Maesri™ is a company in Thailand that produces a decent range of food products, including a series of traditional Thai curry pastes, three of which you see pictured above. In addition to the Panang, Green, and Yellow Curry pastes, they also do a Red Curry, and, Masaman, Prik Khing, Kaeng Kua, and Kaeng Par versions as well. I actually tried the Red Curry Paste quite a few years ago and, though I do not remember a great deal about it, I do recall that it was good. In any event, I have had the above three cans in my store cupboard for a while now and I decided that, instead of just using them when the mood to have a Thai curry come upon me, I would experiment with them one after the other so that I could compare and contrast the taste, and also see how they perform using different cookery techniques …
Before we go further, I just want to note that each of the three cans I have has a recipe on the outside, all of which are roughly the same and involve mixing the curry paste with coconut milk before adding specified ‘main’ ingredients. These are chicken and potato, in the case of the Yellow curry, chicken and eggplant for the Green, and just chicken for the Panang. The results, even with the slightly varied amounts of coconut milk, are for curries with a fair amount of sauce. For my experiments, I am going to use ‘mains’ other than chicken and the listed vegetables, and I am only going to make one ‘wet’ curry of the type contemplated by the recipes on the cans.
The Panang Curry Paste
The ingredients listed on the can are:
Dried red chilies, garlic, shallot, lemongrass, sugar, salt, kaffir lime, galangal, coriander seed, cumin, cardamom, and bay leaves.
On tasting a little of the paste, the dominant flavor is the galangal, with either the lemon grass, the kaffir lime leaf, or a combination of both coming up a close second. The chili, though it the first ingredient listed, and thus added in the greatest amount, does not strike one right away. Rather, the heat is not very apparent until you swallow and then it catches you in the back of the mouth and throat instead of the lips and tongue.
For this product, I made a fairly simple shrimp and vegetable curry. The sample recipe on the can calls for 400ml of coconut milk in total and I used one and a half cups, which is just a bit less. The result was very nice. Again, as in the initial taste test, the heat of the chili takes a moment or two to be apparent and so this didn’t seem to be a particularly hot curry. Probably, I would say, the heat level is about roughly the same as adding an equivalent volume of Sriracha sauce to the same amount of coconut milk and solid ingredients. The Galangal flavor again dominated the dish but the blending of spicing ingredients is nicely rounded and complex.
The Yellow Curry Paste
I was a bit surprised when I opened this can as the paste looked very much like the Panang paste and was much more red than yellow. The ingredient list is also considerably more complex than for the Panang variety and includes:
Dried red chilies, shallot, garlic, soybean oil, sugar, salt, fresh turmeric, lemongrass, spices (coriander seed, cumin, cardamom, cinnamon, bay leaves, galangal, cloves), galangal, curry powder (whole mustard, fenugreek, wheat flour, chili powder, fennel, black pepper), kaffir lime.
The major difference, beyond the inclusion of curry powder, of course, is the addition of turmeric, which is not immediately apparent in the color, although it does come through later. The taste here is quite a bit tangier than the Panang paste (more lemongrass, possibly) and I also found the heat quotient to be a bit less.
For the Yellow paste, I did a coconut milk curry again but, this time, I did a ‘Rendang’ style curry in which the dish is slow cooked for a long time, reducing the sauce to almost nothing. I used about a cup and a half of coconut milk and a little stock, and used it as the base for a curry of beef and minced onion (along with the paste, of course). It took about three hours over low heat to cook down and the result was excellent. I liked this much better than the first curry with the Panang paste and the effect was really sweet and nicely balanced.
The Green Curry Paste
Well, the third and final of the three pastes was most notably different from the other two in that it was based on fresh green chili rather than dried red sort. This, along with the rest of the ingredients, was listed on the can as:
Fresh green chillies, garlic, wild ginger, shallot, lemongrass, salt, kaffir lime, sugar, galangal, spices (coriander seeds, cumin, cardamom, turmeric), pepper.
The raw paste was noticeably hotter than either the Panang or the Yellow variety and the citronella impact of lemongrass and kaffir lime not quite as strong.
I departed quite considerably from the expected method of using this paste in order to try it out and, instead of using it in a curry, as such, I used it is a rub, rather as one might use a tandoori paste. Here you can see it applied to chicken thighs … I first slashed the skin and made sure that I worked the paste well under the skin as well as over it. I have to say, though, that I found the paste didn’t ‘stick’ too well to the outer surfaces and it was fiddly to apply. Moreover, once I did get it applied, I had a few misgivings and was afraid that this pungent and spicy paste might prove a bit to powerful for this sort of use …
Here is the finished dish after being baked for an hour so (and served on a bed of spiced, stir-fried cauliflower and red pepper). I have to say that I was very pleasantly surprised by the result. My misgivings over the paste possibly being to harsh and pungent when applied and cooked this way turned out to be for nothing. The end flavor was considerably mellowed and extremely tasty… It was an unorthodox use of the paste, but the experiment proved a success.
Finally, as I had some paste left-over from the baked chicken dish. I got to try a bonus cookery method, and used the paste (diluted with some lemon juice and a splash of rice wine), as the light ‘sauce’ for a stir-fry of pork (first velveted and lightly deep-fried), along with slivered Jalapeno and cashews. This was a bit more fiery than the chicken had been, but the flavor was again terrific and the dish went nicely with a ‘cool-down’ side salad with a store-bought peanut, sesame dressing. All told, these three products turned out to be very well blended, balanced, and even more versatile than I think the manufacturers had contemplated…
All three of these fine products get a Sybaritica recommendation.