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Massaman (Matsaman) Curry

Recipe by: Asha Loupy

Serves 4

Massaman (Matsaman) Curry
Photo by:  

Asha Loupy

Massaman curry—or Matsaman, translating into "curry of the Muslim"—is a beloved dish found in Southern and Central Thailand. The curry is said to have its origins in the 17th century when spice traders from what was then Persia traveled through India to Thailand, bringing sweet, warming spices like cinnamon, cloves, star anise and mace with them. These spices were combined with local ingredients like lemongrass, galangal, tamarind and shallots to create a flavorful paste that is much milder than other chili-based curry pastes like Panang. Traditionally, the paste is made with makrut lime zest and coriander roots. If you can get your hands on those, we definitely suggest using them! This recipe uses a few makrut lime leaves and cilantro stems to mimic those classic ingredients.

This version is made with beef, but Massaman curry can be made with other meats like chicken, goat or lamb. When it comes to the cut of beef, choose one that will stand up to a low and slow simmer. You're aiming for melt-in-your-mouth tender, spiced beef at the end, so choose a cut like chuck, beef shanks or flanken-cut short ribs. If you choose a bone-in cut, just do your best to cut the meat into large chunks and make sure to throw the bones in as well (it'll make for an even deeper, more silky curry). Want to use chicken instead of beef? Just make sure to use chicken thighs, as these take much better to a long braise.

Recipes and articles referenced when developing this recipe:

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For the curry
  • One 14-ounce can full-fat coconut milk, refrigerated for 2 hours
  • 1/2 recipe Massaman Curry Paste (recipe follows)
  • 1 1/2 pounds beef stew meat, such as chuck, beef shank or flanken cut short ribs, cut into 1 1/2-inch pieces (see Cook’s Note)
  • 1 tablespoon fish sauce
  • 2 teaspoons tamarind paste
  • 1–3 teaspoons Madhur Jaggery, palm sugar, or brown sugar
  • 1 pound baby Yukon gold potatoes, peeled
  • 4 medium shallots, peeled and halved lengthwise with the root end still intact
  • 1/4 cup whole roasted peanuts
For the massaman curry paste
  • 15–20 (60g) dried mild red chillies, such as Thai long, Hungarian Wax or Guajillo
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons whole Nandini Coriander
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons whole Jodhana Cumin
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons whole Aranya Black Pepper
  • 8 whole Kandyan Cloves
  • 5 pods Baraka Cardamom
  • One 2-inch (4g) Wild Cinnamon Quill, broken into a few pieces
  • 3 blades (4g) Anamalai Mace
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly grated Anamalai Nutmeg
  • 2 teaspoons kosher salt
  • 2 medium shallots, diced
  • Two 5-inch lemongrass stalks (root end), sliced
  • 1 head garlic (about 15 cloves), peeled & smashed
  • One 1-inch piece galagal, peeled and finely grated or minced
  • 1/4 cup cilantro stems, roughly chopped
  • 3–4 makrut lime leaves, roughly chopped
  • 1/4 cup coconut oil
  • 1 tablespoon shrimp paste


To make the massaman curry
  1. Heat a large Dutch oven or heavy-bottomed pot over medium heat. Scoop the chilled coconut cream off the top of the coconut milk (you should have about 1/3 cup) and add to the pot along with the massaman curry paste. Stir to combine and fry until the paste starts to toast and the oil separates, about 3–5 minutes.
  2. Add the beef, stirring to coat in the fried paste, and continue to cook for another 3–4 minutes (this will help seal the meat). Add the fish sauce, tamarind paste, one teaspoon palm sugar and the remaining coconut milk along with one cup of water, stir and bring to a simmer. Reduce the heat to low, cover and let cook until the meat is just tender, about 1 1/2–2 hours, depending on the cut of beef you’re using.
  3. Add the potatoes and shallots, stir, making sure the potatoes are submerged in the curry, cover and continue to cook until the potatoes are cooked through, about 40–45 minutes. Taste and adjust the seasonings, adding more palm sugar or fish sauce, if necessary. Add the peanuts and continue to cook uncovered for 5 minutes. Serve hot over jasmine rice.
To make the massaman curry paste
  1. Heat a large skillet over medium heat. Add the chillies and dry toast until fragrant and starting to turn golden brown in spots, about 30 seconds to a minute per side. Transfer to a plate and let cool to room temperature.
  2. Return the skillet to medium heat and add the coriander seeds, cumin seeds, black peppercorns, cloves, cardamom, cinnamon and mace. Dry toast the spices, stirring frequently, until the coriander starts to turn a light golden brown, about 1–2 minutes. Transfer the spices to a plate or bowl and let cool to room temperature.
  3. Using kitchen shears or scissors, remove the stems and seeds from the toasted chillies. Break or cut into pieces, place in a spice grinder and grind into a fine powder. (You may have to grind the chillies in batches depending on the size of your spice grinder.) Transfer the chilli powder to the bowl of a food processor or high-powered blender.
  4. Transfer the toasted spice mix to a spice grinder and grind into a fine powder. Transfer the ground spices to the food processor or blender.
  5. Add the remaining curry paste ingredients to the food processor and blend until smooth. This recipe makes a double batch of massaman curry paste. Use half for the curry and freeze the remaining half to use another time!

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