Massaman Curry

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With its strong Muslim influence and origin, Massaman curry combines ingredients and flavors from Persia, the Indian subcontinent, and the Malay Archipelago. These include potatoes and whole spices, like cinnamon, cardamom, and star anise. Additionally, Massaman curry uses ingredients more commonly used in native Thai cuisine, such as kapi (shrimp paste), chiles, lemongrass, coriander, garlic, and coconut milk. With this medley of flavors and ingredients, Massaman curry is often reserved for religious ceremonies and special occasions. Its creamy, coconut milk base and generous use of warm spices like cinnamon give Massaman curry a mild, savory, and slightly sweet flavor. It typically isn't on the spicier side, especially compared to its hotter counterparts like the fiery Thai red curry. This makes it a perfect dish for newcomers to Thai curries, as well as for those who simply want a more forgiving experience for their sensitive taste buds.

Massaman Curry
Photo: © Abby Hocking
Active Time:
10 mins
Total Time:
40 mins
Yield:
4

Milder and sweeter than many other Thai curries, Massaman curry traces its origins to Malaysia. Accounts of its history vary widely, and include tales of kings, merchants, and unsolved mysteries. However, it is generally accepted that traveling Persian merchants introduced the dish to the Thais sometime in the 17th century. These elusive origins give this divinely fragrant dish an even greater sense of power and intrigue, adding depth to the story behind the creation of this hearty, coconut-based curry. As a result of its background, though it is a Thai curry, the name Massaman actually comes from the Persian name Mossalman, meaning Muslim. In accordance with its name, this curry is traditionally made with chicken, beef, or lamb, but never pork, to fit within Islamic dietary restrictions.

Ingredients

  • 1 tablespoon cooking oil

  • 1 onion, chopped

  • 2 cloves garlic, minced

  • 1 teaspoon chopped fresh ginger

  • 1 teaspoon Chinese five-spice powder

  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin

  • 1/4 teaspoon cayenne

  • 1/4 teaspoon turmeric

  • 1 teaspoon salt

  • 1 cup canned low-sodium chicken broth or homemade stock

  • 1/2 cup canned unsweetened coconut milk or heavy cream

  • 1/2 pound boiling potatoes (about 2), peeled and cut into 1/2-inch pieces

  • 1 1/3 pounds boneless, skinless chicken breasts (about 4), cut into 12-inch pieces

  • 1/2 cup chopped peanuts

  • 1/2 pound plum tomatoes (about 4), cut into wedges

  • 3 tablespoons chopped cilantro

Directions

  1. In a large saucepan, heat the oil over moderately low heat. Add the onion and cook, stirring occasionally, until it is translucent, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic, ginger, five-spice powder, cumin, cayenne, turmeric, and 1/2 teaspoon of the salt. Stir until fragrant, about 1 minute. Whisk in the broth and then the coconut milk; bring to a simmer. Stir in the potatoes, cover, and cook over low heat until they are almost tender, about 12 minutes.

  2. Add the chicken to the sauce, cover, and simmer for 5 minutes. Stir in the peanuts, tomatoes, cilantro, and the remaining 1/2 teaspoon salt. Turn the heat off, cover, and let steam until the chicken is just done, about 2 minutes longer.

Suggested Pairing

For this bold curry, bursting with heat, spice, and sweetness, a fresh, aromatic white that won't get pushed around—a Chenin Blanc from the Loire Valley in France or from California, for example, or a Sauvignon Blanc from New Zealand—is a good match.

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