Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Pad Panang

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!

Pad Panang
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.


Wandering Chopsticks said...

I've never heard of pad panang. Well, I have had penang curry before, but it was really quite thick and yellow? Are they the same thing?

I admit, I like the variety of veggies I get with Thai curries, especially if it's bamboo. :)

Dee said...

WC, same, same :-) my mom always called panang curry pad panang. I've seen it served thick (but not soupy like green or red curry) or fairly dry, which is how I prefer it. It can be yellow to red, depending on the brand of curry paste or whether you make your own curry paste.

I like it with just one type of vegetable, and get annoyed when there's eggplant, bellpepper, potatoes, green beans and broccoli (the worst culprit!) all thrown in. Too many textures. My perfect bowl of curry would be green curry with just meat and Thai eggplant or bamboo shoots.

Manggy said...

Looks delicious-- I'll have to find that specific type of curry paste when I go to Manila, though. I find it hard to believe that beef is uncommon in Thai cooking! O_o (well, you said generally :)

Dee said...

manggy, beef is not nearly as common as pork or even chicken. Massaman curry also uses beef. Oh, and there is Thai beef salad. And I suppose we use it for noodle soups. But really, pork is king.

pam said...

This sounds really good! I don't have panang curry paste though, I'll have to look for some.

Anonymous said...

This is beautiful! The flavors here sound awesome. Beautiful picture too.

Dee said...

Pam, I normally use Mae Ploy brand, but Taste of Thai is also fine and available at any well-stocked supermarket. It comes in packets that's enough for 1 or 2 uses, depending on how spicy you like it.

Noble Pig, thanks for stopping by and for the kind words.

eatingclubvancouver_js said...

This looks fantastic. I haven't actually had the pleasure of ordering panang curry at a restaurant (was always torn between the green and the red curry).

bb said...

I am so doing that...and soon! When doesn't any kind of curry sound good, besides never?! Thanks for the tips on how to avoid overcooking the beef, too. Where in town do you get your Mae Ploy? Man, just reading that makes me hungry!!

Dee said...

js, green curry is my fav but I never order it out because mom always made it better and she taught me how to do it. On the other hand, she didn't make panang at home and it is something that I order out.

bb, there is a little Viet market on Sandy at around 65th that I frequent for the basics. They have all the Mae Ploy curries and 3 or 4 brands of coconut milk. They also have fresher looking herbs than Fubonn or Uwajimaya.

For ingredients from other SE Asian regions, I will hit up Fubonn. They carry Mae Ploy as well as some other brands of pastes.

Paula said...

I had something like this at a restaurant and loved it! My hubby and I love Thai inspired food. I don't make it that often, though, because we live 5 minutes from a Thai restaurant and hubby can pick up carry out on his way home from work. I should give it a try, though, as I bet it smells divine when it cooks! YUM!

Dee said...

Paula, had some girlfriends over tonight and we made this using shrimp and replacing the kaffir lime leaves with Thai sweet basil. It was so delicious!

I used to always run to the local Thai restaurant when I missed mom's home cooking, but now that I've learned to do green curry myself, I can't eat it out anymore. But there's plenty of other stuff I can find to order :-)

Jong Java Revolution said...
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All For Free said...
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Langdon Cook said...

Panang Curry rules! I've always left its preparation to the professionals, but you've inspired me to give it a whirl.

Dee said...

LC, do it a couple of times and you'll be able to do it in your sleep! The key to making a good Thai curry is technique, which is basic here, so all that's left is to follow your taste buds.

Just Cook It said...

Oh, wow. I love penang. Will definitely be trying this out.