I have a personal fondness for Thai dishes, perhaps because they share many similar seasoning techniques with Vietnamese cuisine. Surprisingly, some Thai dishes, like curries, are quite healthy. Despite common myths, curries don’t cause acne or lead to weight gain, even with their spicy ingredients like lemongrass, pepper, chili, and galangal, or their use of coconut oil and coconut milk. On the contrary, these spicy components are beneficial for digestion, and lemongrass is even believed to have cancer-fighting properties. While coconut oil contains saturated fat, it also has antioxidants and can promote heart health when used in moderation. So, are you ready to give curry a try?
Now, there are various ways to make curry, and unfortunately, they can be quite complicated. For a while, I relied on packaged curry powder from Lobo, a Thai brand of seasoning mixes. While the powder was decent, I realized that it’s challenging to find in Vietnam. This led me to venture into making homemade curry paste without relying on the packaged mix. After some research and experimentation, I was amazed by the result. The homemade curry paste surpassed the Lobo mix in terms of freshness and flavor richness. Packaged curry powder can only offer an artificial sweetness, saltiness, and a hint of sour taste. In contrast, homemade curry paste boasts a beautiful blend of fresh, natural ingredients that creates an indescribably fragrant aroma.
Making curry isn’t easy, as it demands a variety of ingredients. The good news is that you can prepare a large batch of curry at once and store it in the fridge without losing its flavors. The recipe I’m sharing today is a simplified version, ensuring it retains the best features of a classic Thai Panang curry.
One final tip: taste the curry as you cook and adjust the recipe according to your preferences. Curry is like a personal piece of art. Its flavors depend significantly on the “artist” – you, the chef in charge. So, feel free to experiment and make it your own!
The Curry Paste
5 grams coriander seeds – toasted until fragrant (or 1 tsp ground coriander) 1/4 tsp (1 – 2 gr) cumin powder 10 grams galangal – thinly sliced 25 grams lemongrass – thinly sliced 5 grams cilantro roots – thoroughly rinsed to clean off dirt 15 grams shallots – peeled and finely chopped 15 grams garlic – peeled and finely chopped 1.5 tbsp peanut butter 1.5 tsp shrimp paste 4 – 5 kaffir lime leaves Dried chili and chili powder (adjust to taste) Pepper seeds or powder 1 – 2 tbsp (5 ml) fish sauce (adjust to taste)
(*) Precise measurement of ingredients is crucial for this recipe as many of the ingredients are strong spices. Even a slight increase, say 2-3 grams, can significantly alter the taste of the entire paste. That’s why all the ingredients are listed in “grams” rather than subjective measurements like 2-3 cloves of garlic.
1.Notes on Ingredients
- Each ingredient listed above plays a vital role in bringing out the authentic flavor of Panang curry. If one or two ingredients are missing, your curry will still be delicious, but it might lack the true essence of Panang curry.
- Traditional Panang curry includes ground roasted peanuts, which contribute to the rich, thick texture and creamy taste of the curry paste. If you can’t find roasted peanuts locally, you can use peanut butter as a substitute. If you have roasted peanuts, remove their skin and blend them into a powder. Add 2-3 tbsp of powdered peanuts to your curry paste.
- To reduce the strong aroma of shrimp paste, you can cover it with banana leaves and grill it for a few minutes. This method not only mellows the smell but also enhances the overall curry flavor.
- While kaffir lime leaves can be replaced with Vietnamese lime leaves, it’s worth noting that this substitution will slightly alter the taste of the curry. If you can find kaffir lime leaves, grating some lime zest into the curry paste will intensify and brighten the flavor.
- The ingredients mentioned above are the ones I used. If dried chilies are unavailable, you can use chili powder as a replacement. However, using dried chilies would likely give the dish a more vibrant red color.
2. Making the Curry Paste
- Combine all the ingredients and blend them together until they form a smooth, well-incorporated paste.
- It is advisable to start by blending or grinding the dry ingredients first until they become finely powdered. Once achieved, you can add the wet ingredients such as peanut butter, shrimp paste, and fish sauce to the mixture.
- If you happen to have a mortar and pestle, using them instead of a food processor is recommended. This method allows the flavors of the ingredients to be fully released and results in a much smoother paste. While a food processor can be used, it tends to take longer to grind the ingredients and may not yield the same satisfying outcome as the traditional mortar and pestle method.
- The curry paste can be stored in a sealed jar in the refrigerator for 1 week or in the freezer. The recipe above yields approximately 3 portions, each sufficient for about 500 grams of meat + 300 grams of veggies.
- Once you have prepared the curry paste, the rest of the recipe is straightforward. Although traditional Panang curry is typically thick and contains only beef without any vegetables, I have come across numerous variations with chicken, seafood, and a variety of veggies. So, feel free to experiment until you find your favorite version of curry.
The Panang Curry
- 300 grams (2/3 lb.) chicken – cut into 2.5 x 2.5 cm pieces
- 200 grams (1/2 lb.) shrimp – peeled and deveined
- 300 – 400 grams (2/3 – 1 lb.) pumpkin (seeds and skin removed) – diced into 2 x 2 cm cubes
- 1/3 portion of the curry paste prepared in part A
- 100 – 150 ml (1/2 cup) coconut milk
- 3 – 4 lime leaves – rinsed thoroughly
- 1/2 – 1 lemongrass stalk – crushed
- 300 – 400 ml (2 cups) chicken stock
- 1/2 tablespoon palm sugar or brown cane sugar (avoid using white sugar)
- Fish sauce or salt – to taste
- Sweet Thai basil
B. PRINTABLE RECIPE
- Prepare the chicken, shrimp, and pumpkin. For this recipe, I use 2 large chicken drumsticks.
Always opt for bone-in chicken as it is not only more economical than chicken fillets, but it also offers better value: you can debone the chicken, use the meat for the recipe, and simmer the bones with grilled onions and ginger to make chicken stock, which adds much more flavor than plain water to the curry or any other recipes.
- In a saucepan, bring the coconut milk to a boil over high heat until it starts to simmer. Add the curry paste and stir thoroughly. Continue boiling for 1-2 more minutes.
High heat is essential to intensify the flavors of the curry ingredients. If the mixture evaporates too quickly and the curry starts to dry out, add more hot water, coconut milk, or coconut oil.
- Add the chicken and mix well to ensure the meat absorbs the seasonings. Maintain the heat at medium-high.
Next, incorporate the shrimp into the mixture and stir well. Once all the ingredients are combined, add hot water or broth until the meat is fully submerged. Add the lime leaves and crushed lemongrass.
Wait until the water starts simmering and remove any unwanted foams. Lower the heat to low and let it cook for an additional 10 minutes. Adjust the sugar and fish sauce to taste.
- 4.Once the meat becomes tender, increase the heat to bring the curry to a boil. Add the diced pumpkin. Reduce the heat to medium and continue cooking for 10 – 15 minutes until the pumpkin becomes soft. Season the curry well before removing the saucepan from the stove.
Serve the curry while hot with rice and sweet basil.
- The chicken and shrimp can be substituted with beef, depending on your preference. Beef requires a longer cooking time. If you choose beef, you can use plain water instead of chicken stock, as beef itself provides a strong flavor.
- Similarly, you can add any types of vegetables you like. Common options include aubergines, carrots, zucchinis, and mushrooms. Be mindful of the cooking time for each vegetable and add them to the curry at an appropriate stage. Adding them too soon will result in overly soft and falling-apart vegetables, while adding them too late may lead to overcooked meat.
- Adjust the amount of coconut milk to achieve your desired level of richness and sweetness.
Have a great time cooking!