A multi-dish Thai meal would not be complete without a gaeng (curry) present at the table, alongside salads, side dishes, relishes, and rice. Panang neua (panang beef curry) is one of the most well-known curries in Thai cuisine, distinguished by its rich, saucy texture and nutty flavor. While many Thai curries are quite brothy, panang curry has a thick, spoon-coating consistency due to the peanuts that are pounded into a red curry paste along with spices such as cumin, coriander, white peppercorns, and nutmeg.
Quick-cooking, lean cuts of beef such as sirloin or strip steak are a popular choice for panang, with the meat sliced thin and simmered briefly until cooked through with the curry paste and coconut milk. For this version, I use thick, bone-in short ribs that are browned and braised with water and coconut milk. While browning meat is not a common practice for many Thai curries, some cooks do deep fry meat before simmering, and the searing step in this recipe is a nod to that practice. Along with giving us tender, Maillard-browned short ribs, the braising process also provides two beefy byproducts that are used for making the final curry: rendered fat that is used to fry the curry paste, and a flavorful cooking liquid that is paired with coconut milk, balancing out the coconut’s sweetness in the curry. Fish sauce, tamarind, and palm sugar provide a salty-sweet punch that cuts through the richness of the beef and peanut–laced curry paste, while makrut lime leaves and sweet basil (a.k.a. Thai basil) offer fresh herbal notes to this deeply satisfying curry.
This recipe is designed so that it can be made with either a scratch-made, hand-pounded panang curry paste, or a store-bought paste. There are perfectly good canned panang pastes on the market, or you can easily doctor up a red curry paste to fit the panang flavor profile with the addition of peanuts and spices (see the notes section for more info on how to do that).