First published May 2013. Updated July 2017.
This homemade chilli (chili) paste is a very handy basic to have in your fridge. It is a staple in South East Asian kitchens and is used in so many different ways: as a condiment, a marinade and an all purpose cooking ingredient.
So many recipes in Asia call for a teaspoon of chilli paste here, a tablespoon there so, rather than grinding it up from scratch each time or substituting it with fresh chillies, make this paste up and keep it in the fridge. You’ll have the double benefit of a time-saving ingredient whenever you need it and your final dish will have a deeper, more well rounded flavour than when using fresh chillies.
When I first wrote this recipe back in 2013, I gave you the recipe for the long and slow cooking paste, as I’ve always made it. But over the years, I’ve had so many requests for a quicker paste and using fresh chillies that you now get 2 recipes for the price of 1 when you visit this page, a quick version and a low and slow!
Chilli Paste 1
is a speedy one that we cook for the briefest of times, using dried or fresh chillies, resulting in a light flavour and aroma, retaining much of the freshness of the chilies, garlic and onion used, with a hint of sweetness from the onion.
Chilli Paste 2
is indispensable in my kitchen. The key to this second homemade chilli paste is in the frying of the paste. In Malay, we call this tumis and the longer the cooking time, or the tumis time, the deeper the aroma and flavour, and the darker the colour. For this second version, you want to cook for a minimum of 1 hour; I like to go for an hour and a half to two, if I have the time.
You can use either fresh red chillies or dried ones in this second paste. Dried chillies will always give you a deeper aroma and flavour, however, as we are cooking for a long time here, that doesn’t really matter.
In this long cooking one, the pot you cook it in makes a difference to how dry your paste will be. In a wok, given the wider nature of the cooking pot, your chilli paste will dry up quicker and will most likely need more water.
How to use either Homemade Chilli Paste
- As a marinade (think roast and barbecue – meat and vegetables)
- As a sandwich flavour filler
- As a condiment
- As a dipping sauce
- As a cooking ingredient (for stir fries, omelettes, pies and tarts)
- For jazzing up the good old mayo and any salad dressing
There are so many ways to use either chilli paste, whether to make Nasi Goreng (Malay or Indonesian Fried Rice), Mee Goreng (Malay or Indian Fried Noodles) or to use it to marinate anything. I love having it as a condiment too, much like a dipping sauce or sambal, because that’s what it is, a sambal! In fact, it could be the paste in this magnificent Eurasian Prawn Sambal Bostador and for frying the noodles in Mee Siam Kuah from Singapore and Malaysia:
It is a pretty spicy paste, so when using this homemade chilli paste in another recipe, a small amount goes a long way. I love making a large batch and storing it in a sterilized jar (straight out of a hot dishwasher will do) for easily up to 2 weeks.
And guess what? It makes the perfect gift for a foodie friend.
Ingredients in our Chilli Paste
Fresh chillies – use whatever variety you fancy, as long as they are red, for a red chilli paste. For a green chilli paste or sambal, take a look at the gallery below.
Dried chillies – this recipe started out life as how to make chilli paste from dried chillies! So, use what you fancy, as long as they are not the smoky type like chipotle. Smoked dried chillies have their own place, like in the Chipotle Paste.
Candlenuts (in the second paste) are a cooking ingredient in some parts of South East Asia, to enrich and thicken dishes. Click here to read more. I can only get them online, so am happy to use macadamia nuts which are an almost perfect substitute. Failing that, a smaller number of cashew nuts will do just as well. You could do away with the nuts completely if you like, you will still get a deep flavour from the long cooking of the second paste.
Variations on our Red Chilli Paste Recipe
You could add to the flavour of this chilli paste by adding any of the following:
Dried Shrimp – click to read more
Shrimp Paste – click to read more
TIP: A chopper, blender or food processor is a must for this as all the ingredients are processed together, then fried.
You might also be interested in the following chilli pastes:
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Nutritional Information below is based on Chilli Paste 2. Want to know how to make Red Chili Paste? Easy, authentic recipe for homemade chilli paste, an all purpose spicy paste. Time and portions given here are for Chilli Paste 1.
If you cook your chilli paste in a wok, as I sometimes do, you'll probably need more water, given the wide, shallower and open nature of your wok.
Homemade Chilli Paste – a very handy basic recipe
Want to know how to make Red Chili Paste? Easy, authentic recipe for homemade chilli paste, an all purpose spicy paste.
Time and portions given here are for Chilli Paste 1. If you cook your chilli paste in a wok, as I sometimes do, you'll probably need more water, given the wide, shallower and open nature of your wok.