We’ve always been willing to take a road trip to find more exotic ingredients for recipes. But, for once, the key ingredients were handed over, along with a new “keeper” recipe for Panang Curry.
Mike, an expat Brit at work, was so enthusiastic about his easy, quick, dish that he gave me a can of curry paste, and even harder to find, a bag of fresh kaffir lime leaves.
A few days later my kitchen was floating on the aromas of this Malaysian/Thai hybrid of a curry.
This is not the yellow east Indian curry, although it does have many similar ingredients. It’s a fresher, tangier dish of chicken and vegetables swathed in a light, sweet coconut milk sauce. Of course, being a curry, it can be as hot as you like, depending on how much of the curry paste you scoop into the pot.
Now, if you don’t have someone to hand you the ingredients, you can take your own road trip to Whole Foods, which carries Panang curry paste and fresh kaffir lime leaves. Sure, you can make this dish without the leaves, but it will lack the taste of curries you’ve tried at Thai restaurants. It’s like making Lemon Chicken without the lemon. And Mike assures me that kaffir lime leaves keep well in the freezer for up to three months.
Panang curry made from scratch involves an extensive shopping list – galangal, lemongrass, coriander, cardamom, garlic and dried chiles. The can of curry paste has all of those ingredients in it, so you can skip the hunting and gathering and expense of a laundry list of ingredients that might go bad before you can use them up. Buy the smallest container you can find, because a little of this heat goes a long way. Fish sauce, I’m happy to say, is available in the Asian food aisle of most local grocery stores these days.
Technically, a Panang curry has ground peanuts in it. If you’d like, you can add a tablespoon of chunky peanut butter to the recipe when you add the coconut milk.
Although it sounds exotic, this curry dish is as easy as whipping up a stir-fry, so add the heat, add any vegetables you’d like, substitute thinly sliced flank or strip steak or sliced portabello mushrooms for the chicken and serve over a heap of steaming Jasmine or Basmati rice.
Just a note, leftovers will be a little spicier the next day.
Chicken Panang Curry
Three skinless, boneless chicken breasts, or 4-5 thighs
1 Tbsp. vegetable oil
1 Tbsp. Panang curry paste (For those who can stand the heat, add more. Mike recommends Maesri Panang Curry Paste)
1 13.5-oz can light, unsweetened coconut milk
1/4 cup water
1 tsp. sugar
1 Tbsp. fish sauce
1-1 1/2 cups of vegetables (baby corn, sweet peas, sliced zucchini, snow peas, sliced carrots)
6 kaffir lime leaves, slightly bruised
Cut the chicken into bite-size pieces. Heat the oil over medium-high heat in a large saute pan. Add the curry paste and briefly heat and stir, until it releases its aroma, no more than one minute.
Add the chicken. Stir until meat is coated with paste, then add the coconut milk (and peanut butter, if using), water, sugar and fish sauce. Stir to combine. Add the vegetables and lime leaves. Lower the heat to medium-low and simmer, uncovered, 8-10 minutes.