Made-from-scratch Beef Massaman Curry! This epic Thai coconut curry takes time to make but you’ll be rewarded with a rich, fragrant curry with fall apart meat and beautiful layers of flavours that you can’t buy in a jar. It’s a very mild curry – so feel free to jack up the heat!
Peanuts, coconut, aromatic fresh and ground spices, potatoes and fall apart beef.
What’s not to love about Massaman Curry? It’s like all my favourite things, simmered in one pot.
And it’s not just me. There’s a reason why Massaman Curry seems to appear as a Chef’s Special at almost every Thai restaurant – and generic “Asian” restaurants at that. We’ve embraced Massaman as a firm favourite and it’s totally worthy.
Massaman Curry is a bit of an outlier in Thai cuisine. It was born from Indian and Malay influences and as a result, the main flavours comes from spices typically associated with Indian curries. Spices such as: cumin, coriander, cloves, nutmeg, cinnamon and cardamom.
Basically, if you take Indian curry spices and do a mash up with aromatics used in Thai curries (garlic, lemongrass, galangal), add coconut and peanuts, you end up with Massaman Curry.
And we love it!
MASSAMAN CURRY BREAKDOWN
It 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.
Yes there are quite a few steps – but it’s not hard and I hope these process photos and the recipe video will give you the confidence that you got this!!!
One of the signature characteristics of Massaman Curry is tender fall apart meat. It’s most commonly made with beef. Though it will work fine with any slow cooking cut of beef, I find that beef chuck has the ideal amount of fat and fibre texture for this curry.
The cooking method for the beef is quite unique – it’s simmered in a pot with beef broth with lemongrass trimmings, bay leaves and star anise until it’s fall apart tender, then the braising liquid and beef are later stirred into the curry.
This cooking method makes Massaman Curry very easy to adapt for almost any protein because basically, you just simmer your chosen meat until it’s super tender.
PS The pieces of beef are quite large – and that’s the way it’s supposed to be. Big, juicy, fall apart pieces of beef. yesssssss!
The curry paste uses fairly common Thai aromatics. Galangal is a common ingredient used in South East Asian cuisine – it looks like a red ginger but is tougher to cut, and tastes like citrusy/piney ginger. It can be found at everyday supermarkets in Australia (Coles, Woolies, Harris).
In addition to this, there’s dried Asian chillies (Asian store, or use these ones from Harris Farms), ginger, lemongrass and eschalots (the baby onions / French shallots).
The preparation of the Aromatics for Massaman Curry is quite unique, so I’m going to step through some of the key ones.
Dried Chillies – The seeds of chillies is where most of the spiciness is so by removing the seeds, it makes this curry quite mild. Also, dried Asian chillies are typically more mild than dried chillies from other regions (such as Caribbean and Hispanic).
Lemongrass – Typically when lemongrass is called for in a recipe, the reedy outer layers are peeled off and discarded. I like how the trimmings are used to flavour the beef broth in this recipe. Then the softer inside stalk is used in the standard manner – finely chopped then blitzed in the curry paste.
MASSAMAN CURRY PASTE
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 vary from using a charcoal grill to cooking in oil, or in a dry skillet which is how I do it in this recipe.
Once charred to infuse the Aromatics with the smokey flavour, the galangal is grated (it’s tough, so that’s the best way to ensure a smooth sauce), the garlic is peeled and the chillies are emptied of the seeds before blitzing in a food processor with toasted spices to make the paste.
MASSAMAN CURRY SAUCE
We’re on the home stretch here with the best part yet to come – EATING IT!
Making the Massaman Curry sauce and bringing it all together is relatively straight forward. Start off by sautéing the curry paste to bring out the flavour, add coconut milk, cinnamon and star anise.
Next, we season the curry sauce with fish sauce (the salty), tamarind (sour) and sugar (sweet). The holy trinity of Asian cooking – the perfect balance of sweet, salty and sour!
Add potatoes (raw) and by the time the potatoes are tender, the sauce should have reduced and thickened. If it thickens too fast, just thin it with water. Then lastly, plonk the beef back in just to heat through.
OMG can you imagine the smell of this, simmering away on the stove?? It’s insane!
And those hunks of beef that just fall apart at a touch…. and those tender potatoes that have sucked up all those amazing flavours….
And that sauce… that sauce!!
It’s simply amazing.
Well, not that simple to make. But it’s so, so worth it! – Nagi x
WATCH HOW TO MAKE IT
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!
- 1 lemongrass ((Note 1))
- 6 dried red Asian chillis ((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))
- 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
- 4 – 6 tbsp water
- 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
- 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)
- 3 tbsp peanuts (, roughly chopped)
- Finely sliced red chilli ((optional))
- Asian fried shallots ((optional, Note 7))
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.
- 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.
Grate galangal. Peel garlic. Break chillies in half, shake out seeds and discard.
Place chillies in food processor. (Note 8) Blitz until finely chopped.
Add galangal, finely chopped lemongrass and remaining Spice Paste ingredients, starting with 4 tbsp water. Blitz until smooth – add more water if required.
- 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.
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 – Use dried red chillies purchased from an Asian grocery store or these dried chillies from Harris Farms. Other dried chillies may make it too spicy – depends on what chilli you use.
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.
Calories from Fat 504
LIFE OF DOZER
His eyes boggle at the sight of a big slab of beef…. OMG OMG….