Thai massaman curry — also known as matsaman or mussaman curry — is a creamy, mildly spicy, nutty, slow-cooked curry heavily influenced by Indian, Malaysian, and Persian cuisines. It is not originally a native Thai curry, but it's been wonderfully assimilated into classic Thai cuisine. Massaman curry can be made with chicken, beef, or lamb, and it's an elegant dish to serve for weeknight meals or dinner parties alike. It can also be made ahead and reheated, which makes it perfect for quick dinners.
This curry can be made with a pre-made curry paste (I like Mae Ploy brand) or your own homemade curry paste. When making curry pastes, I always double or triple my quantities since the pastes will keep in the fridge for a few weeks, making it easy to pull together weeknight curries.
When making the curry paste, you can also replace the whole spices with ground ones to make life easier for yourself. I use a spice blender to grind my spices, and then a mortar and pestle to make my paste. Alternatively, you can use a blender (the shallots are wet enough to help the blending process), but make sure that you do it in short bursts as you don't want the blender to get hot and heat up the paste.
I also like to use a mixture of coconut milk and stock to braise my beef, after which I finish it with the curry paste, coconut milk, potatoes, and peanuts. Massaman curry is a filling dish — perfect with coconut rice or a simple steamed rice.
Massaman Curry with Beef
For the massaman curry paste:
1 tablespoon whole coriander seeds, or ground coriander
1 teaspoon whole cumin seeds, or ground cumin
4 to 5 green cardamoms pods, or 1/2 teaspoon ground cardamom
4 to 5 whole cloves, 1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
1 whole star anise
1-inch piece cinnamon, or 1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon whole white peppercorns, or ground pepper
1/4 teaspoon grated nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon salt
5 to 6 dried hot red Thai chilies, soaked in warm water for about 15 minutes and drained
2 lemongrass stalks, tender hearts only
4 to 5 lime leaves, backbone removed and finely shredded
1-inch piece galangal, peeled and finely chopped
2 medium shallots, chopped
1/4 cup chopped coriander stalks (or roots, if you can find them)
6 garlic cloves, chopped
1/2 tablespoon shrimp paste
For the braise:
1 pound beef chuck roast, cut into large bite-sized chunks
1 cup coconut milk
1 cup chicken or beef stock
For the curry:
1 tablespoon coconut or neutral oil
4 tablespoons massaman curry paste (Mae Ploy, or similar, or homemade)
1/2 cup coconut milk, stirred
2 large potatoes, cut into bite-sized chunks
1/4 teaspoon tamarind paste (or 1 tablespoon tamarind water), plus more to taste
Sugar, to taste
Fish sauce, to taste
1/2 cup dry-roasted peanuts
Make the curry paste: Dry-roast the coriander, cumin, cardamom, cloves, star anise, cinnamon, and peppercorns, one at a time, in a skillet over medium-high heat for about 30 seconds each or until each spice is fragrant. Transfer each spice to a spice grinder when toasted. Allow the spices to cool then blend to a fine powder. Add the grated nutmeg.
Pound the rest of the ingredients in a mortar and pestle with a little salt, adding each ingredient one by one, until they form a fine paste. Add the spice mix and mix to combine. Alternatively, use a blender to make the curry paste, blending in bursts until a paste is formed.
Transfer the paste to a covered container until ready to use. It will keep in the fridge for a few weeks.
Braise the beef: Place the beef in a heavy Dutch oven or other heavy-bottomed pot with a lid. Pour the coconut milk and stock over top. Bring to a gentle simmer over medium-high heat, then turn the heat down and cover. Braise on very low heat for 1 1/2 to 2 hours, until the beef is tender and just holding its shape. You can also cover the pot tightly and place it in a 275°F oven for about 2 hours, or until the beef is tender.
Lift the cooked beef out of the braising liquid. Strain the liquid into a bowl and reserve.
Finish the curry: Clean the pot used for braising the beef and replace it on the stove. Heat the oil over medium-high heat and add 4 tablespoons of massaman curry paste. Sauté the paste for a couple of minutes, until fragrant.
Add the coconut milk and 1 cup of the braising liquid to the curry paste. Bring it up to a gentle simmer, then add the beef chunks and potatoes. Season the curry with the tamarind, a few splashes of fish sauce, and some sugar. Bring back to a low simmer, then reduce heat to medium-low and cover. Cook for about 20 to 30 minutes, until the potatoes are tender.
Taste and adjust seasonings in the curry, adding more fish sauce, sugar, or tamarind, until the curry is a perfect balance of gentle spiciness, saltiness, tanginess, and sweetness. Stir in the peanuts and serve with coconut rice.
- Make-ahead moments: The paste can be made ahead and kept refrigerated for several weeks. The beef can also be braised a day or two before serving — refrigerate the beef and the braising liquid separately. The curry itself can be made a day or two ahead and gently reheated on the stovetop.