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When one thinks of curry it is probably India that first pops up in the mind. However, anyone who has traveled Asia knows there are so many different types of curries. True, most of the curry in Asia did come from an Indian influence, and this Massaman Curry is no different. It is popular in southern Thailand and one of my favorite meals when I’m in the islands.
I first went to Thailand back in 2014, and have gone every year since, even going so far as to get a vacation house in Koh Samui. It is one of my favorite destinations in Asia and there is an absolutely fantastic culinary scene. In fact, the main picture in my About Us section is Alona and I at a rooftop pool in Bangkok. Before going to Thailand my experience with Thai food was Pad Thai from little Thai takeout places around Los Angeles. My how my world was opened when I first got a massaman curry in a restaurant named Papaya on Koh Phi Phi. They are known for their massaman curry so of course I had to try it.
What Is Massaman Curry?
By definition a curry is just a mix of spices used to flavor sauces. I know that is pretty vague, but it’s the truth. It originates from India, and usually has a complex number of spices and herbs, including leaves from the curry tree.
However it isn’t just India that makes curry these days. No, it can be found all over the world. From カレー karē in Japan which is usually served with rice and pickles, to kari kambing (goat meat curry) in Indonesia, to Chicken Tikka Masala in the UK. Thailand, which has had an Indian influence for hundreds of years has dozens if not hundreds of dishes with curry. My favorite of course being Massaman Curry.
Massaman curry is less spicy than most Indian curries, but it still packs a great flavor. It is just as much Thai as their other national dishes, and the history of it is mostly speculation. Some people believe that it was created by Malay Muslim traders to southern Thailand. Others say it was from the center of Thailand, brought by Persian nobles to the court. Regardless of the history, it is a delicious dish that everyone should try.
What Spices Go In Massaman Curry Paste?
Like all wet curries, massaman curry must start with a curry paste. A combination of all the spices and herbs pounded into a paste to be added to the cooking liquid. This curry is mainly comprised of non-traditional Thai ingredients, but of course has some that make it distinctly Thai.
These ingredients include: cardamom, galangal, cinnamon, cloves, star anise, cumin, bay leaves, nutmeg, mace, dried chili peppers, coriander, lemongrass, white pepper, shrimp paste, shallots, and garlic.
While you can make your own massaman curry paste from scratch at home, it is much easier to just buy a packet of good quality paste. I usually bring back a few dozen packets when I go to Thailand, but in today’s global economy you can find many god brands online. I recommend the Mae Ploy brand as it is made in Thailand with all natural ingredients. If you want a version suitable for vegans you can get the Mike’s Organic version, which leaves out the shrimp paste and fish sauce. For this recipe I used Lobo curry paste, but I have included how to make your own paste at home as well.
Massaman Curry Ingredients
1 breast Chicken. Chicken is the primary meat in the curry as Indians don’t eat beef and Muslims don’t eat pork. But you can use beef or pork if you want. To make it vegan you can just use Tofu.
2 Potatoes; medium
400 ml Coconut Milk
50 grams Massaman Curry Paste. You can make your own using step 1 of the instructions, but to be honest I’ve only done it at one cooking class in Phuket, and now I just buy packets from the store. My favorite is from Lobo Brand, but there are so many good ones available it’s almost a waste of time to make it yourself.
50 grams Peanuts
Fish Sauce; to taste. Leave out if you are trying to make the dish vegan.
Massaman Curry Paste
20 Thai Bird’s Eye Chili Peppers. Massman curry is not typically that spicy, but you can increase the amount of chili if you want to give it more of a kick.
1 tbsp Lemongrass Paste. You can make your own by pulverizing raw lemongrass, or you can buy a jarred version here.
10 cloves Garlic
1 Shallot; large
2 tbsp Galangal; sliced. This can also be replaced with standard Ginger if you cannot find galangal at your market.
1 tsp Ground Cinnamon
2 tsp Salt
1 tsp White Peppercorns
1 tsp Coriander
1 tsp Cumin
1 pinch Cardamom
1 pinch Cloves
1 pinch Nutmeg
1 tbsp Shrimp Paste. If you don’t use the shrimp paste, the curry can be vegan, but you should replace it with another umami ingredient, like miso paste.
Massaman Curry Instructions
1. If you are making the paste at home, that will be step one. In a hot skillet start by toasting the coriander, cumin, and white peppercorns. While they are toasting, toss all the other curry paste ingredients into a food processor. (You can use a mortar and pestle if you want to keep it really traditional, but I’ll gladly use technology). When the spices are done being toasted, add them to the food processor as well and let run until a paste is formed. The ingredients list makes quite a bit, and you only need 50 grams for a 2 person serving of curry, so you can place the remainder in a resealable container and leave in the fridge.
2. Peel the potatoes and cut into around 1-2 cm chunks, same with the chicken. In a saucepan add the 400 ml of coconut milk and 50 grams of curry paste and put on high heat.
3. Add the chicken and fry in the curry milk liquid until cooked. Add 200 ml of water and bring up to a boil. Add the potatoes and peanuts. Let cook for about 10-15 minutes, or until the potatoes are fully cooked. If too much water is evaporating too fast you can always add more a couple tablespoons at a time.
4. Add fish sauce to taste. Serve with rice.
You can make the entire dish vegan by replacing the shrimp paste in the curry paste with miso, substituting the chicken for tofu, and leaving out the fish sauce.
The bowl featured in the main picture is my absolutely gorgeous Churchill Stonecast Triangle bowl, available on Amazon.