How to make fresh spice paste to level up your curries

Looking for a way to add more flavour and spice to the dishes you cook at home? Try this easy tutorial for making fresh spice paste.

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Perfecting the flavour and spice level of a curry is something many people struggle with. Finding the balance between sweet and savoury and getting the kick of the spice just right can be really difficult, especially if you’re using dried spices. A great solution is using a spice paste, which contains all the spice and flavour you need. 

Spice pastes aren’t just reserved for curries. You can also use them as marinades to cook meats and vegetables in. Fresh spice paste can be kept in the fridge for up to five days and you can also make it in bulk, freeze it and add it to various dishes throughout the month, making it a super practical way to season your meals.

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Shu Han Lee grew up in Singapore eating fragrant, tasty dishes. “I really missed those flavours when I moved to the UK and making the spice pastes helped me to recreate that,” Shu says. Having created various different types of the paste, Shu co-founded the food company Rempapa, which specialises in fresh spice pastes.

“The traditional name for spice paste in south-east Asia is rempah,” Shu says, explaining how she came up with the name.

The way you combine ingredients in your spice paste will really bring out their flavour and aroma, which will intensify when you heat them.

Try it for yourself with Shu’s guide to making your own fresh spice paste.

How to make fresh spice paste

You will need

  • 1 star anise, toasted
  • 25g ginger (1 thumb)
  • 60g lemongrass (2 stalks)
  • 100g shallots
  • 25g garlic (half bulb)
  • 10g large red chillies (2 medium)
  • 1 tsp turmeric

Method

Combine the ingredients together in the order they are listed and bash them in a pestle and mortar or mix them in a food processor.

Opt for a pestle and mortar over a food processor if you can, Combine all your ingredients in a pestle and mortar one at a time

How to turn fresh spice paste into a marinade

You will need

  • ½ spice paste above
  • 100ml coconut milk
  • Juice of half a lime
  • Big pinch of salt

Method

Mix all of the ingredients together and use as a marinade.

This will cover 4 chicken thighs (about 500g). Marinade overnight and then place on a hot bbq or roast until golden and tender.

How to turn fresh spice paste into a curry

You will need

  • ½ spice paste above
  • 1 tablespoon of oil for frying
  • 250ml coconut milk
  • 150ml veg stock or water
  • 2 heaped teaspoons of palm sugar (alt: light brown sugar)
  • juice of half a lime
  • salt or fish sauce, to taste

Method

  1. Fry the paste in oil until very fragrant and the oil oozes back out.
  2. Stir in the coconut milk and stock and bring to a gentle boil
  3. Season with sugar, lime and salt (or fish sauce, if you’re not vegan).
  4. Add your favourite ingredients and simmer till cooked.

Shu’s expert tips for making your own fresh spice taste

Take the time to use a pestle and mortar

Although you can use a food processor to combine the ingredients for your spice paste, Shu recommends using a pestle and mortar. “It takes a little bit more time and elbow grease but grinding the ingredients like this helps to release complicated flavours and aromas,” she says.

Make sure you add the ingredients in the order they are listed above. If you add them all together, you won’t get as much flavour.

Freeze your spice paste

If you want to make your spice paste in bulk, you can freeze it for as long as you’d like. “I like to put it in ice cube trays so you know how much to use when you’re cooking,” Shu says. For curries, simply cook the paste for a bit longer before adding the rest of the ingredients and for marinades, allow the paste to defrost before using it.

  • Shu Han Lee, co-founder of Rempapa

    Shu moved to the UK from Singapore before founding Rempapa.

Images: Rempapa

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