Thai Red Curry of Scallops

scallopcurryForget all you have ever heard about scallops having a fragile taste or being easily spoilt by strong and hot seasoning. This fiery dish, bursting with bold flavours – like every Thai curry – proves exactly the opposite. After years of eating my beloved mollusc prepared in various ways, I can say without hesitation this is by far my favourite scallop dish.

I have found this jewel of a recipe in David Thompson’s Thai Food, a beautifully edited, high-quality cookery book I have been reading and testing for the last few months. Until now, I have only posted Squid Salad (a dream treat for squid lovers), but all the other dishes I tried proved also fantastic and highly superior to what I have ever had in any Thai restaurant. These results are not accidental: they are obtained thanks to the use of genuine fresh ingredients and, in the case of curries, a homemade paste is the crucial reason of the stunning difference. This scallop curry is the perfect example of the elegance and sophistication only a homemade paste can yield.

Even though David Thompson has completely changed my way to see the Thai cuisine (for example I will never even consider using a commercial curry paste), I must confess I do not follow all his recommendations… I do not prepare fresh coconut milk, as the author urges everyone to do, and I allow myself to reduce significantly the fat content in coconut milk/cream – based curries. Served in my house as the main course with rice and some vegetables, they are much too rich and, anyway, it’s an old habit of mine to lighten dishes as long as they remain delicious. In this recipe, I have also used more scallops (and in general indicated this recipe, normally for four, as serving two, since I have it only with rice and vegetable side dish, which is less than a typical Thai meal). Even though I’m a coriander fan, I didn’t like it here; sliced makrut lime leaves and chilli seemed a sufficient “fresh touch” at the end. For the original recipe, check David Thompson’s wonderful book.

TIPS: Since every curry paste I prepared was different from the previous one, every ingredient is of a high importance and cannot be skipped, so if you embark on a curry paste making adventure (though, since it takes me about 5 minutes in this particular case, I don’t know if “adventure” is the right word), make sure you have ALL the required products. You will be thrilled to recognise them, afterwards, one by one in the finished dish and you will probably experiment later changing their amounts to suit your tastebuds.

I am able to buy all the fresh ingredients necessary for Thai pastes in Asian grocery shops and I know these are available in many European countries, so I hope you can get those in your city too. (Some can be sold frozen, for example makrut lime leaves).

Curry paste can be prepared in a mortar (an optimal solution, apparently) or quicker and easier in a food processor (I use a small baby food mixer). The author recommends to add some water (not coconut milk; see below), which makes it easier to obtain a smoother paste.

This recipe will yield more paste than necessary; the remains can be stored in the fridge for several days and then used once more (I experiment with other ingredients). Do not add coconut milk to the paste before refrigerating because it will spoil quicker.

David Thompson is against it, but I find defrosted homemade paste actually very good (probably because I compare it to store-bought), though it’s best when freshly made.

I have realised that – purists might criticise me here – certain Thai ingredients freeze quite well (though they lose some of their aroma, so I advise using a bit more of these; I usually use 50% more makrut lime leaves for example). I have been freezing makrut lime leaves, grachai, galangal (this one loses quite a lot in the process, but is still acceptable), coriander roots and fresh pepper corns. I wouldn’t freeze Thai basil or coriander leaves. Frozen ingredients are obviously better than no ingredients at all and definitely better than dried ones (do not even try to dry makrut lime leaves).

Preparation: about 40 minutes

Ingredients (serves two):

Curry paste:

5-8 dried long hot red chillies (deseeded, soaked until soft in warm water and drained)

a big pinch of salt

5 thickish slices of galangal

4 tablespoons chopped garlic

3 tablespoons chopped lemongrass (remove the outer tough leaves, the upper 1/3 of the stalk and also the lowest toughest small bit)

3 tablespoons chopped red shallot

1 tablespoon chopped coriander root

10 white peppercorns

1 heaped teaspoon roasted shrimp paste

14-16 scallops (depending on the size and your appetite, of course)

500 ml (about 2 cups) coconut cream (I have used only 250 ml coconut milk instead)

1 tablespoon palm sugar

2 tablespoons fish sauce

250 ml stock (or coconut milk; I have used homemade chicken stock because I prefer a cleaner taste)

4 makrut (also known as kafir) lime leaves, thinly sliced (I always remove the central vein)

1 tablespoon thick coconut cream

1 fresh red chilli, sliced

(coriander leaves, torn; I don’t like their presence here, so I have skipped them the second time I prepared this curry)

Prepare the paste, grinding all the ingredients in a mortar or mixing in a food processor, adding some water in order to obtain a more or less smooth paste (see the tips above).

Heat the coconut cream (or milk, if you opt for a lighter version), add 3 tablespoons of the paste (mine were well heaped) and stir-fry for about 5 minutes.

Add the sugar, the fish sauce, the stock (or coconut milk) and let it simmer until it thickens.

Add the scallops and 2 sliced makrut lime leaves.

Let the scallops simmer until they become opaque (if they are not completely covered in liquid, you might have to flip them once).

Taste the seasoning and adjust so that the flavours are at the same time salty, hot and fragrant thanks to the makrut leaves.

Serve the individual portions or on a serving plate, sprinkle with the fresh chilli, the remaining sliced makrut leaves and coriander, if using.

(Refrigerate the remaining paste for several days and use it with other ingredients.)


25 Replies to “Thai Red Curry of Scallops”

  1. I’ve always believed in going easy on the spices and other flavour additions to scallops but this recipe disproves the myth, obviously. I’d love to give it a try one day.

  2. This recipe does surprise me. I’m one of those that enjoys her scallops lightly sauteed in butter and a touch of seasoning. I never would have thought they could stand up in a spicy curry, but I will take you word for it. You haven’t disappointed me yet! Now to find some decent scallops. Not an easy task in New Mexico.

    1. Thank you for trusting me, dear MJ. I’m sure that as a hot food lover you would love this dish. I didn’t feel for a second that anything was lost from the scallops’ flavours! (Of course people who don’t eat spicy food would say they don’t feel the taste even if I served this with mutton 😉 ).

  3. Fiery indeed, look at that dish – the colors are just gorgeous – an inferno :0). You know I love Thai inspired dishes so I would be fully open to enjoying scallops in this beautiful sauce (squid, not so much 😉 ). I didn’t know about coconut milk spoiling so quickly in the fridge – thank you for that tip (as I use it often). Lovely fall-feeling recipe Sissi.

    1. Thank you so much, Kelly. I’m in love with this recipe and with this particular curry mixture too. It’s not really coconut milk alone (though I think it spoils much too quickly too!), but mixed into the paste it might make the whole jar spoil quickly since there are some fresh vegetables in it.

  4. I Greece we say that big minds have same thoughts. I made a scallop dish this week as well, although in a totally different way. Nevertheless, we are on the same track! This curry looks utterly delicious!

  5. I am always wondering if I should cook scallops with curry and now that I got the confirmation from you, then I would. I am a total opposite when it comes to coconut milk, the more fat the better. Hmm, is that why my scale is complaining? Hahaha. I hope you are having a good week, Sissi. 🙂

    1. Hi Ray, luckily I am not a big fan of big amounts of coconut cream… because I have all other beloved dishes which make me feel guilty afterwards… (I love deep-fried food for example…).

  6. I have got to find some roasted shrimp paste. We’ve been eating a ton of seared scallops but this may very well have to be next in line–I love the sound of your spiced red curry and Thai flavors are one of my favorite!

    1. Thank you, Squishy Monster. (Actually, you roast it in a pan yourself. It’s simply Thai shrimp paste.)

  7. Sissi!!!!!!
    Wow…scallops in curry. That would be a very expensive dish for us here. I’ve had the appetizers and minute servings of scallops. Since they’re so costly, it always seems a shame to use it in any other form but “as is”.
    This is pretty convincing, you know. And we do use other mollusc in curry so I don’t see why this shouldn’t work. I will try this if I can one day. Great pic!

    1. Dear Ping, what a pleasure to see you here! I hope everything is ok. Meat is so expensive here that scallops are definitely not a big treat… I’m sure you can try this curry with any seafood (or fish too!). The curry itself is so delicious… I could have it alone, simply with bread or rice.

  8. This is such an interesting recipe for scallops, as I usually do not have scallops in sauce…as I read the ingredients in this recipe, more I want to try…this sure looks and sounds delicious Sissi.
    Thanks for the inspiration…hope you are having a lovely week 😀

    1. Thanks a lot, Juliana. I did have scallops in sauces, but it was usually disappointing… This curry was simply sensational.

  9. I’ve never thought to put curry together with scallops but it does sound wonderful. I love the colours in this dish. I’m making a chicken tikka masala this weekend from Jamie Oliver’s newest cookbook. I was recently at a show taping and he was the guest and they gave everyone a copy of his new book.

    1. Thanks a lot, Eva. The colours are beautiful indeed, but I wish I could transfer the aroma… Amazing! Wow! Lucky you! I hope your chicken turns out great.

  10. I totally believe you! You’re very observant and careful when you make recipes and I truly trust your judgement on the scallop in the curry. Wow it does look delicious. And you know I haven’t tried “red” and “green” curry yet (Massaman, pannang, and yellow are okay and I love them so much). This made me want to eat red curry, and of course gotta try with scallops!

    1. Thank you so much, Nami. You should try preparing curry paste on your own, so that you can adapt the heat… and add some milder chillies for example. This one didn’t feel at all like the usual (ready-to-use) red curry I knew. Perfect with scallops!

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