Nam Prik Pao (น้ำพริกเผา): Thai Chilli Jam – Secret Ingredient in Thai Spicy Stir-Fries, Salads, Etc.



Nam Prik Pao (น้ำพริกเผา) is one of the most — if not the most — versatile composite ingredients in Thai cooking that I can think of. It is intense and complex, but not in an in-your-face kind of way; it also features pretty much all of the tastes associated with traditional Thai food sans the usual herbs. Each spoonful packs so much flavor, and a little goes a long way.

Believe me when I say that I hate telling people what to do or what not to do. But in this case, I consider familiarity with Nam Prik Pao and how to use it to be necessary for, you see, this condiment permeates modern Thai cuisine. If you’re a Thai food enthusiast, or on your way to becoming one, and you haven’t made an acquaintance with this ingredient, please allow me the pleasure of introducing to you Nam Prik Pao, the “secret arsenal” of Thai restaurants worldwide, a pantry staple in Thai households, and your new best friend.

What Is Nam Prik Pao?

There’s no agreement as to the best English designation for Nam Prik Pao. Being a nam prik, it certainly belongs to the chili relish category along with the 105,896 other kinds of nam prik in the Thai cuisine. But it’s also a condiment, used as a dip and a spread. It’s consumed straight from the jar; it’s also used as a cooking ingredient. Nam Prik Pao is, as I’ve said earlier, very versatile.

Nam Prik Pao is almost always referred to as roasted chili paste or chili paste in oil. Some call it chili jam or roasted chili jam which I think is more specific, less ambiguous, and more consistent with what it really is. While “roasted chili paste” is not wrong, I personally find it to be unclear. After all, I can give you a whole list of other kinds of Thai nam priks that can be called roasted chili paste that have no similarities to Nam Prik Pao and aren’t used in the same manner. And chili paste in oil? It could refer to the roasted chili in oil condiment they put on the table for you at most Chinese restaurants, and we all know that kind of chili paste in oil is nothing like Nam Prik Pao.

Nam Prik Pao is jam-like in many ways. It’s made out of the pulp and seeds of a fruit, chili. The fruit along with other ingredients are puréed and cooked down to jam-like consistency. It’s also sweet in flavor. The seafood products in it may make some uncomfortable in calling Nam Prik Pao a jam. But whether or not the presence of seafood precludes something from being called a jam is debatable. For now, I consider it a savory jam until a good argument against it comes along.

Nam Prik Pao

A cup of rice, thoroughly mixed with 2 tablespoons of Nam Prik Pao and some fish sauce,
topped with a fried egg – one of my favorite rainy day meals

What is in Nam Prik Pao?

Chilies, garlic, and shallots form the bulk of this semi-sticky paste along with some seafood (dried shrimp and shrimp paste). Nam Prik Pao is fried in vegetable oil and flavored with fish sauce, palm sugar, and tamarind paste.

This is something that vegetarians and vegans who frequent Thai restaurants may want to keep in mind: just because you ask for tofu or vegetables instead of meat doesn’t mean that you won’t get meat products in your Thai restaurant dishes. Shrimp paste is found in pretty much every curry, and fish sauce is, of course, omnipresent. And if your spicy stir-fry (or Tom Yam) contains Nam Prik Pao (most likely identified as “roasted chili paste” on the menu), you’re eating seafood.

How to Use Nam Prik Pao:

If you grew up or are now living in a Thai household, you certainly don’t need me yakking on and on about what Nam Prik Pao is or how to use it; in fact, you’re probably munching on Nam Prik Pao-smeared toast or Nam Prik Pao-pork floss buns in front of the computer as we speak. Me? I’m eating — and please don’t call my cardiologist — pork rinds dipped in Nam Prik Pao, one of the classic Thai snack combos and I’m as happy as can be, pork crumbs on my keyboard notwithstanding

But if you, like most of my American friends, didn’t grow up with Nam Prik Pao, you may be surprised to learn that even though you’re still not quite sure what Nam Prik Pao is, you’ve most likely consumed tons of it by way of your favorite Thai restaurant dishes. Have you had Tom Yam? Some versions of Tom Kha Gai, perhaps? Spicy clam and basil stir-fry? If you detect a sweet, slightly tangy, slightly fishy, a bit smoky taste in the stir-fry sauce at your favorite Thai restaurant, it’s very likely that we got Nam Prik Pao lurking in the background.

Nam Prik Pao

Nam Prik Pao Grilled Cheese: one of my guiltiest pleasures. Try adding porchetta, slices of roast chicken, or, er, (whispering) bologna.

 
Recipes using Nam Prik Pao abound and vary, but here are some ideas that serve as a point of entry to create that complex, I-don’t-know-what-the-heck-is-in-it flavor you love so much in some Thai stir-fries, salads, and soups.

  • Add a tablespoon of Nam Prik Pao to every 1/2 cup of Bruno. That’s it. That’s the easiest way to start cooking with Nam Prik Pao. If you like your stir-fry spicy, add fresh chilies to it. For fun, throw some fresh herbs into the mix: a handful of Thai basil or holy basil, some torn and bruised kaffir lime leaves, etc.
  • Add Nam Prik Pao to your Tom Yam or Tom Kha.
  • Add some Nam Prik Pao to a Thai salad that’s usually seasoned simply with lime juice and fish sauce. Try pig ear salad or fried egg salad with some Nam Prik Pao added to the dressing. Sublime.
  • Make fried rice as you normally do with some Nam Prik Pao (about a tablespoon per 2 cups’ worth of rice) stirred in while the rice is still in the wok, then taste it and see your socks being knocked off right before your eyes. Nam Prik Pao fried rice with shrimp is just spectacular; you’ve just got to try it.
  • Mix cooked rice with some Nam Prik Pao, season to taste with fish sauce, and top it with a fried egg or Thai-style omelet.
  • Treat Nam Prik Pao as you would a spread and incorporate it into the items that you normally eat. Nam Prik Pao grilled cheese sandwich is my favorite.

Nam Prik Pao from Scratch?

For beginners, I highly recommend that you start out with commercial Nam Prik Pao. The only brand I have with me right now is Pantainorasingh which happens to be one of the most widely available ones out there. So here’s — without implied endorsement of, connection to, or compensation from this manufacturer — what Nam Prik Pao looks like in a jar. (Besides, I’ve been wanting so much to tell you the story of Pantai Norasingh, a 17th century Siamese hero who has apparently inspired the brand name.

nam prik pao
The reason I suggest that you start out with commercial Nam Prik Pao is because Nam Prik Pao is one of those things where the chasm of quality between homemade and commercial isn’t extremely vast, especially if you use it as an ingredient in a stir-fry sauce or to accent a soup like Tom Yam. (Some people may not agree. If you’re one of those with ultra-discerning taste buds that can tell whether the Nam Prik Pao in your Tom Yam is homemade or commercial and can’t tolerate the use of commercial Nam Prik Pao, please feel free to quit reading at this point.) Besides, I strongly believe that those who are not familiar with Nam Prik Pao should know first what it tastes like as well as which heat level best suits their taste1 before they attempt to make Nam Prik Pao from scratch at home. That way, you go into it knowing exactly what to shoot for.

Making Nam Prik Pao is not at all difficult, but it is a somewhat labor-intensive activity. Even in my ultra-traditional Thai household, we made Nam Prik Pao only once in a while. Even my paternal grandmother, who grated her own coconut which she grew in her own garden and made curry paste from scratch every single time she made a curry, rarely made her own Nam Prik Pao. This is because even though Nam Prik Pao does not require a long list of ingredients, it does require that each ingredient be prepared separately before they’re merged together. Having a kitchen with good ventilation is also key for, you see, we’re talking about an ingredient with a pretty intense scent. Pleasant. But intense.

But if you’re really interested in making your own Nam Prik Pao, here’s my Nam Prik Pao recipe from scratch through two different methods.

_____________________

Kasma Loha-unchit has recommended a few brands here.
Also, if you read Hebrew, check out more information on Nam Prik Pao by the great Thai Food Blog.
Anger Burger uses Nam Prik Pao in Tom Kha Gai and grilled cheese sandwich.
The Shrone uses Nam Prik Pao to make Thai-Mexican pork taco filling.
The Spiced Life makes Nam Prik Pao fried rice.

1 Most brands have three levels of heat available: mild, medium (hot), and hot. As a Central Thai, my heat tolerance is quite low, so even medium is a bit too hot for me. But, you see, Nam Prik Pao isn’t supposed to be super hot; it doesn’t need to be. The key is the salty-sweet-sour balance, not how many chilies you can pack into it. Too much heat, in my opinion, prevents you from being able to appreciate said flavor balance.

38 Responses to Nam Prik Pao (น้ำพริกเผา): Thai Chilli Jam – Secret Ingredient in Thai Spicy Stir-Fries, Salads, Etc.

  1. Rasa Malaysia January 22, 2011 at 6:10 pm #

    Leela, thanks for the link love. I have grown out of Pantai NPP, now I want some real homemade stuff. ;)

  2. cestlavietlb January 24, 2011 at 12:50 pm #

    Hi!
    So interesting! I doubt I’d be able to find even the widely available versions here so I’ll be looking out for your step-by-step :)
    Tara

  3. Cerberus Has3 January 24, 2011 at 7:52 pm #

    What a wonderful reminder of the foods from my childhood. I had this just the other day served with pork floss on top of a homemade rice cake/cracker. Do you have any tips on how to make the rice cake? I had never seen it before. It was delicious! Loved the crunchy texture with the fluffy pork and sweet salty chili jam.

  4. Leela January 24, 2011 at 7:56 pm #

    Cerberus – You can buy dried rice crackers at a large Asian supermarket or online. They come in a package of 18-20 2×2 crackers or something. Or you can make your own easily by rolling cooked white jasmine rice into a thin layer between two sheets of wax paper, like you would a pie crust. Sun-dry or oven-dry them at 120 F until thoroughly dehydrated, break them into pieces, and fry them.

  5. Anthony Robinson January 25, 2011 at 12:48 pm #

    I have made nam prik pao a few times. The last time, I used a recipe from “Cracking the Coconut” (I think that’s the name of the book), and it was winter and cold out so i didn’t properly ventilate. My whole apt smelled EXTREMELY fishy for about a week.

    But the nam prik pao was delicious! :)

  6. Anonymous January 26, 2011 at 7:56 pm #

    I tried several brands of Namprik Pao. Pantai brand is sweet with smooth texture and popular in the West Coast. One con is that it contains MSG. Maesri brand is more balanced with nice texture and no MSG. Mae Pranom brand is good as well, again no MSG. Just my two cents.

  7. Ken│hungry rabbit January 26, 2011 at 8:25 pm #

    Big fan of Nam Prik Pao, I can’t wait to get the recipe to make my own.

  8. Mike Sula January 30, 2011 at 8:21 pm #

    I just bought some Golden Boy brand on the store owner’s recommendation. Before your post I never would have guessed it was npp just by browsing.

    It isn’t as stickysweet as the Thompson recipe. The Pantai brand was also on the shelf but lists sugar as its first ingredient, I think. I wonder if it is much sweeter?

    Looking forward to your recipe.

  9. Leela January 30, 2011 at 10:00 pm #

    Mike – I have never seen Gold Boy NPP, but I’ll definitely try it out. Pantai is definitely on the sweet side. My recipe produces NPP that’s much less sweet than Pantai and not as sticky.

  10. OysterCulture February 2, 2011 at 1:37 pm #

    I had never thought of nam prik pao as jam but you are so right and while I love Thai food, I know that I am a newbie when it comes to knowing what is out there. I loved learning about this critical element and have added to my long list of foods that I make from your post that will make me look so darn good.

  11. dhanes February 3, 2011 at 2:38 am #

    so salivating for your recipe, have everything on hand waiting…. ;)

  12. NPP is really divine in simple stir fries February 10, 2011 at 7:59 am #

    thanks for the recommedation on the shrimp paste(NPP) and this post, we bought a jar recently and used it in our cooking and it’s really divine! my fave dish of all time is green mango salad so i’m looking forward to trying a bit of the NPP with the green mango salad dressing or thai beef salad…

  13. Anonymous October 22, 2011 at 1:49 am #

    That grilled cheese looks divine! What kind of cheese do you use for that? :9

  14. Admin October 22, 2011 at 3:58 am #

    Anon – I think that one was made with mozzarella. I also like sharp cheddar and gouda.

  15. Laura November 5, 2011 at 3:27 am #

    I am so happy to hear you endorse buying it, because it is a lot of work, I only did it once, and even though I liked it, ever since then I have avoided all recipes calling for it (and similarly to your grandma, although I certainly don’t grate coconuts, I do make curry paste from scratch so my unwillingness kinda bugged me). So I am enthused to hear commercial works ok and I am going to buy some and start putting it in anything and everything I can think of. :)

  16. Bville Yellow Dog December 2, 2011 at 1:07 am #

    Amazon sells the brand you suggest.

  17. Jay January 13, 2012 at 2:36 pm #

    I think I’m in love with your blog! I’m from Hong Kong, so I’m blessed to be able to get jet fresh Thai ingredients everywhere!

  18. Mary Helen Vasquez (Maria) February 17, 2012 at 2:33 am #

    Sound so good. I can hardly wait to go to my local Thai store manana. I’m salivating already. I can just imagine the dishes I can create. Thanks.

  19. ashraf October 4, 2012 at 5:28 am #

    thank you for sharing hugely appreciated I am a great lover of authentic Thai flavours having lived in Thailand and experienced genuine Thai food

    Thank you again

    ashraf

  20. Chili me August 27, 2013 at 1:02 am #

    Hello, I love this recipe and used it on my final winter thai Chili harvest only one thing went wrong, I think I over cooked it as the end result once cooled it became very hard almost too sticky. I did double the recipe but still cooked it for 40- 45 mins as it said to make a hole in the middle and stay there which it did but then when it cooled it has become quite hard. I still am using it and love it! I added 50% of the seeds back in the final stage of cooking, next time Ill use them all. I did the second method and roasted everything but could not get my hands on the dried shrimp in time so left that out, still yummy. Any suggestions on my next batch please?
    Thanks
    Lisa

    • Leela August 27, 2013 at 1:30 am #

      Chili me – Not sure why that is. But the solution for this is simple: put the jam back on the stove, thin it out with more water, and heat it through.

  21. Clem February 24, 2014 at 4:51 am #

    My friends in the hills wonder why my bar-bq is so good. I’ll never tell!

  22. Robert Lamb April 22, 2014 at 11:45 pm #

    Leela, I’m reading your posts (recipes) and drooling. Now I’m begging my wife to cook them for me. :-) Thank you!!

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. Tom Kha Gai Recipe (ต้มข่าไก่) – A Tutorial for Beginners | SheSimmers - August 22, 2012

    [...] galangal, smashed chiliesSome restaurants have taken to adding roasted chili oil or sometimes Nam Prik Pao (Thai chili jam) to Tom Kha Gai just as they do to Tom Yam. It’s a bit strange to my eye and [...]

  2. Tom Yam Kung (ต้มยำกุ้ง) with Video | SheSimmers - September 11, 2012

    [...] use soy sauce in this dish). Also, if the negligible amount of dried shrimp and shrimp paste in Nam Prik Pao is an issue, you can skip it entirely. The flavor of the end product will be slightly different, [...]

  3. Nam Prik Pao Recipe (น้ำพริกเผา) – Thai Chilli Jam | SheSimmers - September 11, 2012

    [...] which I can tell you about this wonderful Thai ingredient has been said in my post on how to use Nam Prik Pao in modern Thai cooking. And since I will not go into its historical background (as the purpose at hand is to create the [...]

  4. Chiang Mai in a Bowl | Vagabundo Magazine - September 20, 2012

    [...] shallot, pickled mustard greens, and lime wedges accompany the canisters of fish sauce, sugar, and nam prik pao, a spicy chile paste, that live on the table. The set-up allows the lucky diner to tweak the [...]

  5. How to Eat Thai Chili Relishes กินข้าวกับน้ำพริก(สิจ๊ะถึงได้สะได้สวย) | SheSimmers - November 26, 2012

    [...] mood for us. My bite-by-bite instructions on how to eat relishes will follow.I’ve introduced nam prik pao (น้ำพริกเผา RTGS: nam phrik phao) to you earlier as it is the most well known [...]

  6. Guilty pleasures: Smoked Mackerel, Cheddar Cheese and Nam Prik Pao Toasted Sandwich « The Furious Pear Pie - December 14, 2012

    [...] SMOKED MACKEREL, CHEDDAR CHEESE AND NAM PRIK PAO TOASTED SANDWICH (Inspired by Leela’s post on Nam Prik Pao) [...]

  7. From Mee Krob to Brassiere Eggs: My Food Highlights 2012 | SheSimmers - December 28, 2012

    [...] Nam Prik Pao is one of those things that most Thai people even those that don’t cook — no, especially, those that don’t cook! — have in the fridge. It’s so versatile. This stir-fry you’re looking at is made with odds and ends in the fridge: a little bit of ground pork, some long beans that would have gone bad in a day or two had they not been used, and some bird’s eye chilies in the freezer. Cheap. Flavorful. Feeds 5 people easily. Make a pot of rice to go with this. Fry up some crispy fried eggs Thai-style to top it all off. A bowl of nam pla prik on the side. This is a feast. [...]

  8. Lotus in Thai Cuisine and Culture | SheSimmers - January 16, 2013

    [...] cups as shown in the photos above (you can get my recipe for this pomelo-shrimp “miang” with nam prik pao dressing on Serious [...]

  9. How to Make Tom Yam (ต้มยำ): Tom Yam 101 – Part One | SheSimmers - March 10, 2013

    [...] think it needs any added sweetener. But some people do like it.The use of Thai sweet chilli paste, Nam Prik Pao (น้ำพริกเผา), is optional. Even though I use it here (thinking the bright [...]

  10. Thai Nam Prik – The Local Guide to Thailand’s Fiery Chili Sauces! | move-foods - June 13, 2013

    [...] She Simmers calls nam prik pao the “secret arsenal” ingredient for Thai restaurants. [...]

  11. Stir fried chicken with cashew nuts | Girls can't live by bread alone - September 17, 2013

    […] or an Asian supermarket if you’re lucky enough to have one nearby.  Thai chilli paste, or Nam Prik Pao, may be harder to get hold of (but again you will find it at an Asian supermarket) but just up the […]

  12. Stir Fried Beef with Peppers, Mushrooms, Eggplant and Nam Prik Pao; Review of Everyday Thai Cooking | The Spiced Life - October 30, 2013

    […] it touches. I used to avoid recipes calling for it because of the added work of making it, but then I learned from Leela over at She Simmers that commercially prepared is quite acceptable. Now I use it all the time. And so should […]

  13. Simple Nam Prik Pao Fried Rice | The Spiced Life - January 2, 2014

    […] She Simmers, which is rapidly becoming one of my favorite blogs.  It turns out a lot of Thai people find nam prik pao to be more than acceptable in its commercial for…  Mind you, I am not claiming that homemade, freshly made nam prik pao is not superior (and nor […]

  14. Khao Phra Ram Long Song “Swimming Rama” (ข้าวพระรามลงสรง) – Part Two (Recipe) | SheSimmersSheSimmers - February 12, 2014

    […] In Thailand, each plate of Swimming Rama is anointed with a dollop of nam prik pao, Thai chili jam. There are often a few slices of fresh hot chili pepper as well (see it here). I […]

  15. Spicy Thai-style fried rice + baked chilli tofu + remembering Gilt Taste’s tips on fried rice | The Furious Pear Pie - April 8, 2014

    […] tofu (either silken or cotton can be used) 1 tablespoon nam prik pao, as hot or mild as you like (read more about it on SheSimmers) 1 teaspoon Sriracha sauce 1 tablespoon light soy sauce (Thai-style light soy sauce is really […]

Leave a Reply