Today we’d like to present a tasty caveat in favor of annunciating EVERY consonant. We believe after cooking the massaman recipe below with chicken thighs, you too will be convinced that THIGH-land is the correct pronunciation. Let’s end this debate at the dinner table!
Thai Muslim food has a rich tradition that has been used to help popularize Thai curries all over the world. If you’ve heard the names of ‘massaman‘ or ‘khao soi‘ curries, they are great examples of this unique and too often overlooked subculture of Thai cuisine. Thai Muslim culinary heritage usually demands red meat stewed for long periods to become tender, fragrant, and extend the shelf life of the resulting curry. However, dark meat cuts of chicken make a great substitution in these curries and allow us to shorten the cooking time.
This recipe walks the line between full-flavored tradition and not spending hours in the kitchen. The key to saving time is getting ahead on your prep. This means adding the extra strep of blanching your potatoes, shortening the time it takes to cook them in your curry later.
Finding a great premade curry paste will also be a big step in saving you time. Making this delicious curry paste on your own is definitely worth it, but be prepared to add at least an hour of prep time. For example, when we’re teaching our guests to make massaman, we’ll make some paste the day before to be sure there’s plenty in case the timing is tight with our cooking classes.
May this recipe for massaman curry end all debates about Thigh-land! Be sure to check the FAQ below the recipe for answers to your most common questions as well.
Serves: 3-5 people
Equipment: pot or large wok with lid
Prep & Cooking Time: 1 hour
500g of chicken thighs, deboned 1 liter coconut milk 2 cups chicken stock 2 tbsp of massaman curry paste 5 tbsp cooking oil (we used coconut) 2 potatoes, peeled, parboiled and chopped into 4-5cm chunks 1/2 cup of roasted and ground unsalted peanuts (for garnish)
Seasoning (to taste) 3 tbsp of tamarind juice 3 tbsp of palm sugar 1 tsp of salt
Optional Dry Spices 2 bay leaves 4 green cardamom pods 1 cinnamon stick
1) Start by blanching your peeled potatoes in boiling water for 3-4 minutes. 2) Add coconut oil to your wok over medium heat. 3) When your oil is hot, place your chicken thighs in the oil (4 tbsp), skin side down. 4) Allow the skin to become golden and crisp on the edges, then flip and repeat for the other side. 5) Remove the chicken, set aside, and add the remaining 1 tbsp of oil to your wok. Fry your curry paste until fragrant. When ready add 1 cup of coconut milk to keep your paste from burning.
6) Add potatoes, and chicken thighs. Then pour in your chicken stock and half of the remaining coconut milk. 7) Cover for 20 minutes, gradually adding more coconut milk to keep the curry from getting too dry. Remember to check the potatoes occasionally, using a fork to see if they have become soft. 8) When your vegetables are fork tender, season with tamarind, salt, and palm sugar to taste. 9) Stir in a few dry spices (optional) and turn off the heat. 10) Before serving, garnish with ground peanuts. (optional)
What is the origin of massaman curry?
The word massaman is an older Thai word meaning Muslim. The curry was brought to Thailand by Muslim traders from neighboring countries and solidified in Thai history when introduced to the Thai palace by Persian dignitaries. Modern versions have adapted to tone down the strength of the spices used, sweeten the dish, and shorten the cooking time. However, to find the most historically representative recipes, we should look to modern Thai Muslim communities in Thailand today.
What’s the most delicious massaman curry you’ve had?
The best massaman curry is the one that is slow-cooked. People often forget that this dish was created as more of a stew than the modern stir fry-esque curries that dominate Thai cuisine. When jumbo pots of massaman are allowed to simmer overnight, you awake to a smell that takes over the house and makes for some of the most memorable celebration meals in Thai muslim culture.
How should good massaman curry taste?
Good massaman curry is denoted by mature curry paste flavor and smell, and a rich bouquet of spices. The roasted curry and spice should be complimented by a light sourness. This is why you don’t get the same result using citrus juice to replace the tamarind in the recipe.
Most modern Thai recipes call for fish sauce and fermented shrimp paste. This is not required and the salty flavors should not dominate the taste of your curry paste. Sweetness as well as a hint of chili should be present in the dish but don’t worry, it’s not overwhelmingly spicy!
Frying the paste and the long stewing time means many of your soft aromatics like shallots, garlic, and lemongrass should have an opportunity to meld together. When you taste the finished curry, you should not be able to identify these individual aromatics in the flavor.
Why is my massaman dark brown?
Don’t be alarmed if your vibrant colored curry goes auburn brown by the time you’re ready to serve it. This is especially common with longer stewing times. As the coconut milk reduces (especially if you pot or wok is uncovered), and seasoning is added, the color deepens. Whatever the color, your massaman should be delicious!
Note the color may vary depending on the brand of curry paste you use as well. Find a massaman paste you like and you can use it in all sorts of ways. For example, add your extra paste to spice up your next crockpot roast, chili, or pulled pork dish. You can also turn raw jackfruit into vegan pulled pork sandwiches. The canned jackfruit you bought is likely from South Asia, so why not dress it up with those same flavors by adding massaman to your bbq sauce?
Why do you fry the chicken before making the massaman?
This is similar to the technique you see being used with steaks, where chefs will pan sear them before putting them in the over on other cooking method. In this case the chicken is poached in our curry which is great for slow cooking the chicken internally, but not so great for the outside texture. When you fry the skin you add a bit of texture and umami flavor, then borrow the fried bits on your pan back, deglazing our wok as we fry the curry paste in the same oil. Texture added and no flavor wasted!
Would you recommend chicken thighs for cooking khao soi as well?
Yes! If you want all the flavor that stewing can impart, avoid drier cuts of meat like chicken breast. In my opinion, squishy and rubbery chicken breast is one of the Thai food faux pas that separate average cooks from well-practiced enthusiasts.
Join Courageous Kitchen on team dark meat! Chicken thighs are a great way to upgrade so many Thai recipes, especially curries. This includes famous dishes like khao soi but can work well with your green and red curries as well.
What if I want to make a vegetarian massaman curry?
Go for it! Simply subtract the chicken thighs and sub in vegetable stock instead. You can double up on veggies to add some volume to your curry. This can vary depending on what you have access to, but we love adding pumpkin, sweet potato, and even butternut squash.
With the stress of cooking animal proteins out of the way, take the opportunity to pay extra attention to how your hearty vegetables cook. One common mistake with softer vegetables, like sweet potatoes for example, is the temptation to try and cook them the same amount of time. If you do, don’t be surprised when your curry starts to look like mashed potato mush!
We hope you enjoyed this brief history lesson on one of Thailand’s most beloved dishes. Don’t forget to share your recipe remakes on social media and follow us on Instagram for more updates!
Sign up for a virtual cooking class with Courageous Kitchen, and choose the Thai dish you would like to learn! With our in-person classes going fully virtual over the past year, we try to recreate the fun interaction you would have when you learn with us in Bangkok. To make this possible, we’re always looking for ways to improve the classes we teach over zoom. With the hope of getting our students engaged early on, we’re having them select the dishes they would most like to learn, and we’re now offering more recipes than ever!
Each class is roughly an hour long session. In that time guests are challenged to learn about Thai ingredients and cooking culture, cook dinner, and have fun getting to know each other. That’s a lot to do in an hour, but we’re up for the challenge and want to make sure you’re as prepared as possible before class starts. Since Thai ingredients can be unfamiliar to newcomers and hard to find, we have combined each session with complimentary access to our online learning platform. On the platform class participants can read a brief background on ingredients they’ll be shopping for before the zoom call, and everyone will retain access to the materials after the course. That way long after your tom yum or pad thai cooking session ends, you’ll have the info and confidence to try the other recipes we’ve included on your own.
Public Class Choices
Private Class Choices
Noodles: Pad See Ew Curries: Green Curry, Penang Curry Soups: Tom Yum, Tom Kha Stir Fries: Pad Krapow (Thai Basil), Green Curry Fried Rice
All Public Class Options and also: + Massaman Curry + Pad Thai + Papaya Salad + Drunken Noodles + Homemade Curry Paste + Thai Cocktails + or the Dish of Your Choice
Be the first to book our public class sessions, or a private class to choose one of the dishes above.
For our most requested recipes, we’ve also included downloadable shopping cards. Simply load them on to your smart phone or other device before you head out for groceries. There are illustrated reminders of the core ingredients and utensils, to make sure you don’t miss anything crucial to the recipe. For example, what if you can’t find palm sugar or have never used it before? We want to make sure you know what it is, how to use this natural sugar, and what can be used as a substitution.
What’s the difference between public and private classes?
In pubic classes we host students who book separately. In this type of group class, the participants may not know each other, but after brief introductions we become rallied around the same tasty effort. While everyone can’t choose the recipes in public classes, typically we give this choice to the person who’s first to book the session. During holidays and popular times, the class size can grow larger ten students, and the recipes are typically easier than what we might attempt in a private class.
Private classes can only be accessed by the party first to book. While we host large private classes for corporate events, typically our private classes are made up of families cooking together. If booked in advance, guests in these classes can choose from a larger list of recipes than available to public class students, or can request a custom recipe.
Can I book your class for a special occasion?
A custom cooking class can be especially fun when guests are booking for birthdays, anniversaries, or other special occasions. If the birthday guest of honor has a favorite Thai dish, then we would love to teach them how to make it as part of your celebration. For example, we’ve hosted a dad who’s favorite dish was tom kha soup, and had fun teaching him how to make a version just like the one he enjoys at his local Thai restaurants. We’ve had calls with families dispersed all over the world, but who have come together to cook our version of pad see ew noodles, green curry, or pad thai. We’re happy to help celebrate a special occasion or learning session with you, and most recently have been included in fun activities for Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month.
What if I’m unsure which Thai recipe is best for me?
We believe giving you some say in what you would like to cook makes the class more fun, while increasing the chances you’ll put the cooking skills you learn to good use. We love to hear back from families who’ve added Thai noodles, soups, and stir fries to their regular dinner rotation. However, we know that there are times when you can have too many choices. Usually your cooking ability and the ingredients you have access to are the best guides for helping you choose. For example, if you’re a kitchen novice that will be cooking rice noodles for the first time, then attempting pad thai may be too much of a challenge. This doesn’t mean you have to abandon your love of noodles, but a recipe like pad see ew noodles, would be a better starting point.
We hope to offer intermediate and advanced cooks plenty of choice too. This is most often guests who’ve spent time in Thailand and can’t shake a craving they have from the experience. We can help you relive a magic street food experience or help you journey here with your tastebuds even while most flights are still grounded. Haven’t been able to recreate the amazing massaman curry, cashew chicken, or other dish that made your trip to Thailand special? Let us know and we’ll arrange a custom class for you.
Finally, like our in person classes did previously, our virtual cooking classes are also necessary to help us continue to provide food relief to hundreds of families struggling as a result of the pandemic. We’re proud our class is recognized as an official social impact experience on Airbnb, and believe we can keep making a difference by sharing our love of Thai food with more people. Please sign up to join us, share our class with someone who loves Thai food, or visit our food relief donation page to make a contribution.
Most of you know Alina as your favorite Thai cooking teacher who’s greeted you, and taken you to the market in our Bangkok cooking class. In the nearly 3 years she’s worked with us, we’ve seen her transition from shy rice farmer, to a fiery force in the kitchen.
Here are 10 quick questions to help you get to know this ambitious young woman, who we believe is a natural born leader.
What’s your favorite dish to eat?
Cheeseburgers and tom yum goong, but it depends on the cheese. I like the fake kind!
What’s your favorite dish to make?
Thai curries I think. Because I like making the curry paste from scratch.
What’s the best part of working at Courageous Kitchen?
Teaching tourists how to cook Thai food. It helps me improve my English, meet new people, and gain cool opportunities.
What has been the highlight of your time here?
I met my idol, Chef Ian Kittichai, and cooked Massaman curry with him. I learned new techniques that I use to make my curry now.
What are you most proud of?
I like discovering new recipes and creating cooking videos to teach kids. I can’t believe I can make my own videos, it’s really hard!
When you’re not cooking, what do you like to do?
I like to garden, go out to eat, and love going to the movies!
If you could travel anywhere where would it be?
New York City. I’ve always heard about it, and it looks beautiful.
What do you like to teach?
I like to teach cooking. My passion is cooking so it makes me happy every time I share my recipes.
What is your superpower?
What does courage mean to you?
To be beautiful, to have confidence, and to fight for your life.