Aromatic Yellow Curry Sauce

The Muslim cooking tradition, which traveled from India, Malaysia and Indonesia to Thailand via merchants and migrants, is most evident in this particular Thai-inspired recipe, which is flavored with coconut milk, sweet spices, and peanuts, and has a mild kick to it from the chilis. With contemporary origins in southern Thailand, this curry gets its vibrant yellow hue from the addition of copious amounts of turmeric. In its traditional preparation, cumin, coriander, turmeric, garlic, bay leaf, lemongrass, ginger, cinnamon, and chilis combine for its strongly aromatic flavor. This take on yellow curry sauce by Jean-Georges Vongerichten uses onion, tomatoes, curry powder, cilantro, lemongrass and chiles to make a fragrant sauce in under an hour. 

Active Time:
20 mins
Total Time:
40 mins
makes 2 1/2 cups

When it comes to Thai curry pastes and sauces, yellow curry, otherwise known as kaeng kari, is considered the most complex, even if it is less spicy than its red or green counterparts. It's because of its relatively mild heat that it is often referred to as the training curry or introduction curry by Thai parents who want to encourage their children to eat spicy foods. Its mild flavor and creamy texture makes it an approachable entry point into the world of spicy Thai cuisine.

Thai yellow curry is traditionally prepared by grinding spices and aromatics into a paste in a mortar and pestle. (Store-bought yellow curry paste is a popular alternative to making it from scratch.) Then, the paste is added into a pot, stir-fried to release some of the oils before coconut milk or water is added. Afterwards, meat and vegetables are incorporated into the sauce while it simmers. Once prepared, the dish, typically served with rice, is rich and bold, while sweet with hints of spice. And you can always make your yellow curry spicier by adding more chilies.


  • 3 tablespoons Asian fish sauce

  • 2 stalks of fresh lemongrass, 4 inches of the tops reserved, tender inner cores only, thinly sliced crosswise

  • 2 medium shallots, thinly sliced

  • 2 garlic cloves, smashed

  • 1 tablespoon sugar

  • 1 tablespoon curry powder

  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil

  • 1 medium onion, thinly sliced

  • One 13 1/2-ounce can unsweetened coconut milk

  • 4 canned plum tomatoes, drained and chopped

  • 1 1/4 teaspoons turmeric

  • 1/3 cup salted roasted peanuts, chopped

  • Salt

  • Seasoning sachet made with 20 cilantro stems, 1 lime leaf, 1 red Thai chile and the reserved lemongrass tops, tied with string


  1. In a food processor, combine fish sauce with sliced lemongrass, shallots, garlic, sugar and curry powder; process to a fine paste.

  2. In a medium saucepan, heat oil. Add onion and cook over moderately low heat until softened and starting to brown, about 7 minutes. Stir in coconut milk, tomatoes, turmeric and spice paste and bring to a boil. Add seasoning sachet and simmer over low, stirring occasionally, until sauce thickens enough to coat the back of a spoon, about 15 minutes. Let sauce cool slightly, then remove and discard the sachet.

  3. Transfer sauce to a blender. Add peanuts and blend to a puree, about 2 minutes. Season with salt.

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