We shared the recipe for green curry, and even how Thai curry paste is made, but now it’s time to discuss the subtle differences in green, red and Panang curries, both in Asia and in the US. As noted in a few other posts, the two most notable differences in ingredients between the locations are the use of coconut cream versus milk and the level of heat.
Even outside of Thailand (but still in Asia), these curries have a kick. The bird’s eye chilies pack a punch and most chefs aren’t afraid to use them. The spicy spectrum ranges from green, most spicy in its original, to Panang in the middle, with red being the least spicy. Most of the sweetness in the dish comes from the coconut cream and how it interacts to bring out the other spices in the pastes.
What makes green curry green isn’t so much the bird’s eye chilies, though they are green, as much as it’s the volume of coriander (aka cilantro) and/or basil used. I’m personally not a fan of coriander (horrible accident in college involving a bowl of soup and a death wish), so when I make green curry at home, I just about overdo it with the basil.
The red and Panang curries are the absent those leafy greens, so you get a very lemongrass-forward flavor in a red sauce; while both have a reddish hue, Panang is slightly more brownish-red. Although westerners tend to think of “red” as being spicy, the green, spicier bird’s eye chilies aren’t included in either of these curries. Also, Panang curry tends to be served with just meat and/or tofu while red and green tend to have vegetables in the mix.
The overall joys of Thai curry tend to be the mix of sweet, salty and spicy. You will find this across most Thai dishes short of desserts, which tend to be mango related. No matter which option you prefer make sure you read the label for the ingredients and prepare for a bit of heat; if all else fails, head to the best restaurant in town!
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