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Thai Massaman Curry – A Hearty Winter Meal

The delicious rich scents of roasted coriander and cumin seeds filling the kitchen and the tiny satisfying “popping” sounds they make are some of the rewards of cooking authentic Thai Massaman Curry. This is one of my favorite curries with tender slices of long-cooked beef with soft chunks of potatoes contrasted with boiled peanuts in a complexly spiced coconut sauce.

Massaman curry in Kaitlyn's kitchen

Massaman curry in Kaitlyn's kitchen (click to enlarge)

Massaman’s flavor owes more to dried spices like nutmeg, cinnamon, cloves, and dried chilies than to the more typical fresh Thai spices like lemongrass and kaffir lime leaves, making it unusual amongst Thai curries. The inclusion of these dried spices reveal the influence of Malay and Indian cooking on this curry, which originated in the South of Thailand. This “Muslim-style” curry can be made with mutton, chicken or beef but not usually with pork (although it can be).

Massaman Curry is a great match for a crusty baguette, sauteed vegetables or a fresh salad, and an assertive red wine.

Since many of you live in places colder in early December than here in Chiang Mai, Thailand (where the “cold” season is a chilly 50°F at night at the most extreme) Massaman curry makes for a warm and hearty, winter meal. Thai people usually serve their curries over steamed jasmine rice, but Massaman curry is also a great match for a crusty baguette, sauteed vegetables or a fresh salad and an assertive red wine. With this recipe from Temple of Thai and with help from an expert curry-maker, I made a delicious, creamy, complex Beef Massaman Curry.

Start the homemade curry paste by roasting separately in a pan:

Then grind the spices together in a granite mortar and pestle (I found out the hard way when making Green Curry that a ceramic mortar and pestle will not do the job!). Next add:

  • ½ tsp ground nutmeg
  • ½ tsp ground cinnamon
  • ½ tsp ground cloves
Massaman Curry and Curry Paste ingredients

A selection of ingredients for Massaman Curry and Curry Paste

Then peel, chop and pound in:

  • 4 oz shallots (about 4 medium shallots)
  • 1 oz garlic (about 1-2 cloves of European garlic, or 4 cloves of Thai garlic)

Thinly slice:

Pound these ingredients into the mixture with:

It might take a while at first, but I found that this curry paste came together with just over ten minutes of concerted, loud pounding. Mix the paste with a spoon, checking through for large chunks of chili pepper, lemongrass or galangal. When these ingredients are adequately integrated, mash in with the pestle:

Then set the curry paste aside.

Massaman Curry Paste in a granite mortar

Massaman Curry Paste in a granite mortar (click to enlarge)

To start the curry, open:

Skim the coconut cream from the top of the can, and put it aside.

Boil:

Thai beef usually comes from grass grazing cattle. This is an efficient and ecologically friendly way of producing beef. The meat is tougher and more strongly-flavored than beef in other countries, so it should be boiled longer – I kept the meat simmering for 40 minutes, but you might be able to reduce this time to just 5-10 minutes if you use a higher grade of beef. Adjust the cooking time for other types of meat. Use tofu for a vegetarian Massaman by adding unboiled tofu to the curry towards the end of cooking.

Add:

  • 1 potato, cut in chunks

and boil for 20 minutes. Drain the beef and reserve the stock.

Massaman Curry bubbling on the stove

Massaman Curry bubbling on the stove (Click to enlarge)

In a large saucepan or wok, fry together:

Until fragrant and steam rises from the paste. This cooks the shrimp paste so that it tastes mellower and less raw.

Add:

  • Reserved coconut cream

Cook until the coconut cream “breaks,” or separates with oil rising to the top. Then add the cooked meat, potatoes, the rest of the coconut milk and:

Boil these ingredients together for ten minutes, adding the reserved broth if the coconut milk becomes too thick. This curry should have a lot of broth, like a soupy Green curry, not a thick sauce like a Penang or Indian-style curry. If you want a lower-fat recipe, add more broth and reduce the coconut milk, though this will taste less creamy and a bit more spicy – the coconut fat mitigates the heat in the curry paste.

Homemade Massaman Curry, the finished dish

Homemade Massaman Curry, the finished dish (click to enlarge)

Temple of Thai’s Asian food store has everything you need to make this Massaman Curry, like coconut milk, dried spices, and tamarind. Or take a shortcut and try this curry paste to make a quick, authentic Massaman Curry.

Kaitlyn MooreAbout the Author, Kaitlyn Moore:

Kaitlyn is originally from North Carolina but moved to Chiang Mai, Thailand, so that she could eat more noodles and avoid snow. She’s been abroad for over a year, with occasional stops in other parts of South and South East Asia.

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