Homesick curry: Panang Nuea


Chatting with my friend Max on IM tonight got me a little homesick. He is in Thailand at the moment, having a fun time wandering around Bangkok. Reading what he said about Thailand was almost as good as being there, almost.
Kings of Convenience, the Norwegian acoustic duo, playing “Homesick” in the background was not helping the matter…

Everyday there’s a boy in the mirror, asking me what are you doing here….homesick, but I no longer know, where home is…

I suddenly remembered a pot of Panang Nuea that I made last week. There’s a portion in the freezer still. Curries freeze very well, as long as the liquid level is high enough to cover up all the meat, so I often have a portion or two on hand.
Panang Nuea, a type of red curry with beef, was one of my grandfather’s favorite dishes. It is one of only a handful of Thai curries that are supposed to be slightly sweet. Well, you probably didn’t know that, since most Thai curries outside of Thailand are mostly too sweet. At my grandfather’s house, where I grew up, we often had it for lunch.

I have vivid memories of those lazy days sitting at table with my beloved grandfather on the wide, covered patio that ran the length of the house. It was a breezy space under the shadow of two giant mango trees, so it remained cool even on the hottest days of summer. Grandfather, khunta as I called him in Thai, took most of his lunches there.

Panang Nuea was a staple at those lunches, though it was served in a
manner that was slightly different. At khunta’s house, we usually ate Panang with bread instead of rice. Not just any bread, but white
sandwich bread, their crust trimmed, toasted to a crisp perfection,
and cut into dainty triangles. There was also often a type of salad to
accompany the curry, something slightly tangy and not so spicy, as the
curry wasn’t so spicy either, perhaps something like the Yum Polmai
that I wrote about here on the blog a while back. To end the meal, we
would each have a small bowl of Loy Gaew, a dessert soup with pieces of
lychee, rambutan, or longan floating in icy syrup perfumed with jasmine
buds, to cool off not only our body but our palate after the meal. Can you
see now where I got my food obsession?

The Panang was always made by my eldest aunt Chawiwan, from my
grandmother’s recipe. My aunt and I cooked it together the last time I
was in Thailand, and I’ve made it myself a few times since. The curry
is robust, with tender slices of flavorful beef in a thick curry that
was more a sauce than a soup, redolent of lemongrass, lime leaves, and other herbs and spices.

I know that that home, the one I shared so happily with my grandfather,
doesn’t exist anymore, but a mouthful of this leftover curry, reheated and
served simply on top of steamed rice (no sandwich bread around today),
I was transported back to those carefree days, sitting at table with my beloved grandfather, slowly savoring the delicious Panang.

Closing my eyes, I could feel the warm breeze on my face, there was
again the scent of jasmine in the air, and even with the eyes still firmly shut I could see the bright rays of sunlight shivering down through the foliage of the old mango trees. Happiness is but a
taste away.

Panang Nuea, Beef Panang Curry
1 pound of beef, any flavorful cut will do, I use either skirt steak or sirloin, cut into bite size pieces
4-5 heaping tbsp of Panang curry paste
1 can of coconut milk, about 14 fl.oz or 400 g.
1/2 cup of water
fish sauce to taste (start with 3 tbsp and go from there)
1/8 cup ground peanuts (optional)
2 tbsp of palm sugar (granulated sugar will do in a pinch)
a few lime leaves, cut into chiffonade or very very thin strips (for garnish)

1. cook the curry paste in a few tablespoon of the coconut milk, stirring vigorously, until separated
2. add the beef and mix well with the curry, then the rest of ingredients, except the lime leaves
3. let cook at a very low simmer for about an hour or two, or until the liquid reduces by about half into a thick sauce, or until the beef is melting soft, check the seasonings, add more fish sauce or palm sugar as needed.
4. serve with steamed jasmine rice or crispy toasts.

Panang curry paste
15 dried chillies (seeded and soaked in saline water until soft, then patted dry)
5 medium shallots (finely chopped)
10 cloves of garlic (finely chopped)
1/2 tbsp galangal (finely chopped)
1 tbsp lemongrass (finely chopped)
1/2 tbsp lime zest
1 tsp coriandar roots (if you couldn’t find the roots, use the bottom 1cm of the stalk, don’t go much higher than that as they will taste a little too "green")
1tsp salt
1/2 tbsp Thai shrimp paste (Kapi)
1/8 tsp whole cumin
1 tsp whole white pepper
a pinch of clove
a pinch of cinnamon
half a star anise

Pound everything in a mortar, or just use your blender and be done with it. Further instruction on pounding curry paste was previously published here: On the Pounding of Curry Paste.

You could use store bought curry paste, it will be just fine, but if you do so, throw in a few 2-inch pieces of lemongrass (smashed a little) and a handful of lime leaves into the pot with the rest of the ingredients too. The canned paste will appreciate that little added kick. Be sure to fish them all out before serving.

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17 Responses to “Homesick curry: Panang Nuea

  • Non said:
    December 22nd, 2004 at 1:25am

    Thank you, Pim. Excellent post as usual.
    Nothing beats those lazy afternoons underneath a mango tree. I know what I’ll have for dinner tonight. 🙂

  • Elissa said:
    December 22nd, 2004 at 2:29am

    My favorite of your posts: transported me directly to Thailand with all its lovely fruits, pals, breezes.
    & congrats on all your nominations, a fine show.

  • juls said:
    December 22nd, 2004 at 5:03am

    Pim my darling, is there a particular Penang curry paste recipe you’d recommend? I SO want to make this as soon as possible. 🙂

  • jasmine said:
    December 22nd, 2004 at 7:14am

    Hi there! I found your web site thru my sister’s, Mum-mum and I’m so happy that you posted the Panang curry recipe. My husband loves this curry but we never seem to get it right.

  • Pim said:
    December 22nd, 2004 at 9:02am

    dear Juls,
    The recipe you wanted is up now, just added it to the post.

  • Reid said:
    December 23rd, 2004 at 12:18am

    Hi Pim,
    I love Thai curries and was wondering if you would recommend any Thai cookbooks in particular. I’ve tried several of your recipes already and they’ve been wonderful. =)

  • plumpernickel said:
    December 23rd, 2004 at 2:30am

    Hi! I think this is the first time I’m commenting here. I tried out your chilli paste stir fry (Gai Pad Nam-prik Pao) with shrimps few days back and it was a treat. I love thai food and your recipes turn out really well. Thank you.

  • Matthew said:
    December 24th, 2004 at 1:10am

    yum. looking forward to trying this out. Will try my first curry paste when i get a new mortar and pestle. Have a great christmas.

  • MrsT said:
    December 24th, 2004 at 2:58pm

    Lovely story.. 🙂 Merry Christmas.. to you and yours. 🙂

  • Charlene said:
    January 26th, 2006 at 1:11pm

    Hi Pim,
    When in Thailand last year, I learned how to make Panang Neua, but not panang curry paste, and when I returned home, I despaired of ever making it again.
    Then I found your recipe. I made it for a dinner party recently, and it’s delicious. What depth of flavor (cumin? cloves? star anise? who knew? not me!) and what delightful brightness from lemongrass and galangal.
    Many, many thanks!

  • Paul said:
    March 13th, 2006 at 7:55am

    Hi Pim.
    I only discovered Thai cuisine about a year ago….unfortuneately, I’ve been addicted ever since. :o)
    I found your recipe for panang (my favorite dish) after several unsuccessfull attempts with other recipes.
    Anyway…Yesterday I headed out and bought a big granite mortar and pestle and all the ingredients you listed.
    Found a grocery in chinatown (Ottawa) that had everything that I couldn’t get at the supermarket. the recipe is fantastic….closest I’ve gotten to my favorite Thai restaurant…..
    I’ve got a ton of leftovers now.
    Couple comments though….
    1) 1/2 a star anise isn’t much when it comes in a pack of 50000. LOL
    2) Did you mean 3 tsp of fish sauce? I figure you either meant tsp insted of tbsp, OR you like your food VERY salty, OR your fish sauce is way less salty than mine.
    Next time I’ll start with 1 tbsp and adjust up….hard to get it out once it’s in there.
    3) shrimp paste…whooeee..smelly stuff…smells like the shrimp treats I feed my cat :o)
    I wrapped the piece of paste in a flat packet of tin foil and put it in my regular toaster for a couple cycles….didn’t want to fire up my big gas oven for that….and don’t have a toaster oven….it worked well….just hope my toast doesn’t taste like shrimp now…..the paste is yucky by itself, but blends really nicely in the sauce.
    Thanks again…I’ll definately be making this one regularly.

  • sally said:
    March 17th, 2006 at 5:03pm

    Him, Pim
    Do you have a recipe for red curry peanut sauce? I am dying to make it. Thanks

  • Mat said:
    August 20th, 2006 at 10:11pm

    I used a different recipe for the preparation but I used your paste…
    Hot damn that was good

  • trisha said:
    October 7th, 2006 at 1:29pm

    i was wondering, my husband talks about this red curry chicken panang that is cooked with noodles, i cant find anything recipie wise that is like that, do u know what he is talking abotu??

  • Sha Anderson said:
    October 3rd, 2008 at 2:55pm

    Hi Pim!
    I absolutely love your Panang Nuea recipe – it looks good too! Coming from Singapore where all we know is glorious food, I know how special this recipe is to you. I do get homesick too now that I live in Australia with my husband and 2 kids – I would cook some Singaporean dishes too when that happens. Anyway, do drop by my site and feel free to email me. Keep up with the fabulous work! Bisous xoxo.

  • Adelina said:
    August 31st, 2009 at 6:09am

    Hi Pim –
    I just tried this recipe last night! The recipe is very simple, however, I was stupid enough to seed the red chilies (about 25 of them – I doubled your recipe to make 2 lbs. of beef) without protective gloves. I didn’t have any around so yes, I was asking for troubles! Within an hour or so later, my hands were Burning, Badly!!! My boyfriend had to go to a local pharmacy store to get me a cream almost around midnight, but that didn’t help a bit! That was an experience I will never ever ever want to revisit! Next time, I’ll definitely have to look for red chilies that are already seeded!
    Was all that suffering worth the tastiness of this dish? I think so! My boyfriend loves Beef Panang and that is the one dish he always orders whenever we goes to a local Thai Cafe. Hence, when I first got to know your web site, this was one of the recipes I looked for!
    The curry turned out very rich, tasty and full of flavor! I probably will have to use 10 red chilies next time per every pound of beef! The curry was very hot, for us, anyway! I had some fresh curry leaves on hand so I threw those in and I did enjoy the fragrant very much, but not sure if that is something you do for this dish?
    I also love how simple it was to put everything together, but I definitely learn my lesson well as to never EVER EVER seed a chili without a protective glove!
    Pim, thanks a million for sharing your tips, suggestions and recipes!

  • Ninette said:
    April 2nd, 2014 at 4:11am

    cud u pls give me the print for your aunts nam prik pao if i dont try it how can i comment on it ?

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