Thai beef panang curry recipe - so creamy, so comforting, and can't stop eating good. This easy weeknight dinner will make you forget all about takeout. Serve it with jasmine rice or rice vermicelli noodles. So easy, so good!
Panang curry is a creamy and mildly spicy Thai dish with a base of coconut milk. Its taste is slightly sweet and salty, with a unique nutty flavor and a thick sauce that sets it apart from other Thai curries.
What is in panang curry? A base of creamy coconut milk jazzed up with curry paste and a protein like beef or chicken with herbs and spices, typically kaffir lime leaves.
What sets it apart from others - A creamy texture, a smaller amount of sauce, a slightly nutty flavor, and the lack of vegetables. That's right, this one is for all you meat lovers out there. In the traditional version, you'll find a garnish of red peppers and strips of kaffir lime leaves, but that's about it.
And trust me, with a sauce so good, you won't even miss the veggies. You'll want to pour the creamy sauce over everything!
Thai restaurant quality: Who needs takeout when you can make a restaurant-quality meal right in your kitchen? And it's cheaper, too!
Meal prep-friendly: This Thai beef panang curry from scratch is your next meal prep solution. Simply whip up a large batch, store it in the fridge, and enjoy even better flavors the next day.
Vegetable options: Not feeling the meat? No worries. For a veggie-rich or vegetarian panang curry, you can put in tofu and/or several vegetables like bell peppers, zucchini, peas, Thai eggplant, or even carrots or broccoli. Not traditional, but still delicious!
Customizable: Beef, pork, chicken, or shrimp, just toss it into the creamy sauce. For more or less heat, simply add or reduce fresh chilies.
Easy cooking: This recipe is pretty straightforward to make. You can even skip the mortar and pestle and use a food processor for that curry paste.
For the exact measurements, please scroll down to the recipe card at the end of this post.
Panang curry paste- You've got two options: homemade or store-bought. My homemade version calls for dried chilies, shallots, lemongrass, galangal, garlic, kaffir lime zest, salt, shrimp paste, cumin, coriander seeds, and optionally peanuts, so you might need an extra trip to the grocery store. You can buy panang curry paste at Asian grocery stores, Asian markets, or online at Amazon. I recommend using the Maesri or Mae Ploy brand.
Beef - Opt for a tender cut, check out my cooking tips below the instructions for more info.
Coconut milk - Use full-fat coconut milk for a rich, creamy coconut curry sauce.
Palm sugar - Adds an authentic, sweet caramel-like flavor.
Fish sauce - A splash of fish sauce transforms the curry sauce into an umami rich flavor-bomb.
Kaffir lime leaves - Also known as makrut lime leaves, they add a fresh flavor and a citrusy aroma. They are a signature ingredient for Thai beef panang curry, so definitely don't skimp on them. If you can't find them fresh, you can get them dried on Amazon.
Chilies - Fresh Thai chilies work best for spicy flavors. For mild flavors, use a mild type of chili like jalapeños, or you could even go for thin slices of bell pepper. Alternatively, you can remove the seeds.
Pea eggplants (optional) - These are totally optional. My hubby and I like the crunch and flavor. Thai eggplants can be used as a substitute.
Fry the curry paste
Heat up a third of the coconut milk in a pan or pot over medium heat. When you see the milk thickening and the oil starting to separate, stir in the penang curry paste.
Add remaining coconut milk and beef
Pour in the rest of the coconut milk when the paste is thoroughly mixed. When the coconut curry sauce comes back to a gentle boil, toss in the beef and cook until cooked through to taste.
Add remaining ingredients
Add in the fish sauce, palm sugar, kaffir lime leaves, and slices of chili. If you're using pea eggplants, add those too. Simmer until either the pea eggplants are soft enough or the palm sugar has fully melted in the sauce. Serve immediately.
Tips for the best Thai panang beef curry
Slice the beef against the grain. Always cut your beef against the grain. This results in soft and tender beef, rather than chewy chunks of meat.
Cut the beef into thin slices. Cut the beef into thin slices for a quicker cook time and a tender chew.
Opt for a tender cut of beef. Opt for a tender, marbled cut. Chuck roast, ribeye, tenderloin, sirloin, or new york strip.
Cutting board and chef's knife
Measuring spoons and cups
Wooden spoon or spatula
Mortar and pestle: If you're making the curry paste from scratch.
Wok or a pot
You can serve this creamy beef curry with a side of jasmine rice or rice vermicelli noodles. For a healthier choice, opt for brown rice.
Makrut lime leaves: Garnish with thin strips of kaffir lime leaves.
Sliced peppers: In our former Thai restaurant, we used to garnish with either sliced red bell peppers, or sliced red chilies, seeds removed.
Coconut milk: Before serving, drizzle a small amount of coconut milk over the curry for color contrast.
How to store Thai curry
This Thai beef panang curry will last good for up to 4 days in the fridge, and the flavors get even better. Before storing, allow it to cool down to room temperature and then transfer it to an airtight container to store it in the refrigerator.
Freezing instructions: You can freeze Thai curries for later use. Simply transfer to a freezer safe container or bag and store in the freezer. Thaw in the fridge overnight.
Reheating instructions: Reheat on the stovetop over low heat, stirring occasionally.
Tip: You can absolutely make this in advance for those super busy weeknights when a flavorful dinner feels impossible.
Did you know?
Thai Panang curry has its roots in the central part of Thailand and has been a classic as far back as 1890.
Frequently asked questions
Is panang curry spicy?
Panang curry is traditionally not a very spicy curry, rather mild. It has a balance of spicy, sweet, and salty. If you like spicy, you can add more chilies.
What meat goes with Panang curry?
Beef is a classic choice, but this dish pairs with any protein of your choice like chicken, pork, shrimp, or other seafood. If you're vegetarian, tofu is a great substitute.
Is this recipe gluten-free?
Yes, this Panang curry recipe is gluten-free. Do double-check your fish sauce and curry paste labels to ensure they don't contain any gluten fillers.
To store: Panang curry will last good for up to 4 days in the fridge, and the flavors get even better. Before storing, allow it to cool down to room temperature and then transfer it to an airtight container to store it in the refrigerator.