Overhead photo of two bowls with Massaman Curry on rice with a side salad, ready to be eaten
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4.97 from 30 votes

Massaman Curry

Recipe video above. Not the fastest recipe in the world, but worth it! Rich and beautifully fragrant with the signature hint of smokiness, this mild curry is one of the most popular Thai curries ever. While many restaurants tend to tone down the spices and substantially increase the sugar, this recipe is based on authentic versions by Thai food authorities including David Thompson and Sujet Saenkham of Spice I Am. Super easy to adapt to other proteins - see notes!
Prep Time30 mins
Cook Time2 hrs
Total Time2 hrs 30 mins
Course: Curry, Main
Cuisine: Thai
Keyword: Massaman Curry
Servings: 4
Calories: 747kcal
Author: Nagi

Ingredients

Spice Paste:

  • 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

Beef:

  • 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

Curry Sauce:

  • 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:

  • 3 tbsp peanuts , roughly chopped
  • Finely sliced red chilli (optional)
  • Asian fried shallots (optional, Note 7)

Instructions

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.

Beef:

  • 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.

Curry Paste:

  • 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.

Curry Sauce:

  • 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 rice, garnished with peanuts (essential!) plus optional crispy Asian shallots and fresh chillies.

Notes

1. Lemongrass preparation: Cut lemongrass to leave you with just the bottom 8 cm / 3". Peel off the reedy outer layers, then trim the tough base off, leaving you with a pale green / white stem. This part will be used for the paste. The trimmings are used in the beef braising broth.
2. Chillies - This curry is not supposed to be spicy, just a warm hum. This recipe is made with the generic Asian dried chillies purchased from Asian grocery stores which are usually not that spicy. It is not made with Thai Chillies which are considerably spicier (cut down to 2 or 3).
The spiciness of chillies (dried and fresh) is like playing roulette - at different times of the year, they go up and down. The only way to really control how spicy your curry will be is to taste the chilli. If it's not that spicy, proceed with the recipe. 
But if it's spicy, then feel free to dial it back - 3 is a good starting point, 2 if you are really concerned.
You can substituted with other dried red chillies but always check spiciness first!
3. Eschalots = French onions = those small red / purple baby onions. Can sub with 1 red onion, peeled and quartered.
4. Galangal - Looks like ginger but with a red skin and harder to cut. Tastes like citrusy/piney ginger. Found at everyday supermarkets in Australia. If you really can't find it, sub with ginger + zest of 1 lime.
5. Beef - Massaman is supposed to be made with large pieces of meat, rather than small bite size pieces, so the meat needs to be slow cooked to become tender and absorbs the flavour of the braising liquid. Can be substituted with brisket but make sure you trim off the thick layer of fat, otherwise the sauce ends up too greasy. Gravy beef is also suitable, as long as you can find large pieces.
OTHER PROTEINS: Pork, goat, rabbit, bone in chicken pieces, lamb. Cut into large pieces and just simmer until fork tender, adjusting liquid level with water if required to end up with about 1 1/2 cups liquid at the end. I've had Massaman Lamb Shank at a restaurant and it was EPIC!
6. Tamarind - Sour paste used in South East Asian cooking. Sold in jars at supermarkets in Australia in the Asian section. Can substitute with lime juice (2 tsp) or vinegar (1 tsp).
7. Asian Fried Shallots - Little pops of salty, fried, crispy goodness I'm addicted to! Sold in the Asian aisle of supermarkets in Australia but better value at Asian stores!
8. Blitzing - You need a decent food processor for any curry paste, to ensure it's powerful enough to blitz the ingredients into a smooth paste.
9. Storage: terrific served fresh and also Keeps well in the fridge for 3 days. I imagine it freezes well - just give the sauce a good stir to smooth it out.
10. Recipe source: Another RecipeTin Family effort! We find many Thai restaurants tend to dumb down the spices and make the sauce too sweet. So we looked to more authentic recipes from David Thompson (the man!) and Sujet Saenkham of Spice I Am fame for inspiration on how Massaman curry really should be done. After three or four cracks at it, we love we've ended up and hope you will love our Massaman curry as much as we do!
11. Nutrition per serving. I never said this was diet food! To cut back on calories, trim the excess fat from the beef (the nutrition calculator isn't smart enough to do this, this will cut out loads of fat) and reduce oil from 3 to 2 tbsp. Please don't sub coconut milk with the lite stuff, it doesn't have nearly enough coconut flavour for this curry. Also, the potato can be subbed with non carb veg - this will also lower the calories.
Nutrition Facts
Massaman Curry
Amount Per Serving
Calories 747 Calories from Fat 504
% Daily Value*
Fat 56g86%
Saturated Fat 28g175%
Cholesterol 103mg34%
Sodium 951mg41%
Potassium 1398mg40%
Carbohydrates 27g9%
Fiber 4g17%
Sugar 5g6%
Protein 38g76%
Vitamin A 20IU0%
Vitamin C 16.9mg20%
Calcium 113mg11%
Iron 11.2mg62%
* Percent Daily Values are based on a 2000 calorie diet.

Nutrition

Calories: 747kcal | Carbohydrates: 27g | Protein: 38g | Fat: 56g | Saturated Fat: 28g | Cholesterol: 103mg | Sodium: 951mg | Potassium: 1398mg | Fiber: 4g | Sugar: 5g | Vitamin A: 20IU | Vitamin C: 16.9mg | Calcium: 113mg | Iron: 11.2mg