Masaman Curry

A real crowd pleaser if successfully executed, this dish isn’t very hot—all the spiciness comes from the curry paste. If you want it hot, you’ll have to add Thai chilis.

See a straightforward version of this recipe, especially for cooks new to Thai.

“Masaman” is spelled various ways, usually this one, but pronounced by the Thai closer to /moosman/. Interestingly, it is curry the way the Thai imagine the Muslims of India to do it—hence the name. It is especially humorous to serve it with pork, which Thai restaurants offer with a completely straight face: religious dietary restrictions have always been in my observation something well outside the experience and understanding of an oriental (Chinese, Japanese, Southeast Asian).

Beef, pork or chicken can be used intead. Chicken is shown here in the picture. Use more or less masaman curry paste to control the spicyness; what is shown here makes the dish medium hot, but the flavor is so good that many not used to eating hot food will find it tolerable. 1-2 stars out of 5.

I like a lot more sauce than is shown in the illustration at the right, but if you’re going to take this to work for lunch, you might want to avoid the mess and stay with a thicker, pastier sauce as shown. For more sauce, double some of the ingredients as noted below. In fact, this recipe is close to the one taught me by a woman some friends and I hired for the purpose. My own recipe is an evolution thereof and is given in the second half of this page.

This recipe scales well, the quantities aren’t too critical. As usually, and depending on whether you’re serving other dishes at your table, count on ¼ to ½ pounds of meat per person served.

Ingredients

  1 tbsp oil
1½ tbsp masaman curry paste
3 cloves garlic (optional)
½ lb meat, thin, cut in strips or pieces
½ cup yam, decoratively coined
1 potato, decoratively coined
1 each red and green bell peppers, cut decoratively (optional)
1 can coconut milk (2½ cups)
4 tbsp used early on
4 tbsp used halfway through
- rest added at end
3 tbsp peanuts
1 tbsp peanut butter
8-10 chunks pineapple
2 tbsp pineapple juice
¼ cup onion, cut in thin, longitudinal strips
2 tbsp sugar
2 tbsp thin soy sauce
2 tsp lime juice
½ cup water

Mise en place

1. Decoratively cut peppers laterally into round, contiguous slices of the sort that children would hold up and look through. These are more of a garnish and will be tossed on just seconds before serving.

2. Cut onion into thin, longitudinal strips. This can safely cook in the sauce with the meat.

3. Decoratively cut yams first, then potato slices using a mandolin on the wavy setting, arrange on a ½ sheet, drizzle with olive or other oil and place in oven on 350° for 20-30 minutes depending on thickness of cut. Don’t forget that potato slices oxydize quickly; they cannot be prepared ahead of time; start cooking them as soon as they are cut.

4. Lay out other ingredients in finger bowls, ramekins, bowls, etc. ready for use. This can be done while the meat simmers.

Preparation

5. Add oil, curry paste and 4 tbsp of coconut milk and cook on medium to medium high, stirring constantly until oil starts to separate from mixture, about 5 minutes.

6. Add meat, garlic and additional 4 tbsp of coconut milk; cook meat letting curry paste cook in. Simmer meat on low over the next steps to draw out the collagen (if dark meat is used) making the meat tender and pleasant to eat. During this time, you can do your mise en place.

If you like lots of sauce, plan on doubling the following: curry paste, coconut milk and other liquid ingredients.

7. Mix in pineapples, pineapple juice, peanuts, peanut butter and water. Add onion, sugar, lime juice and another 4 tbsp of coconut milk. Simmer 1520 minutes on low or until potato and yam finish cooking in the oven.

8. Add remaining coconut milk and stir. Adding the coconut milk at the end gives a fresher flavor. (Adding all of it too early denatures it and diffuses the flavor.) Add the yam and potato slices. At this point, your guests should already be at the table, finished with their salad course and ready to attack the curry dish.

9. Garnish with the bell pepper slices and transfer to your serving bowl(s).

Feeding a crowd of 12

I sometimes make an accounting of a dinner in order to learn from it—scaling of ingredients, precise quantities for feeding people, etc.

I love to make pad Thai for a crowd too, but it’s a lot harder to do well when under pressure. The masaman curry is laid back and I can stop and start again or be late with some things without much consequence.

For a recent dinner party, I employed the following quantities. This fed 5 couples plus Julene and me, who didn’t stuff ourselves, and left about 1½ cups curry for each couple to take home with adequate rice.

Here are the proportions I used. In fact, this is the recipe I mostly use and it’s derived from the original one I was taught and modified in imitation of what I’ve since eaten in various restaurants. However, I do take care to add most of the coconut milk just before the end so that it has a fresh taste and I follow most of the other advice of the original.

  3 lbs chicken breast
6 tbsp curry paste
8 cloves garlic
2 cans chicken stock
1 can crushed pineapple
1 cup peanuts
6 tbsp peanut butter
4 potatoes (reds or russets)
4 yams (equal quantity to potatoes)
½ lb carrots
2 cans coconut milk
3 tbsp sugar
1 large onion
4 tbsp thin soy sauce
2 tbsp lime juice
1 cup cashews (or less if you want to be chintzy)
5 cups Jasmine rice

The curry was very thin (just as at most restaurants).

I use oil to melt and bloom the curry paste and garlic, then add the pineapple, peanut butter, stock and carrots to get the curry started.

I used a mandolin to “wave-cut” the potatoes and yams which I sprinkled with oil and pre-cooked in a 350° oven for 25 minutes. I add them at the end—that way the potatoes don’t dissolve into the curry. I try to introduce the carrots early in the curry do they have time to soften (opposite treatment from the potatoes). I introduce the pineapple early on too and I include the syrup from the can.

I add the sugar onion, soy sauce and lime juice at the end just prior to adding in the meat and potatoes as well as the bulk of the coconut milk.

Because I used breast meat and didn’t want it dried out and tasteless, I cooked it very slightly first and set it aside making the curry without it. Later, after tasting the curry and finding it not up to my flavor requirements, I slightly re-cooked the meat with another (the third) tablespoon of paste. This gave the curry an adequate (though not for me or Julene) richness of taste. I then incorporated the meat into the curry, then added the starches.

If I use dark meat, which I prefer, I add it directly to the bloomed curry paste and garlic because I want it to reach 190° or so in order to begin reducing the collagen to make it tender and tasty.

Preparing the potatoes...

My approach to the potatoes, yams and carrots in this recipe is an attempt (and a successful one) to imitate the vegetable preparation of curries at one of my favorite Thai restaurants. It is not really necessary to cook the potatoes and yams separately. To simplify, just throw them in raw a bit later than the carrots. But, if you do this, you must positively never use Russets—only golds or reds which are waxy (not starchy) and won’t dissolve into the sauce.