Much and all as I love Thai Food, Massaman Curry was never something that interested me as it doesn’t have the punch of a red curry or say a good Thai Beef Salad. As I’ve, ahem, matured, I’ve come to appreciate this milder curry with it’s layers of warming spice rather than heat.
Massaman curry is different to other Thai curries as it is influenced by many other cultures, which is seen by the use of spices traditionally used in Persian and Indian cooking such as nutmeg, cloves and cardamom. It is usually made with beef or lamb but never pork. Western cultures have adapted it so you’ll often see it on menus with chicken. Jamie Oliver has a vegetarian recipe in Comfort which is made with tofu and butternut squash.
I counted at least five of my cookbooks which have recipes for a massaman curry in them and they are all completely different. I took most of my inspiration from Rick Stein’s Far Eastern Odyssey and Saba: The Cookbook. Both of these recipes roast the fresh paste ingredients but I just dry fried them in a pan after toasting the spices. The amount of chilli varies wildly too; I’ve gone for a milder kick so it can be enjoyed by all but I like to garnish mine with fresh chilli for more heat. While I love lamb, I decided for this dish a slow cooked Beef Massaman Curry would be the perfect Winter curry.
Useful tips & links:
- This is not your speedy midweek curry. While it is not essential, ideally this should be made the day before you want to eat it as keeping it in the fridge overnight allows the flavours to develop. The paste however can be made in advance or you can even double the recipe and have some in the freezer ready to go.
- I like to make my own paste but feel free to use a good shop bought one.
- I make this with flank steak which is my favourite cut for slow cooked curries and stews as the beef becomes so soft and tender you could eat it with a spoon. Use any stewing beef you like such as chuck steak or shin. I have eaten it in a restaurant with what looked like fillet steak thinly sliced and added in at the end to cook. While it tasted fine it was grey and unappealing and a waste of expensive fillet in my opinion.
- Alternatively used lamb shoulder, which would be cooked the same way as the recipe below, or chicken thighs. If using chicken thighs the cooking time is much shorter, you make the sauce and simmer for about 30 minutes and add the thighs at the same time as the potatoes as they won’t need long to cook.
- I don’t add veg to a slow cooked curry like this and prefer to serve them to the side. If you are making this with chicken you could add peppers or green beans to it.
- Don’t stress too much if you can’t get a particular ingredient. Again, this website is a great help if you are looking to substitute a particular ingredient for something you already have.
- I buy unsalted peanuts in a health food shop and then roast them myself. Roast them for 5 minutes on a baking tray in the oven or I like to toast them in a dry frying pan after toasting the spices. Roughly chop them with a knife, bash them with a mortar and pestle or give them a quick blitz in a processor. Some recipes use cashew nuts instead of peanuts.
- Great minds and all that, Sheila from Gimme the Recipe recently posted her Red Massaman Chicken and it looks delicious.
Beef Massaman Curry
For the Massaman Paste:
- 4 dried red chillies
- 2 teaspoons of coriander seeds
- 2 teaspoons of cumin seeds
- 1 teaspoon of black peppercorns
- 20 green cardamom pods, seeds only
- ¼ teaspoon of freshly grated nutmeg
- 1 teaspoon of cloves
- 6 cloves of garlic
- 2 stalks of lemongrass
- 1 teaspoon of shrimp paste (optional)
- A 5cm piece or 25g of ginger or galangal
- 2 shallots
- A small bunch of coriander stalks
- 2 tablespoons of vegetable or sunflower oil
- 1 teaspoon of ground turmeric
For the Curry:
- 2 tablespoons of vegetable or sunflower oil
- 1 kilo of stewing beef of your choice cut into large 3-4cm chunks, at room temperature*
- 1 portion of the curry paste above or 5 tablespoons of good quality Massaman curry paste
- 2 shallots peeled and roughly sliced
- 400ml of coconut milk or cream
- 400ml of hot water or stock
- 2 tablespoons of fish sauce
- 125ml tamarind water (made with 50g tamarind pulp dissolved in 125ml boiling water)
- 1 tablespoon of palm sugar*
- 2 bay leaves
- 4 kaffir lime leaves, slightly torn
- 2 star anise
- 1 stick of cinnamon
- 400g of waxy or baby potatoes cut into chunks
- 80-100g of roasted unsalted peanuts*, roughly chopped
- Basmati or Jasmine Rice
- The leaves from the coriander stalks
- Sliced fresh red chilli
- Chopped peanuts or crispy shallots
* see useful tips & links
To make the paste:
- Roughly chop the dried red chillies add them along with the coriander seeds, cumin seeds, peppercorns, cardamom seeds, cloves and nutmeg to a dry non stick frying pan over a low heat. Gently toast until you can smell the aromas from the spices. Tip all of these dried ingredients into a spice grinder or use a mortar and pestle to grind them into a fine powder.
- Next peel and roughly chop the lemongrass, ginger or galangal, garlic and shallots and again dry fry them with the shrimp paste until toasted.
- Put the powdered spices, toasted fresh ingredients and coriander stalks into a mini food processor and blitz with the oil until you have a fine paste. Pour the paste into a bowl and stir through the ground turmeric. If you are not using it immediately pour over a layer of oil and cover and keep in the fridge for up to a week.
To make the curry:
- First make the tamarind water as it needs to stand for 15 minutes, by breaking up the pulp a bit and soaking it in the boiling water.
- Heat the oil in a large casserole dish over a medium high heat. Add in the spice paste and fry for a few minutes until it begins to cook.
- Add the chunks of beef and shallots and stir through the spice paste, allowing the meat to brown slightly so that it is sealed.
- Next pour in the coconut milk or cream and hot water or stock. Strain the tamarind pulp and water through a sieve. Push the pulp through to make sure you have as much juice as possible and then discard the solids. Add this tamarind water to the pot.
- Add the fish sauce, palm sugar, cinnamon, star anise, bay and kaffir lime leaves, bringing the whole thing to a boil before reducing it to a simmer. Allow it to simmer uncovered for about an hour, stirring occasionally.
- Cover the casserole dish and allow it to simmer for another 90 minutes. Alternatively you can now put the curry into a low oven.
- When the 90 minutes is up, check the curry and the beef should be very tender.
- Add the potatoes and peanuts to the curry and simmer for another 20 minutes or until the potatoes are cooked through. Taste and adjust for seasoning, adding salt or more spice if needed.
- You can now serve the curry or allow it to cool and store it in the fridge overnight. If you are doing this, take it out of the fridge and scrape off any fat that may have congealed on top. Gently reheat before serving.
- Remove the cinnamon stick, star anise, bay leaves and lime leaves. Serve with steamed basmati or jasmine rice and garnish with fresh coriander and chilli. Top with crispy fried shallots or more chopped peanuts if you like.