Made-from-scratch Beef Massaman Curry! This epic Thai coconut curry takes time to make but you’ll be rewarded with a rich, fragrant curry with fall apart meat and beautiful layers of flavours that you can’t buy in a jar.
BONUS: I’ve also included directions for how to make this using store bought Massaman Curry paste, including my tip for the BEST brand to use!
Peanuts, coconut, aromatic fresh and ground spices, potatoes and fall apart beef. What’s not to love about Massaman Curry? It’s like all my favourite things, simmered in one pot!
And it’s not just me. There’s a reason why Massaman Curry seems to appear as a Chef’s Special at almost every Thai restaurant, along with its lamb shank counterpart. And that it was probably the single most requested recipe when I did a recipe call out.
We’ve embraced Massaman as a firm favourite and it’s totally worthy!
What is Massaman curry?
Massaman Curry is a bit of an outlier in Thai cuisine. It was born from Indian and Malay influences and as a result, the main flavours comes from spices typically associated with Indian curries. Spices such as: cumin, coriander, cloves, nutmeg, cinnamon and cardamom.
Basically, if you take Indian curry spices and do a mash up with aromatics used in Thai curries (garlic, lemongrass, galangal), add coconut and peanuts, you end up with Massaman Curry. So it tastes like a mash up between an Indian curry and Thai Curry.
And we love it!
“It’s not quick and easy, but it’s worth it!”
This recipe was never going to make my quick ‘n easy recipe collection, but every minute is worth it. The freshness of a made-from-scratch massaman curry paste puts store bought to shame.
Yes there are quite a few steps – but it’s not hard and I hope these process photos and the recipe video will give you the confidence that you got this!!!
One of the signature characteristics of Massaman Curry is tender fall apart meat. It’s most commonly made with beef. Though it will work fine with any slow cooking cut of beef, I find that beef chuck has the ideal amount of fat and fibre texture for this curry.
The cooking method for the beef is quite unique – it’s simmered in a pot with beef broth with lemongrass trimmings and bay leaves until it’s fall apart tender, then the reduced braising liquid and beef are later stirred into the curry.
This cooking method makes Massaman Curry very easy to adapt for almost any protein because basically, you just simmer your chosen meat until it’s super tender.
PS The pieces of beef are quite large – and that’s the way it’s supposed to be. Big, juicy, fall apart pieces of beef. yesssssss!
The curry paste uses fairly common Thai aromatics.
Galangal is a common ingredient used in South East Asian cuisine – it looks like a red ginger but is tougher to cut, and tastes like citrusy/piney ginger. It can be found at everyday supermarkets in Australia (Coles, Woolies, Harris).
In addition to this, there’s dried Asian chillies (Asian store, or use these ones from Harris Farms), ginger, lemongrass and eschalots (the baby onions / French shallots).
The preparation of the Aromatics for Massaman Curry is quite unique, so I’m going to step through some of the key ones.
Dried Chillies – The seeds of chillies is where most of the spiciness is so by removing the seeds, it makes this curry quite mild. Also, dried Asian chillies are typically more mild than dried chillies from other regions (such as Caribbean and Hispanic).
Lemongrass – Typically when lemongrass is called for in a recipe, the reedy outer layers are peeled off and discarded. I like how the trimmings are used to flavour the beef broth in this recipe. Then the softer inside stalk is used in the standard manner – finely chopped then blitzed in the curry paste.
How to make Massaman curry paste
One of the characteristics of Massaman Curry is the signature hint of smokiness. In order to achieve this, the Aromatics are charred in some way – methods vary from using a charcoal grill to cooking in oil, or in a dry skillet which is how I do it in this recipe.
Once charred to infuse the Aromatics with the smokey flavour, the galangal is grated (it’s tough, so that’s the best way to ensure a smooth sauce), the garlic is peeled and the chillies are emptied of the seeds before blitzing in a food processor with toasted spices to make the paste.
Alternative: BEST store bought curry paste
We all have times when we need Massaman Curry but making it from scratch simply isn’t viable for whatever reason.
So I’ve included directions for how to make a really great Massaman Curry using store bought curry paste. Whatever the jar says to do, IGNORE IT! Follow the directions I’ve provided to toast the curry paste and brighten it up with a fresh hit of garlic, ginger and lemongrass paste before adding the coconut milk.
And for the BEST Massaman Curry paste, find the little Maesri cans. Restaurants use it, chefs use it, and I hoard it.
And it happens to be a bargain at ~$1.50 a can.
Where to find Maesri curry paste – at your local grocery store!
It’s sold at most metropolitan Coles and Woolworths grocery stores in Australia (Asian section), at Harris Farms, practically all Asian stores (it would be un-Asian not to carry it!) and here it is online in Australia, US, Canada* and UK.
* Obscenely expensive, please try to get to an Asian store!
Can’t find it?
Use any Massaman Curry paste you can find. Order of preference (Aussie brands) – Ayam, Five Tastes and bringing up the rear is Volcom (it’s always too sweet).
Making the Massaman curry sauce
We’re on the home stretch here with the best part yet to come – EATING IT!
Making the Massaman Curry sauce and bringing it all together is relatively straight forward. Start off by sautéing the curry paste to bring out the flavour, add coconut milk, cinnamon and star anise.
Next, we season the curry sauce with fish sauce (the salty), tamarind (sour) and sugar (sweet). The holy trinity of Asian cooking – the perfect balance of sweet, salty and sour!
Add potatoes (raw) and by the time the potatoes are tender, the sauce should have reduced and thickened. If it thickens too fast, just thin it with water. Then lastly, plonk the beef back in just to heat through.
OMG can you imagine the smell of this, simmering away on the stove?? It’s insane!
And those hunks of beef that just fall apart at a touch…. and those tender potatoes that have sucked up all those amazing flavours….
And that sauce… that sauce!! 😩
It’s simply amazing.
Well, not that simple to make. But it’s so, so worth it! – Nagi x
PS Update: I’ve since shared Lamb Shank Massaman Curry. That too is amazing – with a capital A!
Complete your meal – starters!
On the side
Watch how to make it
- 1 lemongrass (Note 1)
- 6 dried red Asian chillis (not Thai! Note 2)
- 4 eschallots , peeled (Note 3)
- 5 cloves garlic , unpeeled
- 3 cm / 2.25" galangal piece , peeled, cut into 3/4 cm / 1/2" slices (Note 4)
- 4 - 6 tbsp water
Spice Paste Dried Spices:
- 1/2 tsp ground cloves
- 3/4 tsp cumin
- 1/8 tsp ground nutmeg
- 3/4 tsp coriander
- 1/2 tsp cardamom
- 1/2 tsp cinnamon
- 700 g / 1.4lb beef chuck , cut into 4cm / 2.5" cubes (Note 5)
- 500 ml / 2 cups beef broth , low sodium
- 2 bay leaves
- 1/4 cup / 65 ml vegetable oil
- 400 ml / 14 oz coconut milk (full fat, 1 can)
- 1 cinnamon quill
- 1 star anise
- 1 tsp tamarind paste/puree (Note 6)
- 1 tbsp fish sauce
- 1 tbsp white sugar
- 2 medium-small potatoes , peeled and cut into 2.5cm / 1" pieces
Garnish & serving:
- 3 tbsp peanuts , roughly chopped
- Finely sliced red chilli (optional)
- Asian fried shallots (optional, Note 7)
- Steamed jasmine rice
Lemongrass (see video):
- Remove reedy outer layers and trim lemongrass per Note 1.
- Reserve all the trimmings (for beef). Finely chop the white part (for paste.
- Place Beef ingredients in a medium saucepan. Liquid should almost cover beef but not completely - if not, add water.
- Add lemongrass trimmings.
- Bring to boil over high heat, then reduce heat and simmer gently for 1.5 - 2 hours until beef is fork tender.
- Remove beef. If there's much more than 1.5 cups liquid, simmer to reduce. Set liquid aside.
Char Aromatics (char = flavour!):
- Place heavy based skillet over high heat until smoking (no oil).
- Add eschalot, garlic and galangal in skillet. Get a nice char on them, then remove (~1.5 minutes).
- Add dried chillies into skillet, char 10 seconds or so on each side until charred, then remove.
- Once cool enough to handle: Grate galangal. Peel garlic. Break chillies in half, shake out seeds and discard.
Spice Paste Dried Spices:
- Wipe the skillet used above or use a clean one. Heat on medium heat, add Spice Paste Dried Spices. Toast for 30 seconds or until they start to smell fragrant - do not let them burn. Immediately transfer into bowl.
- Place chillies in food processor. (Note 8) Blitz until finely chopped.
- Add galangal, finely chopped lemongrass, the toasted Spice Paste Dried Spices, and remaining Spice Paste ingredients, starting with 4 tbsp water. Blitz until smooth - add more water if required.
- Place oil in a pot or large skillet over medium high heat. Add curry paste and cook for 3 minutes until the liquid has cooked out and it's thick and fragrant.
- Add coconut milk, stir to incorporate.
- Add cinnamon, star anise and reserved beef braising liquid. Reduce heat to medium and simmer for 3 minutes.
- Stir in fish sauce, tamarind and sugar, stir.
- Add potatoes and cook for 7 minutes or until potatoes are tender, turning as required.
- Add beef and simmer for 2 minutes or until sauce has reduced and thickened.
- Adjust: saltiness with fish sauce, sour with tamarind and sweet with sugar. The taste should be sweet, salty and sour, with more emphasis on the sweet and sour notes. Top up with a little water if the curry seems too thick
- Serve over jasmine rice, garnished with peanuts (essential!) plus optional crispy Asian shallots and fresh chillies.
- Follow Beef steps to cook beef and make broth;
- Skip all curry paste making steps;
- Under Curry Sauce steps, use store bought paste instead of homemade PLUS 2 garlic cloves minced, 2 tsp minced ginger plus 1 tbsp lemongrass (paste OR finely grated fresh, white part only).
- Cook it off for 3 minutes per recipe, proceed with recipe as written.
More great curries of the world
Life of Dozer
His eyes boggle at the sight of a big slab of beef…. OMG OMG….