Nam Prik Pao is a Thai chili jam made with roasted vegetables, chilies and shrimps. It is fried in oil and flavored with fish sauce, palm sugar and tamarind paste. It is a very common, versatile ingredient, and a stable in most Thai households. Though this composite jam is made of only a few ingredients, it still features pretty much all the rich flavors and tastes associated with Thai food.
Even if you have been eating Thai for years, it is very likely that you have never heard of Nam Prik Pao. At least that was the case for me until I ventured out to learn how to cook Tom Yam Goong. I suddenly understood that the orange drops of oil floating at the surface of the soup were thanks to Nam Prik Pao.
How to Use Nam Prik Pao:
There are numerous ways in which you can use Nam Prik Pao. In Thai cooking, it is used in soups, stir-frys, salads and fried rice. It is especially good with fried rice with shrimps. It is also great as a spread on toast or sandwiches, as a marinade when barbecuing or simply as a dip with fresh vegetables.
You might very well end up loving the jam as an easy way of inducing Thai flavor into your cooking!
Why call it a jam?
Well, it is made out of chilies, which technically is a fruit. But to me, it is more the consistency that categorizes it as a savory jam rather than a paste. You might hear it referred to as roasted chili paste or chili paste in oil, which isn’t wrong, but perhaps not so descriptive as to how Nam Prik Pao differs from other pastes.
Homemade or commercial?
If you don’t want to go through the hassle of making Nam Prik Pao yourself, it is perfectly fine to use the commercial versions. It might actually be a good place to start, as it will give you an idea of what Nam Prik Pao tastes like, the level of spiciness and what it does to your cooking. Since it is a very common ingredient, you can usually find a jar in specialty Asian markets or in well-stocked grocery stores. I got my hands on a number of different ones at my local market in Chiang Mai. Some are spicier than others. The picture below is not in any way to promote specific brands over others, but just to give you an idea of the selection and some of what is available. You might have to try a few different ones before you find your favorite. One of those could also be the Pantainorasingh brand Nam Pik Pao.
But if you feel like trying to make it yourself, you will get the benefit of knowing exactly what went into it, as well as splendid taste. It is not difficult to make, but it is a little time-consuming because each ingredient needs to be prepared separately before they are mixed together. But I think, it is well worth the effort. And by making a larger portion, you don’t have to do it that often. In a well-sealed container, Nam Prik Pao stores for months in the refrigerator or a cool pantry.
There are probably as many versions of Nam Prik Pao as there are people cooking it because you can twist and tweak it endlessly to your exact liking. But after numerous trials and errors, the below recipe is my go-to Nam Prik Pao recipe.
Tips and tricks before beginning:
- If you happen to live under a burning sun, you can leave the sliced vegetables to sun-dry for a few hours first.
- Use large chili peppers for mild chili jam. Use small chili peppers for hot chili jam.
- Be careful when frying the chilies. Do it lightly to preserve the red color. You don’t want to burn them. Black chilies don’t contribute to the taste in any positive way. (Believe me – I know. I have been there, done that!)
Nam Prik Pao
- 25 gr. big red dried chilies
- 8 pcs. large garlic cloves (approx. 30 gr.)
- 10 pcs. of shallots (approx. 70 gr.)
- 1 tbsp kapi
- 1 big tbsp palm sugar ( approx. 50 gr.)
- 15 gr. dried shrimp
- 3 tbsp tamarind paste
- 2 tbsp fish sauce
- 1 dl. water
- 1.5 dl. vegetable oil
- Step 1 Clean and cut the garlic cloves and shallots in thin slices. Spread them out on a piece of baking paper to dry a little.
- Step 2 Cut the chilies in inch size pieces, and remove the seeds. Don’t throw the seeds away. They can be added again later, if you want the jam to be more spicy.
- Step 3 Heat the oil in a wok and fry the dried shrimps until they become crisp. Set aside.
- Step 4 Fry the chilies – being careful not to burn them. Set aside.
- Step 5 On a dry pan, fry the garlic and shallots until they are no longer moist.
- Step 6 Heat the shrimp paste until it dries out. This can be done on a frying pan, or in the oven/grill wrapped in a banana leaf or tin foil.
- Step 7 Pound these ingredients one by one in a mortar into a fine paste.
- Step 8 Put the paste along with the remaining ingredients into a frying pan with the oil that you used for frying the shrimps and the chilies.
- Step 9 Cook for about 10 – 15 min.’s while stirring occasionally until the consistency is like a thin jam.
- Step 10 Adjust the sweet, salty and sour flavors according to your taste.
- Step 11 Leave to cool. If the jam is too thin, you can reduce it some more over the heat.
- Step 12 Store it in a clean glass jar, including any excess oil.