Thai Panaeng Curry with Prawns or Shrimp

Thai Pananeg Curry Paste

Prawn Panaeng with Panaeng Curry Paste

Thai Panaeng Curries will often feature prawns or beef, as well as other flavors such as pork or seafood. All panaeng curries will use a "nam phrik panaeng" or Panaeng Curry Paste. Below you will find a recipe to make your own curry paste for use in these dishes, but as an alternative you could use a good store-bought jar of panaeng curry paste, thus simplifying the dish and making it a Thai curry that can be cooked up in no time.

Panaeng curry with prawns is a delightful, rich and creamy dish, without the searing heat often considered to be an essential part of Thai cuisine. Chili lovers can though easily zing up the dish with the addition of dried chili flakes or even freshly sliced green bird-eye chilies. 

The aromatic sauce should be quite thick rather than liquid, clinging to and generously coating each prawn. While this Thai prawn curry can be made with smaller shrimp, you can elevate the dish in both taste and presentation by  using large tiger prawns or even small lobsters.  For a final flourish, serve in an emptied fresh coconut shell, topping off the dish with finely julienned slices of fresh, deseeded red chili, thin kaffir lime leaf shreds and some swirls of fresh coconut milk.

Prawn Panaeng Curry - Ingredients

  • 1 tbsp. vegetable oil
  • 500g large prawns – peeled and deveined but leaving the tail on. Alternatively, use whole prawns, shell and head on.
  • 3 tbsp. panaeng curry paste (see below)
  • 300 ml heavy coconut milk
  • 4 kaffir lime leaves, each torn once along the stalk
  • 1 lemongrass stalk – thinly sliced and then bruised (using the white end only)
  • 1 tbsp. peanut butter or crushed dry roasted skinless peanuts
  • 1/2 tbsp. palm sugar (or to taste)
  • Fish sauce (to taste)
  • Fresh Thai sweet basil leaves, or shredded kaffir lime leaves and julienned fresh red chili for decoration


  • Heat the oil in a wok or heavy-based frying pan over high heat. Add the curry paste and stir for approx. 30 seconds.
  • Pour in the coconut milk (reserving a little for decoration). Cook over high heat for 1-2 minutes until thickened.
  • Add peanuts, prawns, kaffir lime leaves and lemongrass. Cook until prawns are just cooked through.
  • Season to taste with palm sugar and fish sauce.
  • Top with julienne of red chili and kaffir lime leaves, or fresh Thai basil leaves, and a swirl of coconut milk.


Panaeng Curry Paste Recipe

This curry paste involves the dry roasting of spices in a dry frying pan, after which these spices are ground to a powder. Next, the rehydrated, chopped chilies are added together with the fresh ingredients, and the entire mixture is pounded with a pestle and mortar to a smooth paste.

Part one - the dry ingredients
2 tsps coriander seeds, 1/2 tsp cumin seeds, 3 pieces of mace, 3 long mild green chili peppers, 2 cardamom seeds - all of these dry roasted until golden.
1/2 tsp. black peppercorns
1/2 tsp. sea salt

The chilies
12 big, red, dried chilies -seeds removed and soaked in hot water for at least 10 minutes and then, having discarded the water, very finely chopped

The fresh ingredients
2 tsps. galangal root -peeled and finely chopped
2 tbsp. lemongrass - white part only, finely chopped
1 tsp. kaffir lime peel - chopped
1 tbsp. coriander root - chopped (Note: this is the white roots, not the green stalks.)
3 tbsp. shallots - chopped
2 tbsp. garlic - crushed
1 tsp. shrimp paste

In a mortar, grind the coriander and cumin seeds, mace, long green peppers, cardamom pods and black peppercorns.
Now add all the other  ingredients and pound further until the paste is smooth.

Don't have a pestle and mortar?
If you do not own a large pestle and mortar, the paste can be made using a small liquidizer. As the quantity is small, you may have to scrape down the ingredients repeatedly to obtain a smooth paste. To make the task easier, you can add a little water to help incorporate the ingredients and make a smoother paste, but only add the minimum amount required to achieve this.

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