Food & Drink

Burmese Shrimp Curry


Naomi Duguid is a writer, photographer, cook, and traveler who explores the world through the lens of food. She is the author of Flatbreads and Flavors; HomeBaking; Seductions of Rice; Hot Sour Salty Sweet; Mangoes and Curry Leaves; and Beyond the Great Wall, all co-written with Jeffrey Alford. The following recipe is taken from her latest cookbook, Burma.

Tomato is a classic foil for shrimp. Here the combination makes an appealing curry with plenty of sauce for drizzling on rice. The green cayenne chiles give a nice little underlying heat; if you want more intensity, add a sprinkling of Red Chile Powder. If you find yourself with leftovers, add a little water, taste, and adjust the seasoning, then chill to serve as a delicious cold soup.

Serves 4

  • Generous 1 pound shrimp, peeled and deveined
  • ¼ cup minced shallots
  • ½ teaspoon minced garlic
  • 3 tablespoons peanut oil
  • ⅛ teaspoon turmeric
  • 1½ cups chopped ripe tomatoes or canned crushed tomatoes
  • ¾ cup water
  • 2 teaspoons fish sauce
  • 2 green cayenne chiles, seeded and minced, or to taste
  • ½ teaspoon salt, or to taste
  • About ¼ cup coriander leaves (optional)
  • 1 lime, cut into wedges (optional)

Rinse the shrimp and set aside. If you have a mortar, pound the minced shallots and garlic to a paste.

Heat the oil in a wok or a wide heavy skillet over medium-high heat. Add the turmeric and stir, then toss in the shallots and garlic, lower the heat to medium, and cook, stirring frequently, until softened and translucent, about 2 minutes. Add the tomatoes and cook for several minutes at a medium boil, stirring occasionally, until the tomatoes are well softened and the oil has risen to the surface.

Add the water and fish sauce, bring to a medium boil, and add the shrimp. Cook for several minutes, or until the shrimp start to turn pink, then toss in the minced chiles and salt, stir briefly, and remove from the heat. Taste and adjust the seasoning if necessary.

Turn out into a bowl, top with the coriander leaves, if using, and put out lime wedges, if you wish. Serve hot or at room temperature.


Red Chile Powder
makes about ½ cup

Cooks in Burma tend to have a light hand with chiles, leaving guests to add more heat at the table by adding condiments such as chile oil, chile powder, and various sauces.

This powder packs a punch, so use only small amounts of it in recipes. The dried red chiles are dry-roasted for a few minutes in a skillet or over low heat on a grill. It’s important to not let them scorch, which would make them bitter. I grind mine with the seeds, using a food processor; you can also remove the seeds before you grind the chiles. The with-seeds version has more heat and is coarser looking.

It’s worth making a large batch of this.

2 cups loosely packed dried red chiles

Place a large cast-iron or other heavy skillet over medium-high heat. When it is hot, lower the heat to medium and add the chiles. Keep moving them around in the pan to help them roast evenly and to prevent charred spots. After about 3 minutes, they will be softened, aromatic, and a little darkened. Alternatively, grill the chiles briefly on a charcoal grill over a low flame, turning them frequently to prevent scorching, until softened and aromatic. Remove from the pan or grill and set aside to cool for 10 minutes.

Break off the stem ends of the chiles and discard. You can empty out and discard the seeds or keep them for a hotter powder. Using a food processor, or working in batches in a spice grinder or clean coffee grinder, grind the chiles to a powder (be careful not to inhale it). Store in a clean, dry jar.