Thai Chilli Jam (Nam Prik Pao)

chillijampEven if you have tasted lots of different chilli preserves, pickles, jellies or sauces, you will still be blown away by the extraordinary richness of flavours of this Thai condiment. It is obviously hot, but also smokey, sweet, salty, slightly sour, slightly pungent and, most of all, utterly addictive. At first I wondered why it’s called “jam”, but I quickly understood: as soon as I tasted the first spoonful, all I wanted was simply spread a thick layer of it on a piece of crunchy bread and enjoy every single bite of this astonishing product.

Nham Prik Pao/Nam Prik Pao is a famous Thai chilli paste, available in Asian grocery shops. According to David Thompson (Thai Food), there are two distinct methods to obtain it: grilling or frying and he advises the latter, more versatile, technique which I followed as closely as I could. The presence of dried shrimp, shrimp paste, galangal and most of all tamarind creates an incredibly complex and sophisticated result: sticky, pungent irresistible jam which, according to what I read on different internet sources, is indeed eaten as a bread spread in Thailand. According to David Thompson, this jam can be used as a relish, added to a sour soup (such as Tom Yum Goong), act as a basis for stir-fries and as a salad sauce. I have a friend who uses it all the time, so I’m sure it will not stay forgotten in your fridge. Definitely worth the long cutting and frying process!

I have mixed here two recipes (from David Thompson’s Thai Food and Thai Street Food), slightly changing the amounts of certain ingredients, so check either of these fascinating books to see the original recipe.

TIPS: If you cannot find shrimp paste, skip it. In his other book (Thai Street Food) David Thompson doesn’t include it in chilli jam recipe, so I guess it’s not obligatory, but I preferred the jam with it.

According to David Thompson galangal can be skipped here, but one does taste its presence in the final product and I think it creates and even more interesting taste, so if you can find it, buy it!

If you don’t find dried shrimp, you can easily dry fresh or defrosted small shrimp in the oven set at low temperature.  Check David Thompson’s Thai Food for the exact recipe (that’s what I did and my own dried shrimps were not only ridiculously easy to prepare, but largely superior to the bought stuff).

Tamarind can be bought in different forms: fresh, as a ready-to-use paste or in a square block. I use only tamarind blocks, advised in both Indian and Thai cookery books, so I have no idea how much of it should be used if you opt for the paste instead.

Preparation: about 1 hour

Ingredients (fills a 200-250 ml jar):

oil for deep frying

150 g Asian shallots (I have used European shallots)

75 g garlic

2 slices fresh galangal

5 dried long chillies (you can use any variety, but I would avoid bird’s-eye chillies or Scotch bonnet or other extremely hot ones)

2 heaped tablespoons dried shrimp

3 flat tablespoons palm sugar

2 cm square of tamarind block

1 tablespoon fish sauce

1/2 teaspoon shrimp paste

Start with obtaining tamarind juice.

Cut about 2 cm square piece of tamarind block and pour 50 ml boiling water over it. Dissolve, stirring with a spoon. Put aside.

After about 15 minutes strain it: you obtain the tamarind juice, aka tamarind water.

Soak the dried chillies in salted water for ten minutes, deseed them (or not, if you want a hotter result) and dry them well.

Heat an empty pan and roast the 1/2 teaspoon of shrimp paste.

Rinse the dried shrimp and dry with paper towels.

Slice finely both the garlic and the shallots.

Heat the oil in a pan and deep fry the ingredients separately (in my opinion the following order is the best): galangal slices, chilli (until it starts looking crispy, but don’t let it burn!), garlic (beware, it starts changing colour very quickly and burns even quicker, so take it out with a slotted spoon as soon as it starts becoming light golden) and finally the shallots until they are golden (this will take a while and you need to do it in two batches at least).

Combine all the fried ingredients and dried shrimp in a mortar and pound them or, as I did, mix them in a baby food processor, adding some oil – as the author advises – to make the process easier.

Transfer the paste to a pan, add several more tablespoons oil and bring to a boil. Add the sugar, the tamarind juice and the fish sauce. Stir for about a minute, taste and adjust the flavours if needed (though it’s difficult while still hot…). Apparently the sugar can easily burn, so don’t heat the paste for too long. Now your chilli jam is ready!

It will keep in the fridge forever (I empty mine in several days…).

18 thoughts on “Thai Chilli Jam (Nam Prik Pao)

  1. A_Boleyn

    I’ve heard of this sauce but never bought or used it. Even though I’m a fan of savoury dishes, I don’t know that I’d want to spread it on bread/toast and eat it straight though. 🙂 I’ll have to check out a good commercial brand for my first taste.

    1. Sissi Post author

      It’s maybe a question of fondness for chilli products? I often spread taberu rayu or peperoncini sott’olio on a small piece of bread and have it as snacks (I even had a slice of baguette with the latter tonight), but this chilli jam is 100 x more irresistible and I feel I could have half of the jar in one go if I don’t control myself. (I have never tasted the bought one, so I cannot recommend anything).

  2. Three Cookies

    This will go really well with bread and cheese.
    I see the ingredients are similar to curry paste. I wonder if one can take a shortcut and use pre-made curry paste and skip most of the items…It might work.

    1. Sissi Post author

      You are totally right, but it’s even better without the cheese, undisturbed 😉 Some ingredients are indeed included in curry pastes, but these are fried, there are lots of shallots… but I cannot imagine eating curry paste with bread, like jam 😉 Even the most delicious one.

  3. mjskit

    Chilli jam!!! I’m in heaven my dear! Interesting list of ingredients, items that never would of dreamed of putting in a jam. Dried shrimp, galangal, and fish sauce? This is definitely Thai. Love the color and the thickness of this jam. It looks so spicy and exquisite. Can’t wait to try this!!! On a side note…our connection is uncanny. 🙂

    1. Sissi Post author

      Thank you so much, MJ. I am sure you would go crazy for it, just like I did! The best part was to discover how delicious dried shrimp was in this jam… it was somehow meaty, not “fishy” at all… I really find it hard to stop myself from making a batch every week! (Is it telepathy????).

  4. Kelly @ Inspired Edibles

    This sounds ah-mazing Sissi – the complexity and range of flavor… I’m salivating! I too was wondering about the appellation ‘jam’ (as opposed to paste or even relish) but I think I get it… besides, it does have the sweet component :). Your photo is great too – it really reveals the thickness and character of this impressive jam. I think I have most of the ingredients. I just need to get my hands on some fresh galangal — I’ve found a Japanese market (yay, shishu peppers!) and now I just need to find a Thai one 😀 . Loving all of your Thai recipes of late Sissi.

    1. Sissi Post author

      Hi, Kelly. Thank you so much for all the compliments! I’m glad you have found interesting products in the Japanese grocery shop. Shishito peppers are fantastic, have you found fresh ones? I bring some every year from Japan.

      1. Kelly @ Inspired Edibles

        yes, Sissi, there was a huge container of fresh shishito peppers — the gal I went to the market with told me her husband slices them up and eats them with his eggs every morning. I thought it was a brilliant idea :D. (I brought my camera to take photos of the beautiful produce but was quickly told I was not allowed to shoot – not sure why).

        1. Sissi Post author

          I how I envy you! I’ve never seen shishito here… (Actually I’m trying to grow it on my balcony this year from the seeds I took from shishito brought from Japan… quite complicated, but who knows, maybe it’ll grow?). I know they forbid photos in many shops now… Pity because I’d love to see your Japanese shop and its treasures! It’d be a big ad for them.

  5. Eva Taylor

    Another amazing condiment Sissi and I love that it’s called jam. I too, can imagine it spread on bread, but what about a thin slice of Brie sandwiched between the bread and jam? The colour is beautiful. Our Asian markets carry a mix of products from many nationalities, we are so fortunate to have such diversity in Toronto. I keep galangal in my freezer just as I do with my regular ginger. It grates very easily and you needn’t even peel it if you grate it on a micro plane.

    1. Sissi Post author

      Thank you so much, Eva. I must say that I rarely add anything to cheese (unless I have it as a part of a “proper” dish) but I’m sure anything tastes fabulous with this jam.I also keep some galangal in the freezer, but I think that some of its goodness is sadly lost. It’s better than throwing the surplus away. I have never tried grating it though.

  6. Nami | Just One Cookbook

    I’m pretty sure I’ve tasted this… as I go to Thai restaurant a lot and usually order family style (and eat many types of food/flavors)… but from the name it somehow doesn’t ring the bell. Is that in a jar on the table? Maybe how it’s served could be differently in Europe too… In the US we have jars of condiments available for us to use. I will definitely pay more attention next time. I almost bought the block of tamarind block!! I was going to make curry and I think (not sure) one of the ingredients was tamarind paste or something like that. The block was huge and I just couldn’t purchase not knowing what I’d use it for… at least I know one dish! I love Thai food… you’re amazing, Sissi!

    1. Sissi Post author

      Thank you so much, Nami, for all the compliments! To be frank, I’ve never seen it in any Thai restaurant, but I think those I know are not really very good… I know you can buy it in Asian shops, but I haven’t tasted it either. It’s funny to taste something so exotic for the first time done by myself (reminds me of all the Japanese dishes I discover first at home and not in restaurants or in Japan 😉 ).
      The blocks of tamarind I buy are quite small, maybe 10 cm long. They keep for years in the fridge… so if you find one like this, buy it. (Tamarind is also used in Indian dishes!).

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