With just a single pan and a fun mix of ingredients, you can create Thai Panang Curry Noodles with Meat Sauce in your home kitchen. You’ll not only learn to make one of our favorite comfort dishes, but you’ll also be transported to the land of palm trees and tuk-tuks without taking a long-haul flight.
Daryl loves exploring food markets. Whether it’s open air markets in Lyon, salumeria in Bologna or even chain supermarkets in Lisbon, you’ll always find Daryl curiously perusing aisles, looking for new, exotic or outright tasty items to carry home and place on the stove. Drop him in the middle of a foreign market filled with local seafood, cheeses or special fruits and vegetables and it’s almost impossible to pluck him out.
Such is the case with Asian markets.
Once past the usual arrangement of soy sauces, bean pastes and vinegars, he can’t help but make his way toward the Korean aisle with containers of Gochugaru and Gochujang, the Japanese aisle stocked with konbu, mirin and kewpie mayo and the Southeast Asian aisles featuring a range of ingredients from Thailand, Vietnam and elsewhere.
Those Southeast Asian aisles, usually located on the far end of the store, are filled with Thai and Vietnamese specialties like rice noodles, fish sauces, tamarind pastes and an assortment of curries. The pre-made curries are especially intriguing.
Sure, one could slave over a mortar and pestle, like a Thai ‘Auntie,’ grinding heaps of chilies, galangal, shallots and spices into a tasty paste but who has time for that. We find pre-made Thai curries more than acceptable.
Need a quick lunch? Chop up a little mirepoix, mix in some curry, pour in some coconut milk and you’re all ready to go. You may be a purist and feel a need to make your own curry paste from scratch. We thought the same until we made fresh curry at a Thai cooking class in Chiang Mai.
The class was fun but we quickly learned that making curry paste from scratch is a ton of work that made our arms tired. The pre-made stuff is more than acceptable when we cook our favorite Thai dishes at home.
Discover our favorite Thai dishes.
What are Thai Noodles with Panang Curry Meat Sauce?
We began our Thai curry journey with Daryl’s favorite – green curry. The green paste, which we use often, tastes great with chicken. However, the green stuff is so popular that it often sells out. That scarcity forced us to discover a range of curries like fiery red and Indian-like yellow. We also discovered panang curry, a rich creamy curry that’s ultra versatile in the kitchen.
To us, the reddish, orange curry is a great companion for ground beef or pork. Mixed with flat rice noodles and coconut milk, the curry tastes uniquely Thai. The pappardelle-like rice noodles carry the sauce brilliantly, creating a wonderful dish that we’ve nicknamed Thai Bolognese.
Thai Bolognese satisfies us every time we whip it up. In this dish, rich ground meat provides beefy flavors that meld with the unique caramel sweetness of Thai palm sugar, the sour flavors of makrut (kaffir) lime and the umami undertones of fish sauce to create something special.
The one pot dish is one of our faves and only takes 30 minutes to prepare. Sure, there are a lot of ingredients but it’s super easy to make. Plus, you can even make the dish gluten free by replacing the soy sauces with tamari.
You’ll need the following ingredients for this recipe:
Yes. This recipe calls for a lot of ingredients but don’t be intimidated. Once you assemble a solid Asian Pantry, everything will be at your fingertips. This recipe, like most Asian recipes, calls for a variety of sauces and condiments.
As a bonus, you’ll learn the basics of building Thai flavors when you follow this recipe. Thai cooking is all about the interplay of sweet, sour and spicy.
The only special ingredients you’ll need to source are the panang chili paste, palm sugar and frozen makrut (kaffir) lime leaves. You should be able to find those ingredients at your local Asian market.
Ground Beef or Pork
The fun of most Asian recipes is the way cooks can stretch ingredients. In this recipe, we only use a total of 4 ounces of ground beef or pork to feed two people.
We like to marinate the raw meat in a simple combination of soy sauce, fish sauce, salt, pepper and sugar. The sugar facilitates browning in the pan.
You can use your choice of pork or beef in the recipe.
The origins of panang curry are unclear. While it would seem obvious to trace its origins to the Malaysian island of Penang, the roots of the paste skew closer to Central Thailand.
The difference between panang curry and red curry, while slight, are definitive. Unlike red curry, panang curry contains peanuts and makrut (kaffir) lime zest.
Like many Thai chili pastes, panang curry contains spicy red chilies, shrimp paste, lemon grass, galangal, garlic, coriander and white pepper. The addition of peanuts imparts a nutty creaminess while the lime zest imparts acidity.
You could use red or green curry but your results won’t be quite as creamy and you may have to add additional lime juice during the cooking process in order to create balanced flavors. Click here to buy panang curry if you can’t find it at your local Asian market.
Rice Flake Noodles
We discovered flat noodle flakes at our local Asian market during our unsuccessful search for fresh rice noodles. They’re wonderful.
After a soak in hot water and high heat cooking, rice flake noodles become a soft and comforting platform for a range of ingredients. They have a texture reminiscent of chow fun noodles and can be used in a variety of recipes including this one.
Click here to buy rice noodle flakes if you can’t find them at your local Asian market. Alternatively, you could use wide Asian rice noodles or even a wide wheat pasta, such as pappardelle, fettuccine or tagliatelle as a substitute. If you can buy fresh wide rice noodles where you live, go for it. If you can make your own, even better.
Sweet and sour tropical flavors lie at the heart of Thai cooking. Palm sugar provides much of the sweetness.
Made with palm tree sap, palm sugar has a mellow caramel flavor that’s hard to duplicate. You should be able to find discs of palm sugar at your local Asian market.
Many people will use a mortar and pestle to grind their palm sugar before cooking. However, there’s no need since the palm sugar dissolves while the sauce simmers.
you can use granulated sugar if you can’t find palm sugar. Another option is to buy Palm sugar online.
The flavor and creamy texture of coconut milk in Thai recipes is distinct.
We like to buy small cans of whole coconut milk (sometimes called coconut cream) and dilute the milk with water. You can buy coconut milk at your local supermarket but we’ve found the highest quality coconut milks at Asian food markets.
Always choose coconut cream if you have to choose between that and coconut milk. Click here to buy some cans if you aren’t able to easily source them locally.
Fish sauce is another unmistakable Asian ingredient that doubles as both a seasoning agent (it’s super salty) and umami enhancer. When used correctly, the condiment provides backbone to the dish.
We use fish sauce both in the marinade and in the cooking process. You should be able to find good Thai or Vietnamese fish sauces at most Asian markets. Chefs love the brand with the three crabs on the label but any brand will work in this recipe.
Click here to buy a bottle of Three Crabs fish sauce.
Makrut (Kaffir) Lime Leaves
While Panang curry may contain makrut (kaffir) lime zest, makrut lime leaves provide an extra dose of flavor and fragrance to the dish. We like to add them whole similar to how we add bay leaves to a stew.
You may want to remove the leaves before serving since they’re inedible in their whole leaf form.
We like to add dry chilies to provide extra heat in the recipe. We add them whole and, like the lime leaves, they can be discarded before serving.
You can use either Chinese or Thai dried chilies. Click here to buy a bag if you don’t already have them in your pantry.
Mirepoix – Ginger, Garlic and Shallots
You’ll commonly find garlic and shallots in the mirepoix of most Thai recipes along with galangal and krachai, a Southeast Asian form of ginger. We can easily find both frozen galangal and fresh ginger at our local Asian markets. Given the choice, we prefer to use fresh ginger over frozen galangal.
The Thai use tiny Thai shallots in their recipes but any thinly sliced shallot will work. One last note: The Thai use a lot of garlic and we do the same.
Common Asian Condiments – Dark Soy Sauce, Light Soy Sauces and Oyster Sauce
The influence of the Chinese in Thai cooking is strong and shows up in this recipe in the form of light and dark Chinese soy sauces and Chinese oyster sauce.
Fresh Lime Juice
We’ll occasionally squeeze some lime in the pan while cooking this dish if our sauce begins to taste too sweet.
We generally don’t have to do this step due to the Panang Curry’s natural acidity. However, we always squeeze a little lime juice on the finished dish to add brightness.
How to Make Thai Panang Curry Noodles with Meat Sauce
The first step is to organize the mise en place before cooking. It’s important to have all of the ingredients at the ready since the process of cooking this dish moves fast.
30 minutes before cooking, soak the noodles in hot water from the sink. Do no use boiling water. The temperature should be around 135°F/57°C.
The noodles should be pliable (bendable) before entering the pot.
Start by marinating your ground meat with the fish sauce, soy sauce, oyster sauce, granulated sugar, salt and pepper.
We like to cook the dish in our carbon steel wok. You can also use a 12” nonstick frying pan if you don’t have a wok.
Begin by heating the wok or pan, removing it from the heat and coating it with a little of the oil.
Click here to buy a carbon steel wok and wok tools.
Pour the rest of the oil in the pan. Once the oil is smoking, add the ground meat to the hot pan. Cook the meat until it just turns brown. You won’t need to remove the meat from the pan.
Add the shallots, garlic and ginger to the pan and cook until soft.
Next add the panang curry, dried chilies and makrut (kaffir) leaves to the pan and cook until fragrant.
Add the remainder of the fish sauce, soy sauce, oyster sauce, a pinch of salt and white pepper to taste.
Add the palm sugar after all of the sauces are thoroughly mixed.
Once the palm sugar is added, immediately add the coconut milk along with an additional cup of water.
You can fill the can with the extra water to get the extra bits of coconut milk stuck to the sides of the can into the pot.
Cook the curry mixture until the coconut milk and curry are well incorporated and the the mixture reaches a steady simmer.
Drain much of the water from the noodles by using you hand to drain off the liquid. Don’t worry about draining all of the liquid.
Drop the noodles into the sauce and stir.
Cook at a steady simmer about 7 minutes or until the noodles are soft and the sauce is thick. Add extra water if the mixture becomes too thick or if the noodles begin to stick to the bottom of the pan.
Once the noodles are soft, transfer the mixture to a large bowl and garnish with scallion greens. (You could also garnish with cilantro leaves if you prefer.) Serve in individual bowls with lime wedges.
Thai Panang Curry Noodles with Meat Sauce Recipe
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About the Authors
Daryl & Mindi Hirsch
Saveur Magazine’s BEST TRAVEL BLOG award winners Daryl and Mindi Hirsch share their culinary travel experiences and recipes on the 2foodtrippers website and YouTube. The married Food and Travel content creators live in Lisbon, Portugal.