Penang Curry: My ultimate comfort food


Of all the places that I’ve been in my life, I think that Thailand was the most delicious. This was a big question in my head after we visited Japan a month and a half ago. Japanese cuisine is undoubtedly delicious and among the finest in all the world. Thai food, though, is a completely different animal. At home I always thought of Thai food as a super spicy and explosive cuisine but to my surprise my favorite dishes were the ones that featured the most subtle flavors.

One of these more subtle dishes is Penang Curry. Penang curry is, in my experience, a red curry with a subtle infusion of peanut flavor. It’s remarkable how a tiny bit of peanut flavor changes the profile of a dish that gets its main punch from red chiles. Luckily for me, it’s super easy to make at home. Here is my recipe for a super easy Penang curry. It’s a bit of a dude recipe, so feel free to add whatever you like to fancy it up. It’s not super necessary, but julienned red Thai chile and kaffir lime leaves would go along way towards taking this from single man slop to sexy and elegant date night cuisine.

The Primate’s Penang Curry

Buy this stuff:
Thai red chili paste (we can’t get the ingredients to make it here, and can only find one brand, so I don’t think the brand matters…just the color)
Coconut milk (1 can)
3-4 chicken breasts, thinly sliced.
Canola oil
Jasmine rice (any rice will do in a pinch)

If you live somewhere with a good Asian market buy this stuff too:
Fresh Thai chiles
A couple stalks of lemongrass
Kaffir lime leaves

The Process

Cooking curry is an easy process. You can use these steps for any if the Thai curries, just change out the paste and proteins.

Before you even start, steam your rice.

1. Coat the bottom if a skillet with canola oil
2. Add the curry paste (to taste). One can of coconut milk makes a butt-load of curry, I’m going to suggest starting with two tablespoons of paste. Or chef instructor at Pum’s Thai cooking school explained it like this..last art with a medium flavor, if you need more oomph just add more curry paste and well, WELCOME TO THAILAND!
3. Use a spatula to break up the paste as it sizzles. I like to continue breaking it up until the oil is a homogenous red color. Add the peanuts and let them cook for just a couple of minutes.
4. Add the chicken, break it up, and press it into the pan with your spatula. Cook it until there are no more translucent bits, but not so long as to give it a char or brown crust.
5. Pour the coconut milk into the pan and give it a few stirs, the milk should go from a white to a red color. Bring it to a boil and let it cook just a few more minutes.
6. Rice goes on plate. Curry goes in bowl.
7. If you want your friends, girlfriend, wife, date, or self to think that you are just too fancy, top the curry with matchsticks of red chile and julienned kaffir lime leaves. Crushed peanuts would be super nice too. Letting just a bit of chopped lemon grass stew with everything else in the coconut milk for a bit would elevate it all a notch as well.
8. Nom.
9. Reap the inevitable compliments.

Thai food isn’t all that complex to cook, from what I’ve learned, and that’s why it’s so damn good to eat. The Shakers (you know, one of those weird religious sects like the Amish and the Quakers) had a whole song that described Thai food.

‘Tis a gift to be simple,
‘Tis a gift to be free,
‘Tis a gift to come ’round,
Where we ought to be,
and when we find our selves in the place just right,
‘Twill be in the valley if love and delight

For me, that valley of love and delight is Railay beach, Krabi province, Thailand; and the quickest way to get there is with a bowl of this simple Penang Curry.

Yes, I’m fully aware that Penang is in Malaysia, but you can sure as hell eat a lot of Penang Curry in southern Thailand…and you should.

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2 comments on “Penang Curry: My ultimate comfort food

  1. Hi, Charlie,

    Glad that you like Penang Curry !! Most of the time, you will find that it come with white soup and a spoon of curry paste along to it. You can find out some Penang curry recommendation in my blog.


    • Hi and thanks for your input! I based my easy-to-make Penang curry around what I saw on a short trip to Thailand, but the presentation you’re describing sounds great. I guess at some point I should try to go to Penang proper and try it on its home turf. ^^