Nam Phrik

Nam Phrik

In Thailand, you’re never more than a few feet from nam phrik,
a pungent, spicy shrimp-and-chilli relish that’s eaten alongside
everything from omelettes to fish cakes, deep-fried prawns and pork.

Origins
Said to be the most ancient among Thai dishes, this paste was, and still is, made with the pestle and mortar. Early versions mixed peppercorns with fermented soy beans and charred shallots, providing heat and salt, alongside a souring agent, such as lime juice or fresh tamarind. As the Thais moved south, they discovered and added coconuts, palm sugar and fermented fish. And as chillies arrived in the 16th century, they too were thrown in.

SERVES 8

You’ll need
4 cloves of garlic, peeled
Pinch of salt
2 coriander roots
4 shallots, grilled or roasted
8 bird’s eye chillies
½ tsp shrimp paste
Some chicken stock
1–2 tbs palm sugar
½ tbs lime juice
Dash of fish sauce
2 tbs pea eggplants
Handful of small prawns

Cooking Method
1 Grind the garlic, salt and coriander roots into a paste with a mortar and pestle.
2 Peel the grilled (or roasted) shallots and add them, with the chillies and shrimp paste. Pound the mixture, adding stock to keep it moist.
3 Mix in the palm sugar, lime juice and fish sauce to taste.
4 Finally, add the pea eggplants and prawns and crush with the pestle so both are bruised. This coarse, hot, salty condiment can be served with meat or raw/blanched vegetables.
TIP There are dozens of varieties of nam phrik in Thailand. This one, adapted from the master Thai chef David Thompson, of Nahm restaurant in Bangkok, features pea eggplants and prawns.

Tasting notes
The classic nam phrik gapi is both pungent and delicate, a wonderful mix of raw garlic, shrimp paste, palm sugar, fish sauce, lime juice… and a mind-blowing quantity of bird’s-eye chillies. The first taste is deep, before the tiny fruits kick in and get the heart beating faster. But as in all Thai food, balance – between the salty, sweet, sour and hot – is everything. A bitter version is made with pea eggplants, while in the south it’s made with coconut. Some have pork as a main ingredient, others green pepper, tamarind, minced prawns and salted duck egg. But remember… nam phrik is never, ever eaten alone.

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