Massaman beef curry

Massaman beef curry

It's a shame they've already awarded this year's Nobel prizes, because I've made a breakthrough. The difficult part now will be to figure out which Nobel prize to go for. It will heal all physical, emotional, and spiritual wounds, so medicine/physiology is a possibility. Or perhaps it should be under chemistry, as a unifying model of fructose, capsaicin, sodium chloride, and tartaric acid. There's always peace prize, too — lord knows this it will bring people together. Can you win two prizes in one year?

Do they give a Nobel prize for hyperbole? How about modesty?

Of course, the inevitable Nobel millions should really go to Christine Manfield. Her terrific massaman curry paste recipe used here is just one of many pastes, spice mixes, sauces, and stocks from her cookbook Spices, which happens to be completely awesome. This is a woman who cares deeply about spices — let her three distinct garam masala blends be a testament to that.

It's no surprise that the curry paste recipe required very little modification. The only change I did make was the addition of galangal, and even then it seems like such an obvious omission that I'm wondering whether I copied down the original recipe incorrectly. As for the curry itself, I like to simmer the beef in coconut milk and spices until it's tender, then discard the spices and combine it with the curry paste, coconut cream, and vegetables. This infuses the beef with flavour and ensures that everything is cooked to exactly the right texture. The curry paste part of the recipe (after the jump) makes heaps — enough to cook at least three generous batches of curry. Once you try it you'll understand that this is a feature, not a bug.

I'm sorry that when push comes to shove, I can't give you the exact amounts required to give the perfect balance of tastes. Your measurements and ingredients may differ from mine, so you'll have to taste and adjust as you go. Of course your tastes likely differ as well, so if you think yours needs more or less seasoning than is written here, go with your gut.

Massaman beef curry

Massaman curry paste

  • 1 tbsp cumin seeds
  • 2 tbsp coriander seeds
  • Seeds from 5 green cardamom pods
  • 6 cloves
  • 2 sticks cinnamon
  • 8 dried bird’s-eye chillies
  • 2 tsp kapi (Thai shrimp paste)
  • 6 fresh red bird’s-eye chillies, chopped
  • 1 tbsp grated galangal
  • 20 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 2 small brown onions, chopped
  • 1 tbsp fresh green peppercorns
  • 5 coriander roots, chopped
  • 50 ml vegetable oil
  • Minced zest of 2 kaffir limes
  • 2 stalks lemongrass, chopped
  • 75 g palm sugar, shaved
  • 75 ml fish sauce
  • 60 ml Tamarind Liquid

1. Toast the cumin, cardamom, coriander seeds, cloves, cinnamon, and dried chillies over a medium heat until fragrant and slightly coloured. Cool, then grind in a spice grinder/blender to a powder.
2. Blend together the fresh chilli, galangal, garlic, onion, green peppercorns, coriander root, shrimp paste, and oil. Sauté this paste over a gentle heat until slightly coloured.
3. Blend together the lime zest and lemongrass, then blend this together with the dry spice powder and the still-hot fresh paste. This will keep in the fridge for up to 2 weeks if covered with a thin film of oil.

The curry itself


  • 400 ml coconut milk
  • 3 tbsp cup fish sauce
  • 1 inch piece of ginger, sliced in fairly large pieces1
  • 5 cardamom pods
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1/2 stick of cinnamon
  • 750 g chuck beef, cubed
  • 1/2 cup massaman curry paste (recipe above)
  • 400 ml coconut cream
  • 2 tbsp palm sugar, shaved
  • 1 tsp tamarind concentrate2
  • 500 g waxy potatoes, peeled and chopped into large pieces
  • 5 shallots, skins removed
  • 2/3 cup roasted peanuts

1. Add the fish sauce, ginger, cardamom pods, bay leaves, cinnamon stick, and beef to a pot and cover with coconut milk. Simmer, covered, for 1 hour or until the beef is tender.
2. Drain the beef in a colander, reserving both the beef and aromatic coconut milk. Discard the ginger and whole spices.
3. In a new large pot or wok, sauté the curry paste over a medium heat for 1 minute, then add about 1/2 a cup of coconut cream and sauté until oil begins to bead at the surface. Add the remaining coconut cream, the reserved coconut milk, palm sugar, and tamarind concentrate. This is a good time to adjust seasoning. The major taste should be spicy/salty (adjust with fish sauce), with some sweetness (palm sugar) in the background and a tiny hint of sour (tamarind) rounding things out.
4. Add the potatoes, shallots, and on top of this the reserved beef3. Simmer for 25 minutes or until the potatoes are tender. Check the seasoning one final time, then stir in the roasted peanuts and serve.

(1) I say to use fairly large pieces because you're going to have to fish them out later.
(2) Tamarind concentrate is, obviously, more concentrated than some other forms of tamarind (tamarind water, etc). You will have to play it by ear to get the conversion right. If you don't have access to tamarind, adjust the sourness using strained lime juice.
(3) The only reason I do it this way is to make sure that the potatoes are all at the bottom since the beef is more or less cooked already.

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