Panang Curry Chicken

I felt like getting back to my Thai cooking roots with this post.  This is one of the most flavorful dishes you will ever eat.  Incorporating the best from sweet, savory, sour and spicy, this meal makes your taste buds sing!  This dish is a favorite among most of my family (the part of my family that can eat somewhat spicy food).  While Panang Curry is a Malaysian dish by name, the use of a pounded curry paste with lemon grass and coconut milk or cream is definitely a Thai tradition.  So though this dish may be popular in Malaysia, it is most definitely a rice dish of Thai origin.

Above we have most of the ingredients of our curry paste.  Not shown are garlic, shallots, soy sauce, ginger and galangal.  But starting from the top and winding in clockwise are Chili powder in a bag, ground coriander, shrimp paste, tmato paste, red onion and lemon grass and ground cumin.

The shrimp paste is an ingredient rarely seen or discussed in the US so I will go into more detail on that here.

This is dried, fermented shrimp paste.  This is perhaps the most pungent ingredient used in Thai cooking.  The smell is very strong and depending on what you are making with it, it is often better to be cooked outside.  Indeed there is a dish called Nam Prik Gapee (fried fish with shrimp paste and water dip) that when eaten, can literally wreck your breath for more than a day.  I know because it’s happened to me and I had to sleep on the couch when I ate it.  This condiment is made by harvesting fresh small shrimp from the sea or from fresh water lakes and then mashing them into a paste.  The paste is then mixed with salt and allowed to ferment in baskets.  It is later dried in the sun and formed into solid bricks or cakes of shrimp paste.  Called Gapee in Thai, the dried shrimp is mixed with other ingredients to flavor food.  This stuff is impossible to eat straight out of the container (it is incredibly salty) and it has to be cooked before use.  In the tub above, even after opening the lid, the surface of the product was coated with a wax seal that I had to break when I opened it.  That’s when the smell hits you.  I store my excess in the garage.  For what we are going cook, we only need to use about a tablespoon of it and we’ll be grilling it and then mixing it with a lot of other ingredients so it shouldn’t be too smelly cooked indoors.

Above, I have about a tablespoon that I will wrap in aluminum foil to cook.  I cook it not only for the grilled flavor but to ensure the paste is safe to eat and cooking it cuts way back on that fishy taste and smell.

I have the paste wrapped in aluminum foil.  Now you COULD cook it over your grill but we only need about a minute of high heat for a tablespon full like we have here.  A gas stove on high will work too.

I am cooking mine with a brulee torch on all sides for about a minute before adding the paste to the mortar and pestle with the other curry paste ingredients.

Here I have pounded the roasted shrimp paste with the garlic, shallots, onion, lemon grass, coriander, cumin, chili powder, ginger, galangal, soy sauce and a little lime juice.

Above are my ingredients for the gravy part of the sauce.  Coconut cream, brown sugar and fish sauce.  Before we start, it is important that we start cooking our rice.  For me, that means adding 3 cups of well rinsed Japanese medium grain rice to the required amount of water and starting the cooker.  This is the way this dish would be eaten in Northern Thailand.  In Southern Thailand they would use Jasmine rice.  You can use whatever rice suits your own fancy.

Here I have about 1.5 lbs of chicken tenderloins cut into bite sized pieces.  To start this dish, we will heat some oil and fry the curry paste first.

I will let the vegetable oil heat here for a full minute on high heat before adding the curry paste.

You want to fry the paste until it’s very fragrant.  The smells of garlic, lemon grass, chili pepper and shrimp paste will be prominent before we add the next ingredient.  I cooked this on high heat for about 90 seconds stirring constantly.

Here I am adding the two cans of coconut cream.  Thai people add coconut milk and/or cream to their curries to soften the savage attack of the spices on the palette.  This curry paste is quite strong in flavor and will easy overpower the palette of most people.  The coconut attenuates this to a normal level for us.  And for this dish – this is next point is very important.  When you go to get the coconut cream for this.  If you go to any Asian market (and even some US grocery store chains) you will see they have coconut milk at least and hopefully the cream.  Try to find the coconut CREAM instead of the MILK.  There is a difference.  Coconut cream is the liquid that is the first press from the shredded coconut meat and if you don’t have it, you have to add corn starch to the gravy to get it as thick as the cream will get it.  You want the gravy to be rich and somewhat thick.

I use a whisk for this next step.  You want the curry paste well mixed into the coconut cream.  If it isn’t, your diners might get a lump or two of the paste itself and you will hear about it if they do.  Much spicier and hotter than the rest of the gravy, it is brutal on the taste buds.  Take the extra time to get this well mixed.  Note the lovely peachy hue of our gravy.  That pinkish-orange color is the hallmark of good Panang curry sauce.

Next we’ll add our chicken.  Now you can add beef or shrimp but I find red curry to be best for beef and green curry to pair better with shrimp.  (I will add those recipes at some point later to this blog).  But you are by no means bound by my preferences.  Feel free to cook what you want in your kitchen.

Stir this well until the chicken pieces start to get opaque.

Here I’ll add a heaping tablespoon of brown sugar and stir well to dissolve it.  

Next I’ll add the juice of one whole lime, one half at a time.  We need some more citrus to balance out that sweetness.

And here, I’ll add about 3 tablespoons of fish sauce.  Stir this very well.  It’s here that you will want to taste it.  It should have a nice balance between sweet, salty and sour as well as with spicy heat.  Here is where you will make any final corrections in flavor.  Add sugar, lime juice or fish sauce, depending on whether your dish needs more sweetness, acid (sour) or salt, respectively.

I like to add a cup or so of frozen peas and carrots.  This will be the last ingredient we will add while the dish is actively cooking.   Give it a good stir and let it simmer on very low heat for about 10 more minutes.

With 8 minutes left for my rice to cook, I shut off the heat on my curry sauce.

I have one final ingredient I will add to the curry after the stove is shut off.  These snow pea pods will cook using the left over residual heat from our gravy.

Snow peas added to our curry.

And our final stew ready to be served over rice.

This is my own dish with chopped cilantro leaves and sliced Thai red chili pepper added.  I add about 1/2-1 cup of gravy to each cup of cooked rice.

And the final dish after a good stir.  It’s ready to eat after a quick drizzle of additional fish sauce.

I hope you enjoy this dish as much as my family and I do!

Panang Curry Chicken (serves 5-6 as a main course)


  • 1.5 lbs chicken tenderloins cut into bite sized pieces
  • 1/4 cup vegetable oil
  • Two 13.5 oz cans of premium quality coconut cream
  • 1.5-2 tablespoons brown sugar (to taste)
  • 1.5 cups frozen peas and carrots
  • 1.5 cups cut fresh snow pea pods
  • 2-4 tablespoons fish sause (to taste)
  • Juice of 1-2 limes (to taste)
  • 3 tablespoons of either prepackaged penang curry paste or use the below recipe

Panang Curry Paste

  • 4 garlic cloves
  • 1 tablespoon tomato paste
  • 2 tsp minced red onion
  • 1 large shallot
  • 2 lemon grass stalks pounded into paste
  • 1 tablespoon galangal (thai ginger) root pounded to paste
  • 1 tsp ginger paste
  • 1 tsp soy sauce
  • 1 tablespoon grilled Thai shrimp paste
  • 2 tablespoons red chili powder or 4 fresh thai chilis pounded into paste
  • 2 teaspoons coriander powder
  • 2 teaspoons ground cumin


  • Pound the Panang Curry paste ingredients in a mortar and pestle or use premade paste bought from an Asian grocer.
  • Begin cooking the rice you will serve with the dish.
  • Begin heating the oil in a pot
  • Fry the curry paste in the oil for about 90 seconds (it will be very fragrant)
  • Add both cans of coconut milk and whisk together well.
  • When red oil starts to appear on top of the coconut milk, add the chicken pieces and stir well.
  • Add brown sugar
  • Add lime juice
  • Add fish sauce
  • Stir well and taste.  Add any of the 3 condiments desired to fill in flavor gaps to personal taste.
  • Add the frozen vegetables and stir well.
  • Simmer on very low heat for about 10 more minutes.
  • Turn off heat.
  • Add the snow pea pods and stir well.  Allow the gravy to rest about 10 minutes.
  • Serve over steamed white rice (your preference here).