Massaman Chicken Curry

This dish is the ultimate exotic feast from South Asia, combining fantastic spices and umami flavors into one wildly savory dish.  We don’t find these flavor combinations in any other cuisine.  When the spices of Malaysia and Persia were combined with the local Thai flavors like cilantro, lemongrass, garlic, galangal, wild onions or shallots, fish sauce, peanuts, tamarind, spicy peppers and coconut cream, a feast was created out of the fusion of culture, commerce and conquest… and the wild tastes that were created make this curry one of the most beloved in the world.  Polls of culinary experts have rated Massaman Curry as the best dish in all the world.  But within traditional Thai cuisine itself, it exists only in the south… and even at that, the unique combination of spices that are used in Massaman curry are not generally used in other Thai dishes.  

The spices used in Massaman curries are from deep in South Asia, like the vast island nation of Malaysia and also the empire once known at Persia… bringing star anise, cloves, nutmeg, cinnamon and cardamom.  We use all of these spices on our Massaman curry.  In the 1600s, traders from the Indian sub-continent introduced these spices from India, Persia and Malasia to the world, and the superpowers of the time, Spain, Holland and Portugal, eagerly pursued them with their vast fleets of exploring and conquering ships.  And today, we eagerly pursue them in our wild savory kitchen.  Enjoy!  


10 chicken thighs, (or 2 1/2 pounds lamb), boneless, skinless, air chilled, free range, lightly salted and cut into 2 inch chunks
3 large Yukon Gold potatoes, cut into 2 inch chunks
6 shallots, diced, or 2 large sweet yellow onions, (we sometimes use 1 red onion for the contrast of flavors)
3 cups rich chicken broth (we boil down the bones of a rotisserie chicken)
2 large tomatoes or 6 Campari small ones
6 carrots, peeled and cut into 1 1/2 inch chunks (not traditional, but lovely)
8 oz haricot vert French beans, cut in half (haricot vert are not traditional, but more tasty)
3 – 4 limes, juiced
4 cloves garlic, finely chopped or crushed
2 inches ginger, grated
7 kiffir lime leaves, cut into thin strips
3 fresh hot peppers (we used Bird’s Eye or Serranos)
2 inches of galangal, cut into coins (optional, it’s already in the curry paste)
1 stalk lemongrass, very finely minced in a food processor (optional, it’s already in the curry paste)
3/4 cup Massaman curry paste (we use Mae Ploy)
2 cans (14 oz each) coconut cream
3 tablespoons coconut oil
2 tablespoons prepared concentrated tamarind pulp (we use Tamicon or make our own from seedless paste)
1 tablespoon light brown sugar or 3 tablespoons mirin 
3 tablespoons fish sauce (we use Red Boat)
3 sticks large cinnamon sticks, broken into large pieces
3/4 cup peanuts, roasted and unsalted
4 star anise
cilantro, for garnish
1 teaspoon salt, sprinkled on the chicken (the curry paste contains all the other salt you will need)
Black pepper to taste

Prep Work

Cut up the potatoes, carrots and string beans, set aside together in a bowl.

Lightly salt and black pepper the chicken, cut into two inch pieces and set aside.

Dice, slice or crush the garlic, ginger, hot peppers and shallots (we use the food processor for shallots), set aside together in a small bowl.

Peel the outer layer from the lemongrass and chop very small. Place this chopped lemongrass in a food processor and mince very finely until pulverized.

Pan fry the peanuts in a dry pan until they are toasty and set aside. (We often allow the peanuts to slightly burn, it add an amazing flavor component of charred fire-cooked umami.)

Cut the tomatoes into 2 inch pieces and set aside.


You will need three separate pans for cooking this feast… a cast iron dutch oven or 12 inch fry pan for the chicken simmered with the curry sauce and coconut cream… a 12 to 14 inch pan for the veggies in the spicy chicken broth… and a stock pot at the end to put them both together to finish cooking and to marry.

In the cast iron pan, add 1 heaping tablespoon of coconut oil and the Massaman curry paste, heat gently on medium until the paste loosens and is aromatic. (Be careful not to use high heat, it will harm the delicate flavors of the herbs and spices in the curry, especially the galangal.)

Add the two cans of coconut cream and simmer until the color is a gorgeous dark lava red and fills the kitchen with the wonderful smell of Massaman curry. Add the chicken and tamarind paste, cover and simmer on low/medium heat until the chicken is fully cooked, about 10 minutes.

While that simmers, in the 12 to 14 inch pan, add 2 heaping tablespoons of coconut oil and slowly heat the garlic, ginger, hot peppers and shallots until they sizzle and are aromatic, and very slightly toasty.

Add the chicken broth, the lime juice, star anise, cinnamon sticks, pulverized lemongrass, fish sauce and mirin/sugar. Simmer until married and a bit reduced, about 5 minutes.

Add the carrots, potatoes, string beans and simmer until the potatoes are nearly cooked, about 10 minutes.

Add all the vegetables and the chicken together into the stock pot. Add the tomatoes, peanuts and kiffir lime leaves, simmer until married and savory, about 5 minutes.

Serve on aromatic white rice, or since you already have potatoes in the curry, simply serve with a garnish of cilantro.

Note… If you don’t use the prepared Massaman paste, here are the spices to roast and then grind… and the herbs that are crucial for an authentic Massaman curry.

coriander seed
kiffir lime leaves
red chilies
shrimp paste