Panang curry. Rich. A bit sweet. Spicy. A great mix of south east asian flavours. It’s the Thai curry you should be making.
Never heard of panang curry? This is a dish you need to learn about. It’s on the menus at most every Thai restaurant. And yet everybody wants the red curry. Or maybe the green. There’s lots more to Thai cuisine.
If you have heard of it, this is how I was taught to cook it. By a little Thai lady who’s name I forgot 10 years ago. OK. It was closer to 20. But she had cred. Unlocked Thai cooking for me. No canned curry paste here.
She called it kaeng phanaeng neua but it’s panang curry. One and the same. Kaeng phanaeng neua doesn’t roll off the tongue quite the same way. And FYI, auto-correct will fight you the whole way. Try it.
Not that those little cans of Maesri curry paste are a bad thing. There’s even a panang curry version. Grab a can, some coconut milk and some chicken and you’ve got a pretty good Thai curry right there. If you are just getting into cooking Thai, that’s actually a very respectable start. I do that sometimes.
Curry paste from scratch makes a big difference
But if you want to dig in a little deeper. If you want to make panang curry that didn’t come from a can. If you want your friends to say your panang curry is better than the local hot Thai restaurant. Then this is how you do it. It’s not hard.
It will take a trip to an Asian grocer though. But then you probably had to go to the Asian grocer to get decent panang curry paste. So grab a few different ingredients instead and have at it.
Your shopping list for panang curry isn’t that long. But it may seem a bit odd.
Galangal. That’s a root not unlike ginger. But not like ginger either. It’s important. Ginger is not a good substitute. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.
Shrimp paste and fish sauce. They don’t sound tasty. They don’t smell all that good either. I know. But get over it. Mix them in and something great happens. Fish sauce makes everything taste better. Counter-intuitive. But true. Within reason. Fish sauce ice cream not so good. Actually, I’ve never tried it so I shouldn’t judge.
Thai basil is not the same as regular basil. Similar but different. More intense. And it seems to hold up better when cooked. I would leave it out if you can’t get it. Better different than just wrong.
Kaffir lime leaves. That’s the taste. The one you don’t know where it comes from. But it’s there. Always there. Whenever you have Thai. You’ll know what I’m talking about when you smell them. Trust me.
Kaffir lime leaf does make phenomenal ice cream. I have tried that. It’s amazing. If you ever see it, grab it.
Lemongrass you can probably get anywhere. Same with coconut milk. Coriander with the roots intact is hit or miss. So grab it when you see it. These are all going to be less expensive at the Asian grocer anyway.
Whole red chilies. That’s the heart of this recipe. And the heat. Hotter chilies means hotter curry. Shocking. I know.
I use kashmiri chilies from the Indian grocer. Way milder than those super mean little Thai chilies. Sometimes I go with a mix of the two. But I like the kashmiri chilies best. Because I can add more. Deeper flavour. Not just hot. Tasty and hot. That’s the balance I look for.
Once you have the ingredients it’s smooth sailing
Once you have this crazy list of ingredients together, cooking it is easy. Whiz up some curry paste. Fry it off. Add the coconut milk, chicken and kaffir lime leaves. Simmer. Finish it off with the fish sauce and sugar. A bit of Thai basil.
That’s all there is too it. Not hard. Pretty easy in fact. Panang curry. Kaeng phanaeng neua. Demystified. In case it was keeping you up at night.
Seriously though, it’s a Thai curry you should get to know. It’s worth the trip to the Asian market. Try it sometime. Or order it next time you go out for Thai. Do yourself a favour. Try it.
Panang curry is the Thai curry you should be making. Seriously tasty stuff.
- 5 whole dried chilies - your curry will be as hot as the chilies you choose.
- 3 small shallots - coarsely chopped
- 2 cloves garlic
- 1 tbsp galangal - diced
- 1 tbsp lemongrass - inner shoots only, fairly finely chopped
- 1 tbsp cilantro roots - coriander root
- 1 tsp black pepper - I use butcher's grind. It's medium coarse. If you are using fine black pepper drop this to 1/2 tsp
- 1 tsp salt
- 1 tsp shrimp paste
- enough coconut milk to puree
- 1 tbsp neutral vegetable oil
- all the curry paste
- 1 14 oz can coconut milk (less the coconut milk you used to puree the paste)
- 3-4 chicken thighs - boneless, skinless and cut into big bite sized pieces
- 1 tbsp fish sauce
- 1 tbsp brown sugar - palm, jaggery or plain old brown sugar will do
- 4-5 kaffir lime leaves 3 whole plus 2 for garnish
- 1 cup thai basil leaves - in all
- red chilies to garnish
Remove the stems from the chilies. Break the chilies into pieces. Cover with hot water and soak for 30 minutes.
Combine all the panang curry paste ingredients including the rehydrated chilies in a blender. A mini food processor works well for this if you have one. Add a couple tablespoons of coconut milk and puree. If it doesn't puree add a bit more coconut milk. Sneak up on the minimum coconut milk you need to make it puree.
You are trying to puree some pretty hard ingredients. Galangal in particular. This takes a bit of scraping back into the bowl and more time. Be patient. Remember, they used to do this with a mortar and pestle so we have it easy.
Heat a wok or skillet over medium heat. Add the oil.
Fry all the curry paste for about 2 minutes. Regulate the heat so it doesn't burn.
Add the coconut milk and 3 whole lime leaves.
Bring to a boil and add the chicken. Cook until the chicken is just done. This takes about 10-12 minutes.
You can use an instant read thermometer to check that you've hit 175F (best). Or cut a piece and sneak a peek (not bad). Or guess and hope you don't kill everyone (not so good). If you haven't killed anyone yet, you probably won't this time. But it is a really good idea to start using an instant read thermometer in general. The pros do. You should too.
Add the fish sauce and sugar and stir to combine. Remove from heat. Stir in most of the basil. Keep a bit for garnish.
Serve with jasmine rice or rice noodles. Garnish with the remaining Thai basil, julienned lime leaves and red chilies if desired.
Apparently it also goes with spaghetti. Haven't tried that yet myself...