The Omnipresent Thai Sauce: Naam Phrik Phao

I’m starting to discover the wonders of naam phrik phao (นำ้พริกเผา), a type of Thai chilli paste made by dry-roasting and pounding dried chillies with shrimp paste, dried shrimps, palm sugar and fish sauce. A very versatile sauce in Thai cooking, its uses range from flavouring soups to complementing omelettes to being a jam spread on toast (never tried that!).

My interest in naam phrik phao was piqued when I was introduced to a noodle stall at Soi Udomsuk, which specialises in two types of tom yam noodles: boraan (traditional) or mai (new); the former is a clear-soup version served with a generous dollop of phrik pao while the latter is doused with kati, or coconut milk. Both versions were equally scrumptious but after sampling the two styles, I found the traditional type to be lighter yet more intense and fragrant due to the addition of naam phrik phao. (But clearly, what’s deemed aromatic to one woman may very well be pungent and acrid to another man’s nose. Naam phrik phao was the infamous culprit that sparked off a terrorist attack alert in London several years ago.)

To initiate myself into the art of cooking with naam phrik phao, I bought a bottle at the supermarket last week. I had an idea of using naam phrik phao with seafood as its taste strongly reminded me of sambal sotong in Malaysian and Singaporean food. I looked up some sambal sotong recipes online, which I used as a guide to improvise for my own version of squid with naam phrik phao. Here’s what I came up with:

Plaa muek phat phrik phao (ปลากหมึกผัดพริกเผา)
* 300 grams of squid, cut into rings
* 1 onion, sliced
* 1 garlic, chopped
* 2 stalks of spring onion, cut into 1/2 inches
* 1 tablespoon of naam phrik phao
* Cilantro leaves for garnishing
* Soy sauce, sugar and pepper to taste

1.  Heat oil in a pan on medium heat. Add the garlic to the oil and stir-fry until golden brown. Add onion and squid, stirring them continuously. (Take care not to overcook as squid will turn rubbery.)
2.  Add naam phrik phao and spring onion. Stir and blend until all the ingredients are well mixed. Add soy sauce, sugar and pepper to taste.
3. Transfer to a plate. Garnish the dish with cilantro leaves. Serve.

Squid Vs. Cuttlefish
One good thing about learning to cook is, there are lots of “oh, i see” moments as I pick up knowledge about identifying and distinguishing the different animals and plant. For instance, what’s the difference between a squid and a cuttlefish? I never gave much thought to these two terms until today, when I was trying to fact-check this essay before posting. The distinguishing feature lies in the internal shell: A squid has a feather-like pen, or quill, which is thin and transparent like a piece of clear plastic whereas a cuttlefish has a harder, calcified backbone known as a cuttlebone (Mr. P calls it the sanitary pad ever since he saw them washed up on the beaches).

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5 thoughts on “The Omnipresent Thai Sauce: Naam Phrik Phao

  1. “Mr. P calls it the sanitary pad ever since he saw them washed up on the beaches.”

    – had me laughing in stiches. XD. I could almost smell the spicy stir fry of seafood from here!

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