I love Panang curry and Thai food in general. However, whenever I try to make curry at home it always comes out as indistinguishable from Red curry. What's the distinction between these two dishes? I feel like I'm probably just missing one or two ingredients that make the difference, but my trusted recipe books and google haven't been of much use.
I have just looked in the book "Thai Food" (by David Thompson).
Both are very similar. The main difference I can see is that there are souring agents in the red curry (fish sauce and shrimp paste). These are absent in the panaeng which has peanuts as a major ingredient in the paste (and nutmeg).
The panaeng is also usually made with beef which is simmered in count milk until tender.
Being a Thai, it's always confusing when I hear the term "red curry" because I am not sure exactly what kind of curry are being referred to. Red curry (Kaeng Ped or literally "spicy soup/curry") is a very general term and includes most spicy curry-based soups without specific names. The most common form of red curry in Bangkok restaurants is one with roasted duck.
Panaeng can be categorized as a thicker kind of red curry but it is never served as soup in a bowl. Often it's served with rice in a plate. Ingredient-wise, Panaeng curry paste is sold separately and I don't know how different it is to normal curry paste. However, without that specific paste, I think most Thai people will say the normal paste does fine and may not notice the difference.
Panang curry has an additional ingredient which isn't used in Red or Green curry paste. It's ground peanuts and Panang is usually seasoned to be less spicy but much sweeter than the red curry. As for the green curry, translated directly from its Thai name, it's not just green curry. The actual translation is "Sweet Green Curry" while the red curry is "Spicy Curry". Among the three, Panang is the sweetest. The green curry is sweet but not as sweet as the Panang. It's spicier than Panang but not as spicy as the red curry. Basically, Panang is the sweetest and mildest curry of the three. The green curry is in the middle while the red curry is the spiciest and the least sweet of the three and saltiness is the prominent flavour. Traditionally, the ingredients for the pasts were also different. Nowadays, it's just the colour of the chilies.
I was trying to make a chicken curry this evening and hoped it would taste like the yummy panang curries I've eaten in various restaurants. Not so much! But I got on line to try and see what the differences are and seeing other recipes, I added a teaspoon of sugar and a large teaspoon of chunky peanut butter. Tastes more like what I had hope for!
According to the first google link for Panang Curry its supposed to be thicker and drier than a Red Curry - which is supposed to be soupier and runnier. Other places suggest that it's supposed to be milder.
Having lived in Thailand for the past month and a half, I feel like I should know this. I'll ask some of my Thai friends and get back to you.