This is probably the most complex of the Thai curries to make. While there are acceptable massaman pastes available to buy, it’s worth the effort to make from scratch because all the subtle fragrances of the freshly ground spices vanish if the paste sits around for too long.
Its complexity stems from the fact that the dish is not initially Thai. It either came to Thailand with spice traders in the Muslim south of the country, or (and this is my preferred story) it arrived at the court of Siam with the first Persian envoys in the 17th century.
Most commonly, you’ll find it made with beef or chicken. I find it works beautifully with goat, and so I’ve used that here.
For the paste
Thai shallots 4 (or 2 regular shallots)
garlic 4 cloves
coriander root 1
long dried chillies 12
cinnamon stick 1
cumin seeds 1 tbsp
coriander seeds 1 tbsp
sea salt a pinch
cardamom seeds of 1 pod
black peppercorns ¼ tsp
lemongrass 2 sticks, bashed and finely chopped
nutmeg ¼, grated
kapi (shrimp paste) 1 heaped tbsp
For the curry
ghee 2 tbsp
goat meat 400g, cubed
vegetable oil 2 tbsp
Thai shallots 4, peeled (or 2 regular shallots, peeled and halved)
new potatoes 4, halved
coconut cream 2 tbsp
coconut milk 1 x 400ml tin
raisins handful (optional)
tamarind paste 2 tbsp
cardamom pods 6, broken open
palm sugar 1 tbsp
nam pla (fish sauce) 1-2 tbsp
roasted peanuts 1-2 tbsp
To make the paste, preheat the oven to 180C fan/gas mark 6.
Wrap the shallots, garlic and coriander root tightly in tin foil and bake in the oven for about 20 minutes, or until soft.
Meanwhile, in a dry frying pan, toast the dried chillies until they are crispy, shaking them in the pan to ensure they don’t burn. Set aside to cool, then snip them up into small pieces with scissors, discarding the stalks and the seeds. Soak the pieces in warm water for at least 20 minutes. Dry them thoroughly with paper towels.
Toast the cinnamon stick, cumin seeds and coriander seeds in the dry pan until they’re fragrant. Then grind the paste, starting with the dried chillies and the salt, followed by the toasted spices, the remaining dry spices, and the lemongrass. Peel the shallots and garlic, cut the coriander root into small pieces, and pound them into the paste, followed by the grated nutmeg and the kapi.
Keep grinding until the paste is as smooth as possible, and everything is thoroughly incorporated.
To make the curry, melt the ghee in a large frying pan, and gently brown the meat. You will need to do this in batches.
Heat the vegetable oil in a large wok or saucepan, then add the paste, and fry until it’s very fragrant. Add the meat, shallots, potatoes and the coconut cream, and stir them thoroughly into the paste. Then add the coconut milk, raisins (if using) and water, bring up to the boil, and simmer for 30 minutes.
Now add the tamarind paste, cardamom, palm sugar and nam pla and gently simmer, partially covered, for another 30-40 minutes, until the meat is tender. About 10 minutes before you finish cooking, add the peanuts.
Finally, taste the curry and adjust the seasoning. You’re looking for a sour start to its taste, which then develops in the mouth to become sweet and savoury.
From Baan by Kay Plunkett-Hogge (Pavilion Books, £20)