Gaeng Massaman (massaman curry) comes from Thailand, unique among the varieties of Thai curries we are all familiar with. What makes this dish unique is the spice mix which consists of ingredients like cloves, cinnamon, cardamom, mace, and nutmeg, none of them native to Thailand.
Historically, gaeng massaman was introduced to Thailand by traders from the Middle East, in the 18th century. The name massaman has its origin in the word ‘musalman’ referring to the traders who were muslims. As part of their travels for trade, some of them settled in Thailand and gaeng massaman became popular there.
The distinctive component of this recipe is the massaman paste. Though you can buy bottled massaman paste in eastern grocery stores, I decided to make my own. It is not a difficult process; getting all the ingredients together might be the hardest part.
Garlic and shallots are roasted before they are ground into the paste. You can do this roasting over the grill, in the oven or on the stove top. I used a grill on the stove top to roast them.
The roasted garlic and shallots are ground together with the dry toasted whole spices, ginger, and lemongrass. It is recommended that these be ground in a stone mortar and pestle, but believe me, you can do an equally good job with a Cuisinart.
Even with the very spicy paste, gaeng massaman has an overall creamy texture due to the addition of coconut milk and crushed peanuts.
Gaeng massaman can be made with chicken, beef, lamb, or mutton, chicken being the most common. I have opted to make this version with beef.
Once the gaeng is put together, the rest is easy as the long slow cooking is done in the oven.
You can serve gaeng massaman with cooked rice or rotis (flat bread).
G is for Gaeng Massaman
- In a medium hot pan, lightly toast the dry spices, adding them one by one based on size. You will start with chilis and end with cumin. When cooled, powder them using a grinder.
- Roast the head of garlic and the shallots on a hot grill or in the oven, till char marks appear on them. When cooled peel them.
- In a food processor, add the lemon grass and ginger pieces and process till smooth. Add the spice powder, garlic and shallots, with salt to taste, and continue processing till a smooth paste is formed.
- Heat oven to 350 degrees F.
- Keep a large pot on the stove and add the top creamy part of the coconut milk to the pot. Heat the pot on medium heat.
- Add the massaman paste to the pot and mix with the coconut milk and keep stirring.
- When the mix starts to turn dry, add the beef pieces to the pot, coating the beef with the paste.
- Cook stirring, till the beef is browned, about 5 to 6 minutes.
- Add to the pot: remaining coconut milk, potatoes, onion, cinnamon, tamarind paste, fish sauce, all but 1 tbsp of crushed peanuts and 2 cups of water.
- Season with salt, and bring to a boil.
- Cover the pot with a fitting lid and place in the pre-heated oven.
- Cook in the oven for 1 and 1/2 hours. Check for doneness, and if the beef is not yet tender, cook for another 30 minutes.
- Sprinkle the remaining 1 tbsp of crushed peanuts on top and serve with cooked rice or rotis.