Panang curries are a specific type of coconut milk-based Thai curry. They’re usually a bit milder than the red and green curries you find in Thai restaurants, but with a more rich, sweet, nutty flavour and a distinctive smokey orange-red colour.
In this recipe, you’ll be using beef (“nuer” means “beef” in the transliterated Thai), or steak to be precise. Here’s great thing about a lot of non-Western preparations: while they may use meat, it’s often much less than Westerners would normally prepare for themselves. This recipe will serve 3-4 people with a single small-sized steak.
You can shortcut this recipe by skipping the peanut-roasting step, but I find it adds a very nice smokey undertone to the sauce. It’s worth it.
Re: Lime leaves. You can find dried lime leaves in the spice aisle of many large grocery stores. To get them ready for this curry, you will have to soak them in warm water for 20 minutes or so. If you really want to make your curry sing though, you need to get fresh lime leaves. These are more difficult to find, and will probably be found in stores that carry large amounts of fresh herbs. My source is one of the produce shops on the bottom level of the St. Lawrence Market, next to the rice shop. If you have the chance, get a packet of these leaves (costs about 2 dollars). You can put them in a zip-loc and freeze them to preserve them. Frozen lime leaves (and fresh herbs in general) will go limp when thawed, but will retain all of their fresh flavours. If both fresh and dried lime leaves cannot be found, you can substitute the zest of a lime, or 1 tbsp of lime juice for the 2 leaves asked for here.
- 300g flank steak
- 2 lime leaves, sliced thinly
- 2 cups of coconut milk (use a high-cream content brand. I use Aroy-D, or gold-label Rooster. Compare the health info from each brand and find the one with the highest calories per serving. Seriously.)
- 2-3 tbsp red curry paste (I use Maesri brand when I can, but the Thai Kitchen stuff from Sobeys or wherever is fine, too)
- 1 tbsp fish sauce
- 2 tbsp unsalted peanuts
- 1 tbsp brown sugar (or palm sugar, preferably)
- a handful of fresh Thai Basil (or just normal basil) leaves, for garnishing
Serve with: steamed jasmine rice
Things you will need: large knife and cutting board, wok or stir-fry pot, small frying pan (for peanut roasting), measuring cups and spoons, serving bowl, patience.
- Slice the steak across the width to make strips about 1/4 inch thick. Your knife is sharp, right? If this is a bitch, throw the steak, wrapped, in the freezer for 20 minutes. A cold steak is easier to slice thin.
- Heat a small pan to medium heat, add and roast the peanuts slowly (you don’t need to add oil or anything – this is “dry roasting”). This will take 10 minutes, but keep an eye on them. Stir them to make sure they roast on both sides. When most of them are shiny (heat releases the oil from the nut) and have dark brown marks on them, they are done. Pour them into a small bowl and when they are cool enough to handle, chop them finely.
- Measure out the ingredients beforehand if you can, or arrange the ingredients near the wok for easy access to them. I have a stack of small super-cheap plastic japanese-style soup bowls that use for preparing measured ingredients ahead of time and keeping them ready to use instantly.
- Pour half of the coconut milk into the wok, and heat to medium heat (about 4 on the dial for me)
- Once the milk is warm, add the curry paste. Use the wooden spoon to break up the paste and mix it into the milk. Cook the paste for about 5 minutes (the milk may start bubbling by the end).
- Add the fish sauce and stir.
- Add the remaining coconut milk and the beef slices and stir for one minute.
- Add the peanuts, lime leaves, and sugar. Turn the heat up to medium-high (6 on my dial).
- This is the point where, if you’re using a rice cooker to cook your rice, you should press the start button.
- At this point the curry will begin bubbling rapidly. What you want to do is reduce the coconut milk to a thick sauce. By allowing the coconut milk to boil, steam (water) escapes and the sauce slowly gets drier. Not actually “dry”, but less watery and more saucey. This process will take a different amount of time, depending on how hot your wok is. It could be 10 minutes, it could be 20. But it will be “done” when the sauce is about the consistency of cream soup. If you give up before it gets to this point, the sauce will be weak and watery. So keep going. This shit is smelling really good by now, too, which will make you impatient. Hold on.
- Once the curry is thickened, reduce the heat to low (1 on the dial) and let it sit for 3-4 minutes while you prepare the serving plates/bowls, etc.
- Spoon the curry into serving bowls, and garnish with some fresh basil leaves.
That’s it. In my experience, the reduction part of the recipe is the only part that’s tricky. Unfortunately it’s also the absolute key to making this meal mind-blowing. Seriously – most people that I’ve served this to pretty much go nuts for it. Then when I try to tell them how easy it is to make, they start saying “oh, yeah right… it’s probably way hard” etc. It’s not hard. It just requires a bit of patience and some attention. The rewards are very great.