By a Nose

Aroma draws us to a dish, inviting anticipation of the delights just around the corner.  This is particularly true of today’s submission, Panang Beef Curry, as Cook’s Illustrated suggested the preparation in its 2017 collection of recipes.

In common with many curries, Thai ones especially, coconut milk is not merely important, it’s central to the food’s appeal.  It gives the dish a silky, sweet creaminess that announces itself early, filling the kitchen with an intoxicating prediction of the waves of satisfaction about to float diners in heaven’s direction.

Coconut milk doesn’t act alone, though; it has teammates in its captivating mission.  Primary among them is the dried lime leaf called kaffir in many countries, makrut elsewhere.  These add a lilting citrus tang to the magical scents drifting from the wok.  Together with the coconut milk and the crushed peanuts, they give the tender beef a warm hug, elevating it to a surprising lightness.

By the way, here’s one of the kaffir lime leaves we used:Kaffir Lime Leaf

In Thailand, panang refers to a whole class of curries, also called, “red curries.”  Coconut milk plays a big part in this variety, though it also tends to be, ironically, drier than are other versions.  The preparation is a big part of the southern Thai menu in particular, but it takes its name and draw its inspiration from the similarly-named Malaysian city a bit farther down the Malay Peninsula.

Most cooking, and all curries are, almost genetically, enticingly aromatic, but there’s something about the beguiling combination of creamy coconut milk and floral lime leaves that distinguishes panang, even in a culinary field so crowded with talent.   Where the nose leads, the mouth, stomach and heart are sure to follow.


Panang Beef Curry

  • 2 pounds boneless beef short ribs, trimmed
  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil (*1)
  • 3 to 4 tablespoons Thai red curry paste
  • 1 14-ounce can of coconut milk
  • 4 teaspoons fish sauce
  • 2 tablespoons sugar (*2)
  • 1 hot chili, halved lengthwise (*3)
  • 6 kaffir lime leaves, central vein removed and sliced thin (*4)
  • 1/3 cup peanuts, chopped fine

Slice beef, perpendicular to the grain, into strips 1/4-inch thick.  Place beef in a saucepan and add water until the beef is just covered.  Bring to a boil over high heat, then reduce flame to low, cover the pot, and continue to simmer for an hour.  Retrieve the meat with a slotted spoon and place in in a bowl, setting it aside until ready to use.

Place a wok over medium heat.  Add the oil and heat it until it shimmers.  Add two tablespoons of the curry paste and cook, stirring frequently, until it turns a darker and deeper shade of red, about three minutes.

Add the coconut milk, sugar, fish sauce and chili (if using) and stir to combine.  Continue stirring until the sugar dissolves.  Add more curry paste, if desired, to achieve intended spiciness.  Add beef, stir to coat, and allow mixture to continue simmering.

Stirring occasionally, simmer until the liquid volume is reduced by half, about 15 minutes.  Stir in kaffir lime leaves and continue to simmer for two more minutes.  Using tongs, remove and discard the chili.

Transfer to a serving platter, sprinkle with peanuts and garnish with thin strips of lime leaves, and serve.


1 – Predictably, perhaps, I substituted peanut oil, particularly as the nuts are a major component.

2 – Granulated sugar is great, but if you have it, use palm sugar.  It’s a little more subtle, and is much more authentic this way.

3 – An option I definitely exercised, particularly as it coaxes a little more heat.  Plus, the hot peppers looked good at the market today.

4 – If you can’t find (or haven’t mail-ordered) kaffir lime leaves, the zests of a whole lemon and a whole lime will work.  If possible, use a microplane to produce the zests, as you want it to be as fine a grate as possible.



13 thoughts on “By a Nose

    1. You’re welcome, Tamara!

      Naturally, I like curry too, though I favor Southeast Asia’s more nuanced approach. Absolutely nothing wrong with what they’re doing in places like Madras, though my journeys carry me more often along the Mekong and unfurl the sail among the East Indies.

      Liked by 1 person

  1. I’ve had plenty of curries but never with short ribs. The lime leaves seem like a great addition as well. I will have to see if I can find something similar to try. Looks positively delicious!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Much appreciated, JoAnn!

      No doubt, you’re familiar with the observation we eat first with our eyes. Maybe, but on days like today, the nose has something to say about that. Taking in the beguiling aromas, and given how closely allied are scent and taste (more so than are any other senses), the sniffer was in heaven.

      The diner, not long after!

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Blame email. Mine used to tell me every time you “Liked” a comment or responded to the same (or, for that matter, whenever you posted in general), but the last year or so, there’s been nothing. To stay up-to-date I have to visit your site, which I do anyway.

      Besides, aren’t unexpected meals the most satisfying? Bet you didn’t know anyone was in the kitchen, and then, all of the sudden…a meal!

      One of the local TV newscasts used to have a segment called “The Phantom Diner,” wherein an incognito reviewer would show up at a restaurant and would describe his/her (depending on the week) impressions. OK Diner, meet The Phantom Cook.

      Not that there’s much room for guesswork anymore, as I’ve posted every weekend now since late summer 2016. In fact, watches are set by it.

      Oh hey, thanks for the compliment on the rice, Crystal! What does the cliché tell us practice makes? Rice has been on the menu at least three times a week since the 80s, and…well, you do the math. Something was bound to happen eventually!


      1. Sure Crystal, and what it says about you is that you’re creative.

        You’re motivated more by what inspires at the moment, than you are by a compulsion to follow a schedule. Thus, when the muse visits, Crystal’s always ready to celebrate.

        As for the rice, I have a secret ally – a head start. See, my mom had major rice cravings when she was expecting me. That was pretty unusual in the early 70s, when rice still wasn’t a common item in the suburban pantry. In fact, you might say I was genetically engineered to appreciate rice. Pretty unusual a disposition for a WASP.


      2. Much appreciated, my friend!

        Well, the real deal, at least as defined by a couple round-eyes. I imagine most born in the Eastern Hemisphere could teach us a thing or two.

        Good ol’ Minute Rice! I guarantee a box is in my mom’s pantry as we speak (type). No shame in that – such acorns become skyward oaks. Besides, at one time I was known to consume a box or two myself.

        Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s