Thai Massaman Curry is an amazing and special thing. Meltingly tender beef sits in a mild, fragrant coconut gravy – creamy potatoes round off the dish, leaving us with an intensely satisfying South East Asian delight. It’s one of Thailand’s most loved curry recipes and not hard to see why. Learn how I make mine…
The Beef Massaman Curry is one of the tastiest thai curries you're ever likely to experience. For this out there who are not sadistic about their spice or for those who just don't like hot hot food, this is a great curry for you.
Not all Thai curries are nuclear - the Beef Massaman is much milder and unfathomably fragrant. It's creamy, and sweet and warming without the challenging hit of spice. It uses unusual spices for Thai food, which may link back to its Persian and Indian roots as the word Massaman derives from the word Muslim.
Thai sweat shop
I remember eating this the first time a food court in Bangkok - we'd been on a marathon street food fest for a few days in blistering heat and I'd HAD IT with sweating my way through a meal. It was over 40º/105ºF every day. I'd look at Thai people around me going about their business, eating liquid gunpowder next to us without a single change in their appearance. Not a single bead of sweat. I however resembled a slowly poaching pig - chilli tears streaming down my bright red face, water cascading down my body and into my at-capacity sopping clothes.
Just once, I wanted a meal, not an ordeal - so we relented on our authentic street food quest and visited the mega-mall. A fully air conditioned mega-mall.
Beef Massaman - A Thai food court treat!
We had the day of our lives in that mall! Persusing bookstores! Squeezing into tiny Thai clothing! Lattes and pastries! We had haircuts! Smoothies! Watched fashion shows! and finally, visited the food court for lunch.
Thai food courts are phenomenal! There are a few western influences for sure, but the food is predominantly Thai and South East Asian. This is where I first saw Massaman. There were two versions on offer. A beef version and an egg version. I obviously ordered both and was not disappointed.
Massaman curry sauce is wonder of fragrance - it had a deep, rich spice and a luxurious texture. It's quite unlike the fast cooked curries in thin, light sauces we're familiar with from Thailand. Instead, it has more in common with Indian curries. Wherever it gets its influence, one thing is certain, it's a delight!
I love the use of potatoes in Massaman curry - I'm sure used to pad out the sauce to make a more filling dish, and it works the soft meat combined with the creamy potato is wondrous and the distinctive flavours evident. The subtle fragrance from cardamom and cinnamon are quite unique in this Thai dish.
It all starts with a good Massaman Curry Paste
The key to any Thai Massaman curry recipe is the curry paste. A heady concoction of fragrant ingredients which, when stewed for hours work their magic. Incidentally, this curry is a perfect candidate for the slow cooker - just pop it on in the morning and come dinner time, you'll be salivating! As Thai curries go, this massaman recipe doesn't go overboard with ingredients - it's fairly conservative. Some South East Asian and Indian curries I've cooked have 30+ ingredients! The massaman curry ingredients come in with a manageable 22!
So, now all you need is time - give this curry plenty of time to make magic happen. And if you DO have a surplus of self control, you might even want to eat this curry one or even two days later. The flavours are even more amazing when it's sat a while. Pop it in the fridge on a Wednesday night and that's your entire weekend sorted!
Serving suggestions and Substitutes
A lamb massaman is pretty delicious, so you can switch out the beef with lamb. Goat also works well too. You can make this using chicken too, but the full flavour is not achieved as chicken cooks quick and a long cook will destroy its texture. I prefer a red meat for this dish.
More Thai Recipes.
If, like me, you have an insatiable appetite for Thai food (it's medically proven, by doctors and stuff, that chilli is addictive) then why don't you give some of my other fantastic Thai recipes a try - once you master a few Thai curry pastes, the curry world is your Oyster.
3medium potatoes (peeled and cut into large pieces)
For the curry
Create the spice powder first. Heat a frying pan and add the cardamom, cumin sees, coriander seeds, cinnamon and cloves.
Dry fry for 1-2 minutes until the cumin starts to pop and jump around. Remove and add to a spice grinder or pestle & mortar. Grind the spices into a fine powder then stir in the paprika, nutmeg, turmeric, white pepper and salt.
Add the wet ingredients peanut oil to the pan and fry the peanuts for 1-2 minutes until brown. Remove and drain on paper towels to cool.
Using a stick blender or food processor or pestle & mortar, grind the peanuts, chillies, garlic, lemongrass, shallots, galangal and coriander into a paste. Add the powder and blend again to incorporate, adding a little water if it becomes too thick.
Pour the fish sauce over the beef and toss to combine. In a large pan over a medium heat, heat the peanut oil and then add the beef to the pan to fry for 4-5 minutes to brown. Add the paste and stir well to combine.
Cook for a further 5 minutes before adding 1/2 can coconut milk. Now turn up the heat and bring to a boil. Simmer vigorously for 4-5 minutes, stirring constantly to avoid sticking until the sauce is almost gone. Add the remaining 1 1/2 cans of coconut milk and 1 can full of water and again, bring to a boil.
Reduce the heat to low and simmer the curry for 1 1/2 hours, partially covered until the beef is soft. Add the potatoes and cook for a further 25 minutes until they're cooked through.
I serve mine with Jasmine rice and sprinkle over some fresh coriander leaves.