Food & Drink

My Favorite Panang Curry Recipe – Easy & Delicious!

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Homemade Panang curry in a bowl.

I’m not sure why it took a backpacking trip through North and South Thailand to get me hooked on Thai food, but it certainly did the trick. My favorite food for the past decade is Thai, and I’m especially partial to authentic Thai curries, particularly the Panang curry.

Note that I say authentic. It’s not all that easy finding good-tasting, authentic Thai food—much less Thai curries. For this reason, I bring you my version of the famous Panang curry. It took lots of trial and error, but I think I’ve created the best, most authentic Panang curry recipe you’ll find outside of Thailand.

This recipe features ingredients not typically found at supermarket chains, so you’ll have to visit your local Asian market. I also provide a quick and easy version using Trader Joe’s Thai Red Curry sauce.

My Panang Curry Recipe

Panang curry (or Penang curry) is my favorite of the common Thai curries (red, green, yellow, brown). Panang curry is often made as a vegetarian curry (substituting tofu for meat).

  • Servings: 2-3 People
  • Prep Time: 15 Minutes
  • Cook Time: 30 Minutes
  • Total Time: 45 Minutes

Panang Curry vs Red Curry

Note that Panang curry is not red curry. Panang, when made according to Thai tradition, is made using the cream of coconut milk and provides a thicker, pastier curry than the red curry, which is more of a soup curry. Furthermore, Panang curry is fried in coconut milk, as opposed to red curry, which is boiled. However, making a soup version of this curry (my favorite) is possible.

This Panang curry recipe makes two large servings. You’ll usually have some leftovers, so this recipe could also be enough for three people.

How To Make A Delicious Panang Curry Paste

To begin, you must start by making the curry paste. This recipe features a few ingredients that aren’t typically found at supermarket chains but can be found at your local Asian market:

A person holding a bag of dried galangal.
I used dried galangal as a substitute for fresh galangal. To rehydrate, soak the dried galangal in warm water for around 20 minutes.

Galangal roots, also known as Siamese ginger, are longer and woodier than common ginger. This ingredient is often used in curry pastes. It has a peppery, pine, and citrus flavor much more potent than common ginger.

A person holding a bag of dried kaffir lime leaves.
Kaffir lime leaves are absolutely key for the taste of this recipe. If you can’t find fresh leaves, purchase dried kaffir leaves as a substitute.

Kaffir lime is a fruit that looks like a lemon but has a much rougher skin. The flesh is bitter and contains almost no juice. The rind and leaves are often used in curries and soups.

Shopping for lemongrass at an Asian market.
You can find lemongrass at any Asian food market.

Culinary lemongrass has long, thick green leaves and yellow-white stems. Lemongrass offers a citrus flavor without the acidity. It also aids digestion.

Panang Curry Paste Ingredients

Panang Curry Paste Preparation

Ingredients for Panang curry on a cutting board.
Traditionally, you would make curry paste using a mortar and pestle. But, honestly, that’s a lot of work. I like to use my Vitamix blender instead.

I add the the ingredients for the curry paste into a mortar and pound with a pestle until everything is ground and mixed thoroughly. You can also mix it all in a food processor or blender.

Panang Curry Ingredients

Sweet basil leaves up close.
You can easily recognize Thai sweet basil thanks to its purple stems.

You’ll recognize most of the ingredients below, but I want to note that you should purchase Thai sweet basil—not the more familiar Italian sweet basil. Thai sweet basil has small, deep green leaves with a purple stem. The leaves are much sturdier, so they hold up better during cooking.

You can use any protein for this dish, including chicken, pork, or shrimp. I like to use extra firm tofu sautéed in a couple tablespoons of olive or canola oil until browned (it is essential to brown the tofu before you add it to the curry).

Alternatively, you can use a cup of sliced eggplant or other vegetables like cauliflower, broccoli, or potato.

2 cans of Chaudoc coconut milk on counter.
I love the Chaudoc coconut milk, which is a product of Thailand.

Other Ingredients

Shopping for sweet basil leaves at an Asian market.
Visit your local Asian market for Thai sweet basil.

Making Your Panang Curry

1. Making The Rice

A bag of Lundberg Thai Hom Mali instant Jasmine rice bag.
You can use any type of rice for this recipe, including instant rice. I like Lundberg brand, which makes both standard and instant rice. All rice—no matter the brand—naturally contains arsenic, which is a toxin. Levels are dependent on the type of rice and where the rice is grown. Lundberg tests for arsenic in its rice to ensure lower levels. You can even find their published test results online.

There are so many ways to prepare rice. When in doubt, follow the instructions on the packaging.

For a quick and easy way to boil rice, combine 2 cups rice, 4 cups water, 1 tsp. salt, and 2 tsp. butter in a microwave-safe container with a lid. There are many microwave rice cookers available on the market now. I use a Pampered Chef vegetable steamer.

Microwave on high temperature for 5 minutes, and then on medium for 15 minutes. Note that the cooking time applies specifically to the portions. If you use less or more rice, you’ll need to adjust the cooking time accordingly. If you’re unsure of the ratios to use, make two or more batches. Too much is better than not enough.

If you’re boiling your rice on the stove, pour the whole mixture into a pot, bring it to a boil, cover, and then simmer for around 20 minutes on low to medium heat.

2. Making The Curry Sauce

Coconut milk simmering in a pot.
I prefer my curry more soupy than your standard Panang curry.

Mix the coconut milk, curry paste, sugar, and fish sauce (or soy sauce) in a pot, bring to a boil, and let it boil for 5 minutes. Next, add your meat or pre-cooked tofu, peas, and kaffir lime leaves. Simmer for an additional ten minutes.

Before you remove from heat, ensure the meat or seafood is fully cooked. Take the thickest piece, cut it in half, and verify that it’s cooked all the way through. As I used tofu, this wasn’t a concern for me.

If you’ve boiled down your curry too much— you’ll know if it’s too thick, salty, and concentrated—add some water to thin it out.

3. Serving The Curry

A bowl of Panang curry on a counter.
Sriracha is a staple in my house. Add it to your curry for an additional flavor punch.

My favorite way to prepare this dish is to fill a bowl halfway with rice and then top with curry.

For a more traditional approach, stuff all the rice in a small bowl, then turn the bowl upside down on a plate and tap it until the rice ball falls out (this is an easy way to make a fancy-looking rice ball, like the ones you’re served in Thai restaurants). Next, pour a good portion of curry into a medium-sized bowl, place it next to the rice ball, and serve.

Garnish with Thai sweet basil leaves and a lime wedge (or lime juice), and serve.

Printable Recipe

Here is a recipe card PDF version to download and print.

Panang curry recipe ingredients and serve time infographic.

Nutrition Facts

This is the nutritional information per serving for Panang curry sauce as I make it. It omits the shrimp paste and uses soy sauce instead of fish sauce.

  • Calories: 868kcal
  • Total Fat: 81g
  • Saturated Fat: 61g
  • Polyunsaturated Fat: 2g
  • Monounsatured Fat: 3g
  • Trans Fat: 0g
  • Carbohydrates: 30g
  • Fiber: 2g
  • Sugar: 25g
  • Protein: 12g
  • Sodium: 1,788mg
  • Potassium: 159mg

This recipe is also a source of vitamin A, vitamin C, calcium, and iron.

5 Curry Variations (For Dietary Restrictions)

The customization of Panang curry is limitless. Here are a few ways you can adapt this recipe for special diets or flavor preferences:

  1. Vegetarian and vegan diets: Skip the shrimp paste and substitute soy sauce for fish sauce when making the curry. Add extra vegetables or tofu instead of meat.
  2. Gluten-free diet: Rice is naturally gluten-free, so if you have celiac disease or gluten sensitivity, this dish is safe to eat. That said, rice can come in contact with gluten-containing grains during the growing, harvesting, and manufacturing process. To be extra cautious, ensure the rice you buy is labeled or certified gluten-free. Soy sauce also contains gluten, so steer clear of this ingredient.
  3. Skip the rice: If you’re avoiding grains, use spaghetti squash or zucchini noodles instead.
  4. Add more veggies: Add additional veggies or mushrooms to this recipe for a nutritional boost. Try peppers, zucchini, spinach, bamboo shoots, or mung bean sprouts.
  5. Add heat: The spiciness of your Panang curry will vary significantly based on the type and amount of curry paste you use. This recipe has a very mild flavor. If you want more heat, consider adding Sriracha or chili crisp at the end of cooing.

Easy (Ready-Made) Panang Curry Recipe

If you’re in a hurry or have yet to get the above Thai red curry recipe to taste like you want, there’s a shortcut. This will taste different from the authentic red curry you’ll get in Thailand, and it uses somewhat different ingredients. But it’s super quick, relatively healthy, and delicious. The secret? Trader Joe’s Thai Red Curry Sauce (an 11 oz. bottle in the Asian/sauce section of Trader Joe’s).

Trader Joe’s Thai Red Curry Sauce Ingredients

Are you curious as to what is in TJ’s red curry sauce and how closely it resembles the ingredients in our Panang curry paste? The ingredients are as follows: Water, Dried Coconut Milk (Coconut Milk, Maltodextrin, Sodium Caseinate [Milk]), Red Chili Pepper Puree (Red Jalapeno Peppers, Red Anaheim Peppers, Citric Acid [Acidifier]), Onion Puree (Onion, Citric Acid [Acidifier]), Garlic Puree (Garlic, Citric Acid [Acidifier]), Sugar, Canola Oil, Salt, Cornstarch, Spices, Ginger Puree (Ginger, Citric Acid [Acidifier[), Yeast Extract, Onion Poder, Egg Yolks, Citric Acid (Acidifier), Natural Flavors, Xanthan Gum.

Making Panang Curry with Trader Joe’s Thai Red Curry Sauce

Your job is even easier if you take the express route and make your Panang curry recipe with Trader Joe’s red curry sauce. Simply bring the red curry sauce to a simmer over medium heat, then add your meat, seafood, or pre-cooked tofu (optional) and your peas and kaffir leaves, and simmer until the meat is cooked. You can add carrots (peeled and sliced), potatoes (peeled and sliced), or other vegetables you think would work well in this curry recipe. Then, serve as described above.

Visit Thailand And Eat The Real Deal!

Are you ready to try Panang curry straight from the original source? View our picks for best travel websites to book the trip of a lifetime.

What do you think of this recipe? Let us know in the comments!

Why Trust Safe Smart Living?

The team at Safe Smart Living takes their Thai food very seriously. Our team has three people who have spent time in Thailand. Alex took a backpacking trip through North and South Thailand, and Tara and Kimberly spent five months studying abroad in Chiang Mai, Thailand. We happily taste-tested this recipe to ensure quality and reader satisfaction.

Tara Maurer

Since joining the Safe Smart Living team, Tara has covered topics ranging from home security and identity protection to smart travel and educated living. After graduating with a BA in Multimedia Journalism from Simpson College, Tara began work in the wellness industry. In the past seven years, she has personally tested countless supplements and holds a holistic nutrition certification. Tara is passionate about personal safety, especially for women. It’s a sad truth that most women experience harassment while in public spaces during their lifetime, and we must learn tactics to protect ourselves. As a female runner, Tara has tested various safety products, including alarms, pepper sprays, reflective gear, and tracking devices. When not working, you’ll most likely find Tara running, reading the latest fantasy novel, or trying out a new healthy recipe.
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