Thursday, January 20, 2011

Red Curry Snapper Soup

I love a traditional Southeast Asian curry made with coconut milk and served over plenty of Jasmine rice.  But if you want to lighten it up and make something that is just as flavorful, you can make curry soup by using pretty much the same ingredients, but subbing out the coconut milk with water, just like I have done here using my recipe for red curry paste.  While I find the curry flavors complement seafood, curries made with coconut milk tend to overpower the fish, so I used the opportunity to make a curry soup with a whole red snapper that I marinated in lime juice.  Although the dish has a soupy consistency, it is best served over a bed of steamed Jasmine rice to sop up all the liquid.

Red Curry Snapper Soup
Serves 4

For the curry paste:
  • 1 tsp cumin seed
  • 1 tbsp coriander seed (use another teaspoon if not using coriander root)
  • 1 tsp white peppercorns
  • 5 dried Thai chilies, seeded and soaked in warm water
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 5 small shallots, thinly sliced
  • 10 garlic cloves, peeled
  • 1 tsp galangal, thinly sliced
  • 1 tbsp lemongrass, thinly sliced
  • 1 tbsp Kaffir lime rind, thinly sliced (discard the green peel and use the white pith)
  • 2 tsp coriander root, finely chopped
  • 1 tsp shrimp paste  
  1. Toast the cumin, coriander seeds, and peppercorns in a dry skillet over medium heat until they are fragrant and begin to pop.  Place them in a mortar and pound them with a pestle until they are finely ground.  Remove the spices from the mortar and set them aside.
  2. Add the dried chilies and salt to the mortar.  Pound the chilies to a paste.
  3. Add the shallots, garlic, galangal, lemongrass, lime rind, and coriander root to the mortar.  Pound the ingredients with the pestle until they form a paste.  
  4. Return the ground spice to the mortar along with the shrimp paste and use the pestle to mix the paste together. 
  5. Set three tablespoons of the curry paste aside for the curry.  The remaining paste can be frozen for up to 6 months. 
For the soup:
  • 1 whole red snapper, cleaned and cut crosswise into 2-inch pieces
  • juice of 2 limes
  • 3 tbsp peanut oil
  • 1 batch curry paste, see above
  • 8 kaffir lime leaves
  • 1 1/2 cup water
  • salt, to taste
  • palm sugar, to taste
  • leaves from 1 bunch of Thai basil
  1. Place the snapper in a nonreactive bowl.  Toss it well with the lime juice and allow it to marinate for 30 minutes.
  2. Heat the olive oil in a large pot over medium heat.  Add the curry paste and cook, stirring frequently so that it does not burn.  Cook until the curry paste is deeply fragrant, about 5 minutes.
  3. Add the snapper, its marinade, the lime leaves, and the water to the pot.  Bring to a gentle simmer and cook, flipping the snapper pieces occasionally, until the fish is cooked through, about 10 minutes.
  4. Add the Thai basil and taste the soup for salt and palm sugar.  Serve immediately.


  1. This is an impressive recipe with some very authentic ingredients. I agree that excess coconut milk can overwhelm flavors. This looks good!

  2. nice idea here.
    2 questions:
    1) Do you really mean to use the white pith and not the lime peel? Also, where are you buying whole kaffir limes? On Mosco street?
    2) Do you recommend using the root and stem section only for the Coriander root in the paste?


  3. bluginger,

    1) I bought the whole kaffir limes at Bangkok Center Grocey at Mosco. The store clerk told me to use the white pith, which did seem to work as counter-intuitive as it sounds.

    2) I just used the root section of the coriander.

    Thanks for your comment!



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