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!
Got red curry paste in the pantry but not sure what to cook? Check out today’s recipe video and instructions for dry stir fried crispy pork (aka moo grob pad prik gaeng) in red curry paste!
Here’s an easy recipe that calls for dry stir frying crispy pork (or another protein of your choice), an alternative to make curry. The recipe is quick, easy, and you can modify the meat, vegetables included. Since the recipe doesn’t require much coconut milk, this dish can be a great option if you don’t have any coconut milk, or if you need to quickly finish coconut milk leftover from another recipe.
Keep in mind crispy pork is salty already. That means you can go lighter on the seasoning than you might with another protein. Also, because of the saltiness, the recipe is incomplete if not eaten over rice. Finally, to enjoy Thai style, serve your stir fry with a tray of veggies and fresh leaves to help with the spice, saltiness, and to aid with digestion.
Pad Prik Gaeng Ingredients
120g crispy pork
3 tbsp of coconut milk (substitute stock or water if needed)
1 tbsp of coconut water (optional)
1 tbsp of red curry paste
1 tsp of palm sugar
2 tbsp of oyster sauce
1 tbsp of fish sauce
1 large red chili (Serrano or similar)
2 kaffir lime leaves sliced short and thin (set aside a bit for garnish before serving)
1/2 cup of Thai basil leaves (aka sweet basil)
Pad Prik Gaeng Instructions
Briefly toast your curry paste in a non stick wok over medium to low heat.
Add a tbsp of coconut milk and mix before adding crispy pork.
Stir until the pork is covered with curry paste evenly, then add your kaffir lime leaf and chili. Don’t forget to add more coconut milk or a few splashes of coconut water to keep your wok from burning.
Add your seasoning (palm sugar, fish sauce, and oyster sauce).
Turn off the heat and add a handful of basil leaves. Stir until wilted.
Garnish and serve over rice.
Red Curry Questions and Answers
As always, leave a comment and let us know if you have any questions not listed below.
Do I have to use red curry paste?
No. This recipe is suitable for other Thai curry pastes you have on hand as well. We recommend trying it with any curry paste you love.
Is it wrong if I have a lot of curry sauce on my stir fry?
No. Some people prefer more sauce with their stir fry. Just be careful not to make your fried protein soggy by not adding too much liquid at once.
What is a good substitute to kaffir lime leaf?
Kaffir lime leaf and skin in Thai food is nearly impossible to replicate. However, you can still give your food a citrus spike by zesting a regular lime.
What type of Thai basil should be used?
The basil adds a nice fragrance and a touch of relief from the spiciness of the dish. However, if you don’t have Thai basil, don’t let that stop you. You don’t have to be too picky about the type of Thai basil. Sweet basil is the most common, but for our recipe we mixed in some holy basil as well. This really depends on your personal preference and which herbs you can access.
How should I substitute palm sugar?
Palm sugar is less sweet than your common white sugar. When using a substitute add it more conservatively, taste, and adjust as needed. Since palm sugar also has a bit of caramelized taste, jaggery (made from sugarcane) or other natural sugar make better choices than white sugar.
Want to make a similar spicy green curry paste to the ones you tried in Thailand? This takes some practice and patience, but it’s possible. Everyone’s kitchen and tastes are different so an exact recipe is also tough. Today we tackle these challenges and hope to encourage more people around the world to make their own curry pastes. Lovers of green curry, let’s raise the bar of this delicious curry.
One promise we can make, fresh curry paste is ALWAYS better than the packaged kind.
Green Curry Paste Components
Early warning: making your own curry paste can be a mess. If you’re not in Thailand you don’t likely have all the tools you need for the job. Many folks based in cities in Thailand, may not even have space in their kitchen. However, if you have can figure out a method to pound, grind, and blend all of these ingredients together you can make a colorful, nutrient packed curry paste to share with your family.
Most Thai curry pastes are a mix of the following:
(1) dry spices
(3) aromatic roots
(4) fresh herbs
(5) shrimp paste
Curry Paste Crushing and Pounding Tools
Your mission then, is to decide how best to combine all of those ingredients together. Thais traditionally use a mortar and pestle. They are made from heavy granite and when you give them plenty of elbow grease, they’re great at pounding these varied types of ingredients into a paste. In a modern kitchen you may not have this as an option. So you need to find whatever you can to crush the dry spices, and others you can put in a food processor or blender. Here are some options:
Traditional Thai mortar and pestle Spice grinder + blender/ food processor Large rock + blender / food processor
Large rock? Are you serious. Yes! There have been occasions when cooking for people while traveling, where I haven’t had everything I needed to crush spices. If that happens, feel free to go flintstone on these spices. Whatever you gotta do, dinner must go on! Just be sure to wash the rock well and have a suitable surface you can pulverize thing on. The best curry mortars are made of stone after all! Once back to my regular kitchen, I appreciated the hand chiseled granite from Angsila, Thailand so much more.
Remember when you read the recipe below that your rock or spice grinder is mainly for your dry spices. Depending on your machine, you may need some practice getting the paste to be the consistency you desire. This is normal, and you can even add a bit of water or stock if things are getting caught in your machine. If you’re doing it for the first time, I would suggest you don’t blend too smooth.
That sorted? If you still have questions you can comment below. After the recipe, we’ve provided some trouble shooting questions people ask regularly. We hope this helps you make a more authentic green curry. If you enjoy, your support of Courageous Kitchen via our donation pages is much appreciated.
Green Curry Paste Ingredients
Dry spices 1 tsp peppercorn (white peppercorn is most common, but any will do) 1 tsp cumin 1 tbsp coriander seed
Chili 5-10 small spicy Thai green chili (spice lovers can hunt for the “prik kee noo”) 5-10 green medium to large chili (“prik chee fah”, serrano or similar) 1 tbsp of salt (optional if grinding by hand)
Roots 3-4 coriander roots 1 knob of galangal 1 knob of turmeric Note: 1 knob for this purpose is roughly 30-40 grams or 2-3 tablespoons if using the powdered form.
Herbs 4-8 garlic cloves 4-6 shallots (small, sweet ones preferred) 1 tbsp of kaffir lime zest (about half of a kaffir lime) 2-3 lemongrass stalks sliced small
Shrimp Paste 1 heaping tbsp of shrimp paste
Green Curry Paste Instructions
Toast your dry spices. (Optionally any of your roots can be toasted at this time as well.)
Grind your dry spices and set aside.
If pounding by hand, grind your chili in the mortar with salt. After smooth begin adding all other ingredients, including dry spices gradually.
If using a blender combine everything, adding stock or a small amount of coconut milk to help the paste blend together.
Store your curry paste in an airtight container in the fridge or get cooking with a green curry recipe right away.
Fresh green curry paste oxidizes quickly and won’t look vibrant for long. If you don’t plan to use the paste the same day, pan fry with oil and then keep in an airtight container. In the refrigerator, this can last as long as a month.
What if I don’t have a spice grinder or rock (lol)?
Don’t forget you can get coriander, peppercorn and cumin in powder form. The reason we prefer the whole spice is because the flavor is more intense, especially after toasting. However, work with what you have and make sure they are incorporated well into your paste.
What can I make with my curry paste besides curry?
Feel free to get creative with your green curry paste. You can use it as a marinade. You can use it to make a spicy sauce to cover steak. One of our favorites? Green curry fried rice!
Can I just dump everything into the mortar or blender?
We see people using the dump method. But depending on the texture you want at the end, we don’t always recommend it for beginners. Adding your ingredients gradually allows you to make sure things incorporate smoothly and you can add or adjust flavors as needed. Then when you’ve made the curry a bunch of times and know what you love (or what your blender can handle), you can take liberties with how you add the ingredients.
Can I use a marble mortar and pestle?
Found a small mortar and pestle in the kitchen store? This is likely used for dry spices and medicine. You can use it to start your curry paste, but you don’t want to be trying to crush things like lemongrass in there because it will likely take forever. I would use it to crush your dry spice, and then move everything to a food processor or blender.
I can’t find coriander root. Can I substitute the coriander stems or add bell pepper?
People use leaves and stems to help with the color (shouldn’t be needed for this recipe), but it isn’t a good substitute for the flavor of the root. If you go without it, try upping the amount of toasted coriander seeds you add.
If you need to use milder chilies and peppers you can. Just be aware the flavor and water content of them (bell pepper for instance) will change the nature of the paste.
Do you use the same paste for different types of meat?
You can use this generic recipe for any meat. However, if you’re cooking fish, beef, or game meat, we may increase the dried spices and also add more root aromatics. The best part of making your curry paste is the ability to customize it as needed. When Thai chefs customize the curry to the protein, for example adding extra fingerroot when cooking with fish, that’s a sign of next level expertise!
Why is my green curry so light green?
Typically the curry will come out light green. If you want a stronger color, this is really the purpose of the knob of turmeric as an ingredient. You can add more to intensify the green, but be careful it doesn’t start going orange. Turmeric, like the other roots Thais love, is also very healthy for you.
If you’ve seen Netflix’s Chef Show, you may have seen them add the coriander stems, basil, and all sorts of stuff to make it green. Yes, this is possible, but not what we recommend, nor how it’s done it Thailand. That method is more of a quick trick in the kitchen when you’re in a panic and need curry.
Is there a substitute for galangal?
No. There is no substitute for galangal. However, if you can’t find it fresh you can use the dried kind.
Many people make the mistake of thinking ginger is interchangeable. They are not. You can use ginger if you have no other option, but it will change the flavor. This is no major sin though, as ginger is used in some types of curry pastes. However, when using it for the first time, be conservative. The flavor and spice level may surprise you, as it can be more pronounced than roots like galangal and turmeric.
Similar to people adding green leaves to improve the color of your curry, you can do it, but it will require trial and error if you’re chasing a real Thai style curry flavor.
How can I store my fresh curry paste? Can I freeze it?
Your fresh paste won’t last too much longer than a few days in the fridge. Green curry paste especially has a habit of oxidizing even after only a few hours in the fridge (we should be very afraid of the store-bought pastes that last forever and never change color). To extend the life beyond a week, pan fry the curry paste with a few tablespoons of oil. Then spoon it into a jar or sealed container and store in your refrigerator for as long as a month.
You can freeze your paste as well. But don’t expect the thawed version to be as flavorful. To remedy this, refresh your paste with freshly pounded or grounded aromatics (like chili, garlic, and shallots). We prefer it fresh, but this can be a big timesaver when you have made more paste than you can use easily.
Will my green curry paste be ruined if I’m missing an ingredient?
No. Overall curry paste if pretty forgiving and tolerant of lots of variations. The exception would be when working in a restaurant or cooking for Thai guests. Then you want to make your best efforts to create a traditional curry. If you’re just spicing up dinner for your family, go full on into this project with the spirit of exploration, not fear.