Sunday, January 23, 2011

Thai Chili Sauce 'Nam Prik Pao'

Although you can buy the famous Thai chili paste "nam prik pao" in most Asian food stores, I prefer making my own homemade version. This way there are no preservatives and I get to add my own healthy oil. There are numerous versions of homemade nam prik pao in Thailand - each cook makes it his or her own way. So have fun experimenting with this (my own) recipe, adjusting the spicy, sour, sweet, and salty flavorings according to your liking. Nam prik pao chili sauce makes an excellent accompaniment for soups such as Tom Yum Kung, and is an absolute must with noodle dishes. ENJOY!

Prep Time: 10 minutes

Cook Time: 8 minutes

Total Time: 18 minutes

Yield: 1 small jar


  • Makes a small jar of Nam Prik Pao - about 1/2 cup (a little goes a long way!)
  • 1/4 cup canola or coconut oil, plus a little more to finish (or light vegetable oil of your choice)
  • 4 cloves garlic, finely chopped
  • 2 shallots, finely chopped
  • dried whole OR crushed red chilies, ground to make 3 Tbsp. powder (*If you have a sensitive stomach, use cayene pepper)
  • 1/2 to 1 tsp. shrimp paste (available in jars at Asian stores)
  • 2 Tbsp. fish sauce
  • 2-3 Tbsp. palm or brown sugar, or more to taste
  • 1/2 to 1 tsp. tamarind paste (available at Asian or Indian food stores)
  • 1+1/2 Tbsp. lime juice
  • 2 Tbsp. water


  • Preparation Tips: Although traditionally the shallots and garlic are finely chopped by hand, you can also use a food processor for this task. Just be sure not to over-process, or you will end up with a mushy mess. What you want are individual-looking pieces of shallot and garlic.
  • If Using Whole Dried Chilies: simply place them in a coffee grinder (or food processor) and blitz until you get a powdery consistency.
  1. Heat oil in a small frying pan over medium-high heat. Add the chopped shallots and garlic, frying until they turn a very light golden brown and slightly crispy (2-3 minutes). Tip: try not to over-brown the garlic, or it will turn bitter.
  2. Remove garlic and shallots with a slotted spoon from the oil and set in a bowl to cool. Leave remaining oil in the pan.
  3. Using a pestle & mortar OR food processor/mini-chopper, combine the prepared chili with the shrimp paste, fish sauce, sugar, tamarind, lime, and water. Also add the fried garlic and shallots.
  4. Pound or process all together to form a thick paste. Return this paste to your frying pan and stir it into the oil over low heat, gently simmering until you get a fairly even consistency. Adjust the consistency by adding a little more water if you find it too thick, or more oil if you prefer a "shinier" sauce.
  5. Adjust the taste, adding more fish sauce if you'd like it saltier, or more sugar if you'd like it sweeter (I usually end up adding another 1/2 Tbsp. of fish sauce and another Tbsp. of brown sugar to mine).
  6. Nam Prik Pao will keep for several months stored in a covered jar in your refrigerator. Use your Nam Prik Pao as an addition to Thai soups, or added as a flavor booster to Thai stir-fries and curry sauces. Also wonderful when stir-fried with seafood, or as an accompaniment to noodles. Enjoy!
*Health Tip: If you have a sensitive stomach, inflammation of the stomach (as I do), or heartburn (acid reflux), I highly recommend using cayenne pepper instead of Thai bird's eye chilies or other type, as suggested in the ingredients list. Unlike most types of chili, cayenne helps heal the stomach. It's also easier to use in the sense that it's already ground. OR you can use your own fresh cayenne from your garden or local market. For more on cayenne, see: Health Benefits of Cayenne Pepper.

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