The flavour profile of this massaman curry paste recipe leaves nothing to be desired.
Massaman curry hails from the south of Thailand and is different from other Thai curries because the spices have to be roasted beforehand, and it has ingredients not common to Thai cuisine, like cardamom, cinnamon and nutmeg. Massaman paste is a mashup of the best of Indian flavours and the best of Thai ingredients, and it packs a punch of fragrance, a spicy kick, and the sweetness and tang of lemongrass and galangal. A little massaman goes a long way. It’s traditionally used in chicken curries, to keep in line with Muslim eating restrictions but can be used on duck, goat, mutton, beef or venison with great results.
Massaman paste’s origin came by way of the spice trade brought to Thailand, which when mixed with local ingredients like galangal, fish, and shrimp paste, brought forth this flavourful savoury condiment. The name of the paste might come from “Mussulman,” an archaic term to describe Muslims, who introduced many new spices to the area and cooked “Mussulman curries” with this type of paste as early as the 17th century. The term slowly transformed into what it is today and still describes this aromatic mixture of the best of two cultures.
When I first started exploring massaman curry paste, I knew it would require a lot of spices, but the good news is that everything is generally accessible. I used mainly whole spices when I could such as cumin and coriander seeds, rather than ground, as well as whole cloves and white peppercorns. My choice in adding a cinnamon stick rather than ground and grating whole nutmeg was to keep the spices fresh.
Massaman curry paste relies on our old favorites – red chilies, garlic, ginger and lemongrass, but there are a few new players that give it a unique spicy, not hot spicy flavour. The unique sweetness comes from the blend of cinnamon, cloves and nutmeg.
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 can vary from using a charcoal grill to cooking in oil, or in a dry frying pan which is how I do it for this recipe.
When it comes to spices, there is a difference between toasting them as opposed to using ground. When you toast whole spices, they release their natural oils and aromatics. Toasting for use a few minutes in a heated dry pan gives you the most flavour bang for the spoonful. Try it and you won’t need to lean in to catch the unique smell of toasted cumin and coriander.
So if you want extra flavour and not just heat from your dried chillies, toss them in the pan along with the rest of your spices and arromats!
I find that if slightly charred the ingredients deepen their flavours and really bring out the taste. This holds true even if you soak them afterwards to soften them.
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.
This warm and flavourful curry paste is beautiful on chicken, beef, or lamb.
You can make a vegan and vegetarian version to use for tofu, seitan, or tempeh. Simply skip the fish sauce and shrimp paste by adding a touch of soy sauce instead.
Try and use the paste immediately or store it in the refrigerator for up to four weeks. You can store it in the freezer in an ice cube tray for later use. Be aware that there are peanuts in the preparation, so be mindful of people with peanut allergies; use cashews instead.
1/4 cup dry roasted unsalted peanuts or to taste.
3 shallots, sliced charred
6 garlic cloves peeled and charred
15 red chilies (3 teaspoon dried crushed chillies) charred
1 thumb-sized piece galangal or ginger, thinly sliced charred
2 stalk lemongrass, chopped and charred (or 2 to 3 tbsp prepared lemongrass).
3 tbsp coriander root sliced charred
2 tsp coriander seeds roasted
2 tsp whole cumin seeds roasted
1 tsp nutmeg, preferably freshly ground roasted
1 cinnamon stick roasted
1 tsp ground cloves roasted
4 cardamom pods roasted
2 tbsp fish sauce
1 tsp shrimp paste
2 tbsp tamarind paste
1 tsp palm sugar (or brown sugar)
1 to 3 tbsp coconut milk (depending on how thick you prefer your paste)
Like other spice blends and pastes, once you take the 2 minutes to toast the whole spices, (including the cardamom), char the aromats it’s just a matter of getting everything blended smooth.
I’ve found that it’s easiest to do this in 2 or more stages, especially if you don’t have a high-powered blender or food processor.
Start by grinding all the whole roasted spices and dried chilies. Really break them down so that when you move to stage 2.
Which is adding all the other wet and charred ingredients.
Those latter ingredients make it a bit more difficult and a longer process to get the full blend and smoothness you desire. Another way to ensure that the process goes smoothly is to rough chop or slice the lemongrass, garlic, shallots and cilantro. You’re food processor will like you for not making it work too hard…😍
Store the curry paste in a glass jar with a tight-fitting lid until ready to use.
How to Use Thai Massaman Curry Paste:
Try this easy recipe on how to use Massaman paste:
For curry, coat the meat of choice with the paste and brown it in vegetable oil. Add prefered amount full-fat coconut milk. Simmer until all is cooked to your liking. Garnish the dish with whole roasted peanuts, fresh coriander, and lime wedges. Serve with rice.
Massaman is usually mixed with coconut milk to make curries, but it can be used without as well:
Place the meat of choice in a bowl—vegetables, tofu, tempeh, or potatoes can also be used—and coat well with enough of the curry paste. Transfer to a baking tray and add 2 to 3 whole bay leaves. Cover with tin foil and bake in the oven at 350 F until cooked through.
To cook in a wok, coat the meat or vegetable with the paste, add vegetable oil to a hot wok, and cook until everything is done to your taste.
Garnish the dish with whole roasted peanuts, fresh coriander, and lime wedges. Serve with rice.
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