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4.17 from 24 votes

Nam Prik Pao (Thai Chili Paste)

Prep Time30 mins
Cook Time40 mins
Total Time1 hr 10 mins
Course: Condiment
Cuisine: Thai
Servings: 1 cup
Author: Jess Smith via Inquiring Chef


  • 13 large red Thai chilis, seperated (10 will be roasted, 3 will be used raw)
  • 6 cloves garlic
  • ½ large onion (peeled and cut into quarters)
  • 2 large dried shiitake mushrooms
  • ½ cup light brown sugar
  • ¼ cup water
  • ¼ cup tamarind paste (available in the international section of many grocery stores or any Asian market; if you cannot find this, you can omit this ingredient altogether as the vinegar below will still impart a different, but still delicious paste)
  • ¼ cup distilled white vinegar


  • Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Slice 10 of the red chilis in half and place them face down on a baking sheet. Place garlic cloves and onion on the baking sheet, insuring that none of the vegetables are overlapping. Bake, without stirring, until chilis begin to blacken in spots, about 40 minutes (note: watch them closely and remove if they start to blacken earlier than the recommended timeframe; some reviewers have noted that their aromatics began to blacken after 10 to 15 minutes). Remove from the oven and allow to cool to room temperature.
  • Cut the 3 remaining chilis in half lengthwise. Gently remove the seeds and membranes from both the roasted and raw chilies (see note below). Gently squeeze the garlic cloves to extract the roasted garlic, and discard the peels.
  • Put garlic, chilis, onions and mushrooms in the bowl of a food processor. Pulse until the mixture is finely and evenly chopped. (It will be nearly smooth and ground to a paste in some spots.)
  • Place the chopped vegetables, sugar, water, tamarind paste and vinegar in a small pot over medium heat. If the mixture appears quite dry, add a splash more water so that it can easily come to a simmer.
  • Simmer, stirring frequently (reduce the heat if it begins to boil), until the mixture becomes smooth and thick, about 10 minutes. Remove from heat and allow to cool.
  • Store in the refrigerator for up to 2 weeks.


The chilis used in this version of Nam Prik Pao are spicy Thai chilis. They are about the length of my hand, from wrist to the tip of my pointer finger. Dried long chilis will work as a substitute, but they do not need to be roasted before being used in the recipe, and you will need to double the amount to about 20 chilis, taking extra care to remove the seeds and membranes before using them.
If you prefer to use fish to make a more traditional Nam Prik Pao, substitute 2 Tablespoons of small dried shrimp for the shitake mushrooms.
The membrane and seeds contain the majority of the spice in the chilis. If you remove all of the membrane and seeds, the resulting paste will still be spicy, but not as spicy as if you leave some of the seeds and membrane in. I recommend removing as much of the seeds and membrane as you can at this stage. Set them off to the side. When the paste is cooking on the stove later, you can taste it and gradually add some of the seeds back in to increase the heat.
The paste will keep for up to 2 weeks in an airtight container in the refrigerator.