Thai cooking made simple: Panaeng Curry

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Since it is phonetically transcribed from Thai, the name of this dish is written in many different ways: Panaeng, Phanaeng, Panang, Penang, Peneng, Penaeng. They all refer to the same dish: A coconut milk based dry curry, with a hint of peanuts. It can be prepared with pork, beef, chicken, duck, large shrimps or tofu for the vegetarians. I prefer the pork or beef version, since those seem to team best with the taste of the curry. Compared to other Thai curries, Panaeng curry is rather mild, one of the reasons most people like this curry so much.

The preparation itself is actually quite simple and does not take very long at all. You spend most of your time shopping for the right ingredients and chopping the ingredients up.

If you have an Asian supermarket or Toko in the neighbourhood, buy your Thai ingredients there, instead of your regular supermarket. Most supermarkets stock a range of Asian ingredients, but the quality is mediocre and the price a lot higher. But still a good alternative if a specialized store is too far away.

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Ingredients (for 2-3 pers.):

  • 200 ml of coconut milk
  • 2 tablespoons of Panaeng curry paste
  • 2 tablespoons of fish sauce
  • 2 tablespoons of palm sugar ( or white or brown sugar)
  • 6 kafir lime leaves

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  • 1 tablespoon of stir-fry oil (sunflower, rapeseed or soy-bean oil)
  • 400 gr pork or beef loin, cut into strips
  • one red bell pepper
  • one onion
  • a handful of peanuts, roasted and chopped

About the Thai ingredients:

Panaeng curry paste is a thick orange paste, sold in a bag, a cup or a jar. After opening it can be stored for several months in a closed container in the refrigerator. The curry paste can be made at home, but even most Thais buy it in the store. The curry paste is made of onions, peppers, coriander, garlic, kafir lime, lemon grass and shrimp paste. This explains the rich taste of the dish.

Coconut milk: coconut milk for cooking is what we would describe as coconut cream. It is not the watery coconut milk found in the coconut, but a thick cream made of the coconut flesh. It has the texture of a thick cream as well as its high calorie count. It softens the spiciness of the curry paste.

Fish sauce is a basic ingredient of all Thai food. It takes the place of salt but cannot not simply be replaced by salt. They sell it in small bottles and it can be kept for many months in the refrigerator after opening. You can use it in all your other wok dishes instead of salt.

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Thais often replace sugar with palm sugar. But you can just as well use regular sugar, the taste will be the same.

One ingredient that cannot be replaced are the kafir lime leaves. Fresh they are often sold in a large pack and do not keep very long. Most Asian supermarkets also sell them deep frozen, which is a great alternative. You can keep them in the freezer like for ever, and just take out a few leaves when needed. They defrost immediately, and then release this most wonderful citrus smell! It is these kinds of herbs that make Thai food so wonderful! Do not buy the dried version, those have lost all of their aroma and colour .

Since all Thai ingredients can be kept for a long time, you just have to pass by the Asian store once or twice a year! One more good reason to get your ass over there. And it will feel like travelling abroad without having to book a flight.

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All other ingredients can be found in your regular supermarket. You can buy pre roasted peanuts, but since those are often salted too, I usually roast them myself. (And it is a lot cheaper). Just toss the peeled peanuts in a non-stick pan over a high heat, and stay with it. It takes a while before the peanuts colour, but once they do, you better take them of the heat immediately because they burn just as quickly. Do not touch them if you do not want to burn your fingers. Let them cool of on a plate. Once cooled, you can chop them in a mortar or an electric grinder. Make sure not too grind them to dust. (You can use the same technique to roast other nuts like pine nuts or cashew nuts, great addition to salads in summer!)

For the fresh ingredients:

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Peel the onion and cut it in to strips, peel the bell pepper with a vegetable peeler and also cut it in to strips. Cut the meat in to bit size strips. Cut the kafir lime leaves in to very fine strips.

Take 200 ml of coconut cream and mix it together with two tablespoons of fish sauce.

Now you are ready to prepare the dish. Cook white (jasmin) rice to serve with the curry. The Panaeng curry only takes about 10 minutes to prepare!

Take a large wok pan, skillet or frying pan, whatever you have available at home. Pour the cooking oil in the pan, turn up the heat and add two tablespoons of Panaeng curry paste. Sautée the curry paste, making sure not to burn it. It is perfectly normal if the oil separates from the curry paste. Then add the meat strips and let them fry a bit in the curry paste. Add the coconut mixture, and stir until the curry paste is dissolved in the coconut sauce. Then add the onion and bell pepper strips, sugar, and half of the peanuts and lime leaves. Let it all cook on a lowered heat until the meat is done, while stirring regularly. This only takes about 5 minutes.

Pour the (wonderfully smelling) curry in a serving bowl and top with the rest of the peanuts, lime leaves and some coconut cream. Serve with cooked white Thai rice.

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(If the curry is too spicy to your taste you can add more sugar, or reduce the amount of curry paste. But if you put too little curry paste you will  lose a lot of the flavour!)

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One advice. If you would ever invite Thai friends at home, do not cook Thai food! Cook something else; a family recipe or a typical regional dish. Thai people are notoriously critical when it comes to their National dishes, especially when prepared by non-Thais! (I speak from experience)

 

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