Thai Panang Curry, Panang Gai


Panang Curry

When we lived in Japan, I met a wonderful Thai woman. She was married to an American, but would frequently travel to Thailand, not only to visit family, but to take classes. She wanted to become a chef of classic Thai cuisine. This is one of the dishes she taught me, with a few variations. The classic recipe would require you to make your own curry base, but using a store-bought paste is a great substitute for a quick meal. 

Now, you probably want to jump right into the recipe, but there are a few things I should share with you if you have never cooked a Thai curry before.

Number one, please be patient. Although this is a quick dish, most of your time will be spent frying curry, and frying curry is lot like watching water boil. Boring. As cooks, we like sprinkling seasonings, flipping vegetables, caramelizing with a hand torch, fun stuff. This is not that kind of dish. All the excitement here is in the eating. And it is so very worth it.

Secondly, DO NOT SHAKE THE COCONUT MILK! You will need the thick cream that has collected at the top of the can. When you open your can, you will see something the consistency of lard. This beautiful white paste is your cream, the fat you will use to fry your curry paste, (underneath is the coconut milk).

Thirdly, use fresh lime leaves. You will find lots of substitutes, but they are not worth your money. If you can't find fresh leaves, don't make this dish. It's that important. If there are no Thai markets in your area, Whole Foods is always a good bet.

INGREDIENTS
2 cans coconut milk
4 Tablespoons Panang curry paste
1 Tablespoon chunky peanut butter
2 cups thinly sliced chicken (but you can use beef or pork as well)
2 cups assorted vegetables, just use your favorite
1/2 cup water
4 kaffir lime leaves
fish sauce and palm sugar to taste

INSTRUCTIONS

1. Scooping out a large tablespoon of the cream, place it in a pan over medium heat, stirring until it starts to boil and separate. (What you are doing is boiling the coconut water out of the cream.)

2. When it has begun to separate, add your curry paste and continue to fry. (Frying curry paste is not unlike frying garlic. The paste is a mixture of raw ingredients that need to be cooked in order to intensify their flavors. Frying the paste takes between 5 and 15 minutes and is the most important step in cooking curry. Do not rush it. As Americans we are not used to cooking our sauces past the point of separation, but that is exactly what you want here. Not only does it make a more flavorful dish, but in Thailand, this color variegation is the ideal.) 
(the interesting shadow is my spatula, resting on the lip of the pan)

3. Add your meat slices, coating them in the sauce and simmering for an additional few minutes.

4. Add your vegetables, water and remaining cream. The fish sauce (the salt) and palm sugar.

5. When the meat is tender, your vegetables, slightly firm, add the kaffir lime leaves.


6. Serve in a bowl with a scoop of jasmine rice and an extra lime leaf.

This is my preferred brand of paste, but by no means the best.

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