This Thai sauce is not for the timid
No one ingredient is more crucial to the flavour of authentic Thai food than nam prik. The term nam prik refers to seasoning pastes used in Thai cooking. The name translates literally to chilli water. There are many varieties of nam prik with nam prik pao being one of the most popular. Nam prik pao is also sometimes called nam prik phao. It also benefits from the fact that its flavour profile is more appealing to Western tastebuds than other types of nam prik.
While there is not much documentation concerning nam prik pao’s origin or the origin of any other nam prik, what is certain is that it is ancient. Its roots stretch far back into Thailand’s past, long before Chinese cooking styles altered the county’s food history.
With nam prik pao specifically, there are certain things that we can tell about its history from the ingredients. For example, it relies heavily on the chilli pepper. The chilli tells us that its origin occurred at some point after Christopher Columbus returned from the New World with peppers. Those peppers would eventually be distributed throughout Europe and make their way to Asia. In Asia, the chilli became a foundation ingredient that would revolutionize Chinese and Thai cooking.
So what makes up Nam prik pao flavour profile? A truly authentic nam prik pao gets most of its flavour from chilli peppers, firstly. The chilli peppers and some of the other ingredients are dry roasted to intensify their taste.
Next, a nam prik should offer sweetness. That sweetness is why it is commonly described as a chilli pepper jam. The sweet taste can come from palm sugar which is what many Thai cooks use — but other kinds of sugar can work just as well. The use of sugar is another way that you can balance the heat. It will have tartness from the tamarind paste that shows up in most recipes.
One of the most important elements that separates nam prik pao from other hot sauces and that makes it a distinctly Thai condiment is the use of shrimp paste or dried shrimp and fish sauce. These seafood elements gives the nam prik pao a strong umami quality. Some Thai brands use more of the shrimp products and fish sauce, which results in a flavour that some Westerners may find unpleasantly fishy. We have tried to balance an authentic flavour with an experimental western palate.
Is nam prik pao spicy? Nam prik pao can be spicy, but the heat level can be altered to suit your preference. While Thai food is famous for its peppery bite, not all dishes are searingly hot. You can use different kinds of chilli peppers to increase or decrease the heat of an Artisan nam prik pao to taste. You can also include or omit the hot pepper membranes to further adjust the spiciness.
We were commissioned by a Lady called Edie to produce a sauce towards the hotter end of the scale, and so we named the sauce after her: Edie Prik Pao. It seems a great deal of people share her fondness for the new sauce and it is quickly becoming one of our fastest moving lines.
Common uses for nam prik pao
The different nam priks are commonly used as dipping sauces, including nam prik pao. Thai people use it as a dipping sauce for fish, vegetables and pork rinds. It is not crazy hot. Just has that magical blend of onion, garlic, chili and fish sauce. Perfect for adding a little zing to so many dishes. Like other nam priks, nam prik pao makes a great topping for rice. You can add it to a stir-fry or use it on grilled meats. Nam prik pao works well in soups and stews as well as in fried rice and with rice noodle dishes.
Thai chili paste brings a little something to whatever you use it with, some cooks have even been known to use it in their salad dressings, and even use it as a spicy sandwich spread.. You can even put a spin on the classic Thai spicy chilli sauce, nam prik pao, by adding lemongrass, honey and fresh lime juice and infusing it with Thai basil. Spoon over some roast chicken or toss with your favourite roast vegetables.
There are numerous versions of homemade nam prik pao chilli sauce in Thailand; each cook makes it his or her own way. And while most Asian food stores carry chilli sauce, homemade is always best.
Certainly there are people out there who are experts in authentic Thai cooking and can tell you all 76 steps that a Thai grandmother would take to make this stuff at home. Edie Prik Pao is not that sort of recipe, but this sauce absolutely produces a flavourful, and very close approximation, of the nam prik pao you would taste in Thailand.
Nam prik pao will keep for several months stored in a covered jar in your refrigerator, but I doubt very much it will last longer than a day or two.
Normally I blog/vlog about everything PintxoTapas, the past and the future trends from San Sabastian being driven by Michelin starred chefs, this short venture to a far distant land has been a very refreshing experience for me.
I am a self-taught semi-professional chef working in a 300 cover restaurant in Surrey UK. I love trying new things and testing them out with my family. Each recipe is tried and true, family-tested and approved, or sometimes not but you've got to push the boundaries. Inspired by cookbooks, other food blogs, TV chefs, and family recipes.
I try to make practical PintxoTapas recipes available on this site that can bring your family and friends together for an informal, but an amazing adventure into the world of Pintxo. As well as writing, I work on my YouTube channel and with suppliers to produce all sorts of video content, from interviews, how-to guides and recipe guides.
All the best,