Panang curry is unlike your typical red or green curry. It’s not like a stew, but a stir-fry, hence the name pad (=stir-fry) panang. I’ve also seen it called gang panang, even though the word gang brings to mind something soupy. Traditionally, it is made with beef, which is generally not a common protein found in Thai cooking. Of course, you can choose the protein of your choice. Flavorwise, panang is generally sweeter and less spicy than red or green curries, so for those of you who can’t tolerate heat, this one is for you. Also, panang should have peanuts in the paste, but I’ve noticed that not all brands include this (the popular Mae Ploy brand doesn't). In that case, you may decide to add in some toasted, ground peanuts to your paste.
Something else you may notice--there is nothing but beef in this dish. In general, Thai curries have very few ingredients, usually just a meat and maybe a vegetable. At some Thai restaurants curries will come jam packed with vegetables. Sometimes I find that annoying because there are too many distracting flavors and textures. Anyhow, if you want to serve this curry with something green, you may try making ajad, which is the cucumber relish often served with fish cakes, satay or massaman curry. Or just serve with sliced fresh vegetables, such as cucumber, tomato and/or sliced carrots.
Lastly, let me touch on the cooking method, because that’s an important factor in the success of this dish. I’ve already discussed the need to fry the curry paste with the coconut cream. If you are unfamiliar with the method, you can read about it in my previous post and see a couple pictures of what it looks like. Of equal importance is the stir-frying bit. Every recipe I’ve come across calls for stir-frying the beef in the curry paste and then adding the coconut milk, allowing it to thicken a bit and adjusting the seasonings. After all the cooking and adjusting, the total cooking time may be 10 minutes or more, which I think is far too long. I have not had much luck stir-frying beef if it has to be in a hot wok for more than about 5 minutes. So here’s my solution: make the curry sauce first, stir-fry the beef and then add the sauce toward the end. Doing it this way allows me to get a good sear on the beef and cuts down the cooking time so the meat won’t overcook.
I know it may seem like a lot of information, but hopefully it has been helpful. Now, on to the recipe!
Adapted from The Food of Thailand (see right sidebar)
Feeds 2 t0 3
- ¾ pound beef, sliced for stir-frying
- 7 kaffir lime leaves (2 will be finely sliced and used for garnishing)
- 5 oz coconut cream + 10 oz can lite coconut milk (NOT TJ's brand!!) or just one can of regular coconut milk, cream and milk separated
- 2 to 3 tbs panang curry paste
- sugar (palm sugar if you can find it), to taste
- fish sauce, to taste
In a large frying pan (nonstick not recommend) over medium heat, cook the coconut cream with the curry paste and kaffir lime leaves until the oil begins to separate out. Stir frequently and watch the heat to prevent burning. When the oil has separated out, the mixture will change in texture and move more as a mass. Be patient, as this may take a few minutes. Then slowly add the coconut milk and stir well. Allow to simmer until thickened slightly. Add sugar and fish sauce to taste. Don’t be too shy about it because the flavor will have to hold up when you add it to the beef. Set the sauce aside until needed. Also, you probably won’t need this entire portion. I think I used only half of it. Freeze the rest to use at another time.
Heat a wok over high heat. When it’s really (really!) hot, add couple tablespoons of oil and swirl to coat. Add the beef and let it sear. This means don’t move it around for 20 to 30 seconds, then move it around only occasionally. When the beef is just about done, drizzle about half of the curry sauce down the sides of the wok. This will further caramelize the sauce, concentrating the flavors. Add more sauce if it seems too dry. Toss the meat in the sauce and quickly taste, adjusting if required. Once the meat is done, remove to a serving dish and garnish with sliced lime leaves.
Serve with steamed jasmine rice.
This is my submission to Weekend Wokking, a blogging event created by Wandering Chopsticks that focuses on a theme ingredient and the different ways to prepare it. This month we’re doing beef and the host is Palachinka. If you want to play along, send your submissions to palachinkablog(at)gmail(dot)com by March 29th.