This is the second of what will be four coconut milk-based Thai curry recipes I will post. In the States, red curry is the most popular. (my recipe is here) I was surprised to find out on my first visit to Thailand that red curry was actually fairly rare to come across. Green curry is the Thai people’s favorite and can be found at almost every Thai food restaurant in the country. (My Green Curry (sort of) recipe is be found by clicking this sentence.) What I think must be the second most popular coconut milk curry in Thailand is panang–but that’s another post.
“Gaeng masamun” (“gaeng” can mean “curry” or “soup”) comes from the South of Thailand. I first had this at the best indoor restaurant within walking distance of my first apartment in Bangkok. I probably went to this place twice a week for close to a year. Even if it was just two of us, we’d order three dishes and one would always be a coconut milk curry–either massamun or panang–and this place had what I new believe to be the best of both of those in Bangkok. I was not prepared when I moved some 7 miles away that I would never find another truly great masamun curry in the city. Worse than that, it was hard to find it at all, and when you did find it, it would range from “edible” to “wrap it up tight and throw it in the trash because even the stray dogs shouldn’t eat this”.
Then I went to Phuket–in the south of Thailand. Can’t swing a dead cat in Phuket without hitting a good masaman. Down there it’s as ubiquitous as green curry is in Central Thailand. Even the Thai Airways restaurant in the airport in Phuket has incredible gang masaman. What’s also interesting is the variations from the different cooks is wider than for green or red curry. I am going to lay out what I think is the basic recipe. I’ll give you some possible additions, but if you’ve never made this or eaten this before, I recommend sticking closely to the recipe. It’s fairly authentic and better than any restaurant in Bangkok save one. 😉
- 1.5-2 pounds bone-in or bone-out beef short ribs (or stewing beef or chuck roast or 4 chicken thighs)
- 4 oz (110 grams) masaman curry paste (I used “Maesri” brand here, it was one of their little cans)
- 1 can of coconut milk (13-14 oz size)
- 3 medium sized potatoes, pealed and cut into chunks. (Yukon gold works the best, but any other waxy potato like the red ones in the picture work as well)
- 1/2 cup of unsalted, roasted peanuts. If you have the salted ones, put them in hot tap water and let them sit for 10 minutes to wash off as much salt as you can.
- 1/2 sweet onion, cut into 1 inch pieces
- 2 cloves of garlic, smashed and chopped
- 4-6 Finger chilies, sliced on the bias (very optional)
- 1 tablespoon brown or palm sugar (maybe more)
- 1 teaspoon lime juice or vinegar
- 1 teaspoon fish sauce
- Thai basil (optional)
I made this in my 2.5 quart tri-clad steel pot. You can use anything but non-stick, but it needs a lid. Set your pot on high and put 1 tablespoon of peanut or canola oil in your pan. Sprinkle your short ribs or meat chunks with salt. When the oil starts to smoke, start searing the beef. Leave your burner on high as the beef is going to cool the pot down and start to let off steam. I had mine on high for 10 minutes as I seared for the picture below.
Once that’s done, remove the beef from the pot and add the curry paste the the oil in the hot pan and fry rapidly for a few minutes. Next add 1/4-1/3 can of coconut milk–you’re looking for a pancake batter consistency–resume frying and stirring. You want to fry it until oil is separating out of the mixture–more so than with red or green curry–just like the picture below. Once the oil starts separating, keep frying for up to 5 minutes until you have as much oil on top as the picture below.
Now add the rest of the coconut milk, plus one and half of that can’s worth of water, the garlic, the peanuts, lime juice or vinegar, fish sauce and brown sugar. Bring back to a boil. Place the beef back into curry, reduce heat and simmer for about 2.5 hours, stirring occasionally. Add the onion and simmer for another 30 minutes. Add the potatoes and simmer for another hour.
Towards the end of the last hour is when you want to taste for seasoning and consistency. It should be like tomato soup. If it’s too thick add some water. Then taste it. It should be a little sweet and a little salty and overall more seasoned than a soup as this will be eaten with rice. Add more brown sugar for sweet, fish sauce or salt for saltiness (NEVER use soy sauce of any variety in a Thai curry!). 5 minutes before it’s done, add the sliced chili peppers so they don’t get fully cooked. Sprinkle with Thai basil once removed from heat–but to be honest, I never do that. If I had it around I would use it, but I don’t recommend buying fresh basil just for this recipe.
OK, that’s the basic recipe. Here’s some notes on variations. If you are using chicken thighs (or legs, don’t do breasts for this), remove the skin from each piece before browning. I actually score the skin and throw it in my pot and render out all the oil I need from the chicken skin. You can do that or just throw the skin away and use vegetable oil. Also, at the step where you add the seared chicken back into the curry, you need to add the onions and potatoes in at the same time and only simmer for 1 to 1.5 hours in total.
Another of the variations I have had is where the cook has added whole spices to the curry during the simmering time. A cinnamon stick, a star anise or two, 3-4 cardamom pods and a cassia leaf or two would all work if you happened to have them around. I almost never add them.