Panang Curry Vs Red Curry: What’s The Difference

Written by Luisa Davis on . Posted in food

One of the things that initially surprised me in Thailand is the wide variety of curries that were available. Green, red, yellow, sour, spicy- the list goes on. I never even realized back then that curry can be cooked in so many different ways. 

It’s important to note that Thai curries are vastly different from Indian curry, which is the type of curry that most people are familiar with. Thai curries are more liquid than Indian curry, and the spice component of Thai curries are also more likely to come in the form of pre-made ground paste. Instead of the usual coriander, cumin, turmeric, and cinnamon spices that you can find in Indian curries, Thai curries heavily rely on coriander, lemongrass, chilies, and shrimp paste as base flavorings.

The addition of other ingredients to the curry paste usually determines what classification of curry a dish falls into. For example, green curry’s coloring stems from the green chilies that were used in the curry paste, as well as from the coriander leaves, basil, kaffir lime leaves, and lemongrass that are usually further added to the dish. 

However, there are two kinds of curry that a lot of people seem to have a lot of trouble differentiating from one other: red curry and Panang curry. Panang curry is also colored a deep red too, and have almost the same kind of ingredients as traditional red curry; this is the reason why Panang curry is sometimes considered to be another offshoot or variant of red curry. 

What is Red Curry?

Red curry’s color stems from the red chilies that are used for its curry base. However, there are some chefs who like to substitute some of the chilies for chili powder instead, to give the dish an even deeper color and stronger flavor. It is hotter than yellow curry (which typically uses a lot of Indian spices), but has less heat than green curry (that uses hotter green chilies). Red curry paste is called kreung gaeng phet daeng in the Thai vernacular, and is often cooked with coconut milk in a lot of red curry dishes. 

What is Panang Curry?

Panang curry (also called as Penang or Penaeng curry) is a red curry that originates from Penang, an island located off the west coast of Malaysia. It is usually less spicy than traditional red curry, because of the fact that it uses fewer red chilies, but there’s still a distinct kick of spiciness to it. Panang curry also has coconut cream and peanuts as core ingredients, thus making it sweeter than other Thai curries. 

Panang Curry Versus Green Curry

Green curry is more liquid than Panang curry, but it is also a lot hotter too. Unlike what most people believe, green chilies are actually spicier than their red counterparts. Green curry is more savory too, unlike Panang curry, which is sweeter (because of the peanuts) and has a milder heat. 

Is Panang Curry Spicy?

Yes, it is. Thought not as spicy as traditional red or green curries. The heat stems from the red chilies that are in the red curry paste. Sometimes, cooks will add more red chilies to dishes like gaeng Panang gai (Panang chicken curry) itself to make them spicier. 

Easy Kang Panang (Panang Curry) Recipe

  • Vegetable oil
  • Five tablespoons of red curry paste
  • Two pounds of boneless, skinless, chicken breasts
  • Four cups of coconut milk
  • Two tablespoons of Thai fish sauce
  • Two tablespoons of palm sugar
  • Two fresh red chili peppers, sliced into small pieces
  • Six pieces of kaffir lime leaves, torn into small pieces
  • Quarter cup of fresh basil leaves

1. Cut up the chicken breasts into bite-sized pieces. Set aside.

2. Heat a tablespoon of oil in a wok or deep pan. Add in the curry paste and fry for a minute or two until it is very fragrant.

3. After the curry paste’s aroma is released, add in the coconut milk and cook until boiling. Place the chicken breast pieces in the coconut milk-curry paste mixture, and cook for about fifteen minutes or until the chicken is cooked.

4. Add the rest of the ingredients. At this stage, you can adjust the amount of the spices and condiments according to your own preferences. If you want the curry to be saltier, then add more fish sauce. If you want it hotter, then add more chilies.

5. Serve hot over rice and enjoy.

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Luisa Davis

Luisa Davis

Luisa Davis is a frelance writer and foodie based in Portland, California. Though raised on her mother's homestyle Italian cooking, she has spent most of the last five years traveling and immersing herself in other countries' cuisines. Her work have been published in various publications, both online and offline.

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