Have you ever tried repeatedly to recreate a favorite restaurant dish, only to find yourself just missing the mark, over and over? It seems to happen often when trying to recreate a dish from a different culinary culture than your own. Homemade Pho, or Soup Dumplings, or Colcannon, can be tricky if Mama didn't teach you how to make it when you were growing up.
A culinary white whale I had been chasing for a while was Panang Curry. It has been a go-to favorite of mine when ordering from Thai restaurants for years. I tried making it several times at home. The results were good, a good coconut curry-ish dish, but not quite real Panang Curry.
However, I was fortunate enough to become friends with the owner of a Thai restaurant, who happened to make an excellent Panang currry sauce. 'Hi, Vachira!' *waves* I asked her if she'd share her secret for making Panang curry paste. She just gave me a pursed lips, side-eye look, and handed me a can of this.
"No one makes their own curry paste," she said, like I was an idiot.
All right, to be fair, some people do make their own panang curry paste. You can find online recipes for it. However, apparently many Thai restaurants here in the States use pre-made curry paste. Not the crappy stuff you're likely find in your basic supermarket. Get yourself some of the Maesri brand. It made the difference I was looking for.
Another specialty item this recipe calls for is fresh lime leaf. This is pretty easy to find. Most produce departments carry them in their herb sections. If not at your local supermarket, any Asian market will have them. Failing that, you can substitute the zest of one lime for the lime leaf. Just remember, when using lime leaf, you want to remove the spine from the leaf, and mince them fine. Like this...
Ok, now that you've gathered the ingredients, let's make dinner!
Halibut Panang Curry
Kosher Salt & freshly ground Black Pepper
Coconut Oil (or other cooking oil) 2 Tbs
Halibut or other white fish 1 lb
Onion 1 medium, diced
Red Bell Pepper 1 each, diced
Mushrooms 1 cup, quartered
Carrot 2, peeled and sliced
Garlic 2 Tbs, chopped
Fresh Ginger 2 Tbs, minced or grated
Maesri Panang Curry Paste one 4 oz can
Coconut Cream two14 oz (or 13.6 oz) cans
Lime Leaf 1 Tbs, de-stemmed & finely chopped
Fresh Cilantro 1/4 cup, chopped
Fresh Thai Basil 1/4 cup, chopped
Cooked Rice as much as you like
Cut the halibut into 1 inch cubes and season them with salt and pepper.
Add the oil to a wide pot, and place it over med-high heat. Lightly sear the halibut, turning and stirring frequently. You want the fish pieces to remain undercooked on the inside. I like to do this in batches.
Once seared, transfer the halibut to a plate. Don't worry if little bits of fish stay in the pan. Immediately add the vegetables to the pot. Sauté and stir for one minute, then stir in the garlic and ginger. Sauté for another minute, then mix in the curry paste.
Keeping sautéing for another minute, then stir in the coconut cream and lime leaf.
Turn the heat down to low. Cover the pot and let it simmer, stirring occasionally, for 15 minutes.
This video walks you through the last several steps.
Turn off the heat, then mix in the halibut, along with any liquid that has gathered on the plate.
Immediately add the cilantro and basil. Stir gently so that you don't break up the pieces of halibut.
As always, taste and adjust seasoning with salt & pepper if needed. Serve over rice, and enjoy!