to know before I test it for guests.


Jen January 21, 2013 at 10:26 am

Hi, Michelle:
Thanks for leaving your comment with me. I always love hearing from readers, because some times, you guys alert me to things that I may have missed on the recipe. To answer your questions, yes, the recipe calls for lime peel, and I do have lime peel underneath all that stuff in the food processor photo. I did add lime leaves to my paste, but you don’t have to. I just like mine with lime leaves as well. Generally, lime leaves are not eaten because they have a strong flavour and hard exterior, but if you did, it will not poison you or anything. Also, I did miss the coconut milk step, so I added it in. I apologize, sometimes when I’m writing these recipes, my mind is going a mile a minute (I need an editor! LOL!). That said, I only used 1 can of coconut milk here for my photos. But with the additional 1 cup of red curry paste, this is how it turned out for me. I promise, there was nothing else added – no broth or anything. However, if you want, you may use part of an extra can to top it off the way you think it should look or taste, just to be safe (although I didn’t have to put extra in mine). Hope it all works out for you, and let me know how it turns out. If you have any other questions, don’t hesitate to write me. Cheers!


Brenda P July 13, 2013 at 9:52 pm

What a wonderfully complex recipe and gorgeous photos! Thank you for this post! I can’t wait to set aside the time to try this. I often open the little cans from the thai grocery, but look forward to making it from scratch sometime.


Eve April 27, 2014 at 11:30 am

Hi! This looks great. My only question is – though your description of home made curry paste looks amazing, I’m in a squeeze for tonight and think I will just use store bought in this instance. When using store bought curry paste though, would I still use 1 cup? I’m wondering if it’s thinker than home made and therefore the portions might be off. Thanks!


Ann Jensem May 17, 2014 at 9:55 pm

I like the red curry paste. You have a little more control over the heat than a jarred sauce. The texture is nice too, but by the time you pay for the ingredients and the time you put into it, it’s not worth it. I just did a side by side and would do the jarred version next time. The jarred version created a slightly hotter and sweeter curry and the texture is finer, but at its essence is the same. I used the popular brand that you find in most groceries.


Melody September 29, 2014 at 4:55 pm

I made this as described above and felt like there was way too much curry paste in the actually curry recipe. Maybe I just cooked down my coconut milk too quickly or something because it was pretty thick and WAY too spicy, granted I did use too many hot chili’s. It just seemed like a whole cup of paste is a lot. I thought maybe I read it wrong. I wonder why it ended up so different that what it looks like here. I used the same paste a few days later, added more shallots and lemongrass and used about one large tablespoon of the paste and a whole can of coconut milk and that seemed way more consistent. I’m also curious why yours isn’t creamy with all that coconut milk. I suppose it’s trial and error.


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