This post is the explanation for ingredients. Not the recipe. That will be written sometime later.
Thai curries are popular all over the world! Especially in America, everyone loves eating them. Some people even want to make them at home because of how tasty they are! You can even find many recipes in English! Some even teach how to make curry paste from scratch! But wait…
All those recipes are highly unauthentic! Some of them are nothing like Thai curry! A Thai person would not even recognize it! For example, many green curry paste recipes include Thai basil in the paste, which would never happen in Thailand. And many recipes substitute lemon zest for lemongrass and ginger for galangal, skip many necessary ingredients, making a totally un-Thai curry.
Luckily, if you search hard, you’ll find a yummy recipe that is also really Thai. And that is what I will introduce to you in this post!
Thai curries are called Kaeng in Thai. I don’t know why we call them curries. Perhaps it came from what Americans call “yellow curry”, “kaeng kari” in Thai. But really, these are more like either soups or gravy dishes than curries. (They couldn’t call them soup because we already translated “Tom” as “soup”. A tom is like kaeng but kaeng uses a paste and tom uses whole herbs.) A “curry” is a British invented word to describe Indian cuisine, especially dishes with gravy. They created a blend of various Indian spices called curry powder, which is never used in Indian cuisine. Instead, it is used in Japanese, Malaysian, Vietnamese, and some Cantonese dishes due to British influence. It is especially popular with chicken: chikin karē (Japan), kari ayam (Malaysia), ca ri ga (Vietnamese), ga li ji (Chinese), and of course the British chicken curry. But… this powder is not found in Thai “curries” except some people add it to the kaeng kari. Others just use spices including turmeric. But the Thai curries are barely like the other foods that are actually called curries (or kare, cari, kare, etc.) in their native language.
Anyways, due to the confusing translation of kaeng, we call the pastes used to make them “curry pastes”. Many Americans confuse this with “curry powder” and think they are interchangeable… well they are not related at all. Curry pastes are made from Thai herbs.
So Panang Curry is one type of Thai curry. Thai curries have those that are made in coconut milk (the ones found in America and also Thailand) and those without coconut milk (popular in Thailand but not USA). Panang curry is one of those with coconut milk. It is a very thick sauce containing meat and no vegetables. Some people think it originated in Penang, Malaysia, simply because they are spelled similar. Well, that is wrong and a coincidence. It was actually invented in Thailand.
Kaeng Panaeng is pronounced “kayng puh-nayng”. “Ay” rhymes with “lay”. I used to pronounce it “pah-nahng”, but that is wrong.
To make Panang Curry, one needs Panang Curry Paste. This can be made it home or bought in a can. I strongly recommend you to buy it in a can unless you have Thai food experience, a Vitamix (or a Thai granite mortar and over 1 hour free time plus extremely strong arms and tons of patience) AND several extremely challenging to find Thai herbs, explained below. Even if you can find these, it’s sort of a waste to make unless you cannot eat much spicy chilies or salt. This is because sadly, all the premade curry pastes in cans, packages, or cartons have tons and tons of salt and spiciness except the Americanized Thai Kitchen brand which costs too much and many Thai people don’t find very good. They are actually so salty that I don’t like them, and too spicy to eat too. So, I will explain how to make the curry paste below.
Ingredients Explanation Time!
If not familiar with Thai cooking, making this curry may be confusing. Don’t worry, I’ll guide you through.
First, you need the curry paste, introduced above. For premade, you can use the Mae Ploy brand in big tubs (authentic, extremely spicy, extremely extremely salty), or the Maesri brand in small cans (also very authentic, less spicy than Mae Ploy but more spicy than Thai Kitchen, less salty than Mae Ploy). Both have no preservatives and are natural 🙂
You can also buy red curry paste instead of panang curry paste. They are very similar and you just need to add some easy ingredients to the red one in order to get panang curry paste.
For making yourself, see below.
Second, you need coconut milk. Chaokoh, Mae Ploy, Aroy D are good, in cans. Aroy D has no preservatives but most people like the other two more. Mae Ploy is the best for curries as the oil splits easier. Often, I can’t get oil to split in Chaokoh. This is an important part of curry making, explained in the directions. If you can’t get it to split though, like today for me, it’s fine.
Third, you need palm sugar. I use Dragonfly brand in plastic cylindrical-shaped tub. It’s found at Hawaii supermarket and pure palm sugar, easy to cut with knife, easy to eat like candy (very sweet but yum), and in smaller sized pieces. If you can’t get it, use sugar.
Fourth, you need fish sauce. Don’t use Three Crabs or any Vietnamese brand for Thai cooking. Use the Thai brands. Tiparos is cheapest and favorite of most Thais. There also also other good brands. The one with a scale on it is the best, I forgot its name. Squid brand is okay and used by some Thai people but some Thai people don’t like it much. Use Tiparos for cheapest and good quality.
Fifth, you need Kaffir Lime Leaves (not a good name because in South Africa, kaffir is a rude word towards black people like the n word in USA). These are found in Hawaii supermarket. Most Asian supermarkets call them “lime leaves”. They can be hard to find. Some people find them in the freezer section. Hawaii has them next to the other herbs. They have a very strong fragrance. Actually, I don’t really like too much of it because it overpowers everything so I use very little of it. You can skip it too if you really can’t get it but the flavor is very distinctive and a big part of panang curry. When you buy them, freeze them in a Ziploc because they come in really big packages and nobody can use all of them before they go bad unless you run a restaurant or feed the village in Thailand.
Okay, now if you want to make the curry paste yourself to decrease sodium and spiciness, you need some harder to find ingredients. First, I’ll explain some easier ones.
Dried red chilies. In Thailand, the super extremely spicy Thai chilies with seeds are used and set your mouth on fire. Then, cooking the curry they add EXTRA fresh chilies with seeds generously on top. If I eat this, I will be sent to the hospital in Thailand! So, use mild red chilies to decrease spiciness. I recommend California chilies. I go to a Mexican, Indian, Middle Eastern, and slightly Chinese grocery store. I can not only find Indian spices as crazy as caraway and mace and asafoetida (but no amchur and tej patta!!) but also like 20 something varieties of Mexican chilies. California chilies are not spicy at all. If you use the seeds, they are a LITTLE spicy. But they are very red and make the Thai curry look very vibrant and mouthwatering. To increase spiciness, add an arbol chili (or Thai chili!) to the recipe and to your taste. You can make it once and then adjust to your flavor with more arbol or Thai chilies. Or make it with all arbol chilies (you need a ton in order to get the correct amount of red) or even Thai chilies!!
Garlic. Used in just about every cuisine on earth!
Shallots! Don’t substitute onions. Really, I can get them at Vons (grocery store here in southern CA, everything costs a ton and the only worth it there is the bread, which is unfortuantely extremely high in sodium)! For $2 per shallot, but still.
But these are super easy to find you say? okay then, let’s go on a bit.
Lemongrass is now also found in some non-Asian stores (rarely). To prepare for Thai curries, remove the outer layer and cut off a little from the bottom. Then cut off quite a bit from the top (like half of it!), you can freeze it to make tom yum or tom kha later. Then slice very very thinly diagonally (this takes a while). It is very fibrous. There is no substitute, no matter how many un-Thai websites say to use lemon zest.
Galangal is only found in Asian stores. I recommend the frozen one, you have to freeze the fresh one anyways. The frozen one is also more strongly flavored (very desirable for curry paste) and from Thailand, AND a lot cheaper than the fresh one. If you have to use the fresh one for some reason, you have to freeze it unless you are making curry paste for several villages. FIRST SLICE, THEN FREEZE! Or else you must defrost it every time you use it!
Shrimp paste is found in Asian stores. When you get near it, it smells unpleasant. It is made from krill. They are made into a paste and fermented for a long time. It smells very unpleasant unless you are Southeast Asian. It is to add umami to the paste and is necessary to use. Before using, it is wrapped in a banana leaf (or aluminum foil) and roasted over a flame. The Pantai Norasingh brand is easiest to find but is low quality and MSG. So use that brand that only has Thai writing on it if it is available. Use Pantai if you can’t get the better quality one.
But wait, you can still find these ingredients in Hawaii Supermarket or other store? Okay, then let’s see the next ingredients.
How to obtain. 1. Fly to Thailand. 2. Buy. 3. Return. They will go bad though. And customs will find out. Not possible.
Maybe, 1. Grow cilantro. 2. Take out roots. 3, Laboriously clean. That takes too long. Actually some people do this!
Or, 1. Hope your Asian supermarket has them frozen. 2. Actually find that 1 is true. Buy. But step 2 usually isn’t possible. Unless you go to a Thai supermarket.
Even Hawaii doesn’t have them. They have whole frozen armadillos and raccoons, but no cilantro roots.
Cilantro roots are widely used in many Thai dishes. If you can find, BUY.
Thought Kaffir Lime Leaves were hard to find? Well think again.
You either have to grow a tree and hope it produces fruits, or find them frozen in the Thai supermarket.
But they are only used for their zest, and only a tiny amount. And these are only used in curry paste, rarely in other dishes. So if you can’t find them, just substitute finely chopped kaffir lime leaves and regular lime zest… But still the kaffir lime zest is best if included. I only recommend the substitution if you really just can’t handle the spiciness and/or saltiness of the premade.
Spices: cumin seeds, coriander seeds, white peppercorns (or the powdered versions are fine, preferably roasted cumin and corainder)
Optional, just for panang: peanuts (roasted, or roast yourself in a pan) or peanut butter for the easy version.
Okay, NOW if you can find ALL of those ingredients you can make the curry paste 😀
See the recipe when it is released! 🙂