“Gaeng Massaman” is our favourite rich and creamy Thai beef & sweet potato dish.
Gaeng Massaman, also known as Massaman, is a unique Thai curry as it features Middle Eastern spices introduced to Thai chefs by Persian traders. Cardamom, cinnamon, cloves, cumin, nutmeg, mace, cinnamon, chili peppers, cilantro, lemongrass, shrimp paste, ginger, shallots and garlic are pounded together to make an authentic massaman curry paste recipe.
We’ve traveled extensively through Thailand and eaten at all of the best Thai restaurants in Toronto. We’ve taken Thai cooking classes in Chang Mai and learned expert cooking techniques courtesy of the executive chef at JW Marriott Phuket Resort.
Cooking Thai food at home is quick and easy. Our flavourful Authentic Massaman Curry recipe keeps in the fridge for several days. You’ll love loitering over these Thai beef & sweet potato curry leftovers!
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Travel to Thailand by Making Gaeng Massaman at Home
On my first visit I spent over a month backpacking through Thailand. I’ve revisited Thailand two times since as a food and travel journalist and always love to discover new regional dishes. Over the years I’ve explored Thai destinations such as Ko Phi Phi, Krabi, Chiang Khong, Chang Mai, Sukothai and Bangkok.
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Where To Eat Gaeng Massaman
The first time I tasted an authentic Massaman curry recipe was at a restaurant Bangkok. I arrived to Thailand on a flight from Laos and will never forget my first dinner in the capital. A large bowl of steaming beef & sweet potato curry topped with chopped roasted peanuts was plopped at the table under my nose.
I had never had a thick Thai curry before, I was so used to the soup-like coconut curry bowls commonly made with green, red and yellow curry paste. I’m a big lover of peanuts and enjoyed the dishes spiced flavours without too many hot peppers causing flames to lurch off my tongue. Since traditional Gaeng Massaman is a mild curry it’s perfect for newbies who have a low tolerance for hot, spicy and fiery foods.
I like to make this authentic Massaman curry recipe on a cold Fall or Winter day as the succulent beef, plump sweet potatoes and thick, hearty sauce offer a comforting meal to warm up to.
Haven’t traveled to Thailand before? It may be helpful to first sample Massaman at a local Thai restaurant to better understand how the dish is served. You can also assess the variety of ingredients used and sample the correct texture before trying to make our Authentic Massaman Curry recipe from scratch at home.
I spent months researching the best Thai restaurants in Toronto, visiting popular restaurants that serve authentic Thai dishes such as Sabai Sabai, Sukothai, Khao San Road, Pai, Kiin, Bangkok Garden, Mengrai Thai and Favorites Thai BBQ. If you’re looking to sample an authentic Massaman curry recipe in Toronto try visiting one of these award-winning restaurants.
What Is Gaeng Massaman?
Massaman, massaman or matsaman is not a native Thai word. It is generally thought to refer to Muslims, since food writers and culinary historians from the mid-19th century often called the dish “Mussulman curry.
According to Thai scholar Santi Sawetwimon, Gaeng Massaman originated in 17th -century central Thailand at the cosmopolitan court of Ayutthaya, through the Persian merchant Sheik Ahmad Qomi, from whom the noble Thai Bunnag family descends.
Other theories believe massaman is a southern Thai dish influenced by Malay and Indian cuisine, or that its name comes from the Malay word masam, which means sour.
The curry is also famously featured in the poem Kap He Chom Khrueang Khao Wan from the end of the 18th century, attributed to Prince Itsarasunthon of Siam. It is dedicated to a lady who is thought to be Princess Bunrot, the later Queen Sri Suriyendra, wife of King Rama II. The second stanza of the poem reads:
“Massaman, a curry made by my beloved, is fragrant of cumin and strong spices. Any man who has swallowed the curry is bound to long for her.“
The first-ever recorded authentic massaman curry recipe was written by Lady Plean Passakornrawong in 1889. She dubbed the dish, “Chicken Massaman Curry with Bitter Orange Juice.” Due to its Muslim roots, most authentic Massaman Curry recipe’s are prepared with beef or chicken.
Indian vs Thai Curry
The two countries that are most associated with curry are India and Thailand. Each nation prepares curry in a unique way. In general, the term refers to a savoury meat, seafood or vegetable dish cooked in a sauce that is accompanied by rice, flatbread or fresh salads.
In India, curry (or masala) encompasses a variety of dishes that use a complex combination of spices or herbs, usually including ground turmeric, cumin, coriander, ginger, and fresh or dried chilies. You’ll find unique regional takes on the Indian curry concept in neighbouring countries such as Pakistan, Bhutan, Bangladesh, Nepal, Sri Lanka and The Maldives.
Indian curries generally do not feature beef, as the cow is considered a sacred animal. The only region in India you are likely to find beef on a menu is in Kerala, which was colonized by the Portuguese and later by the Dutch. You can enjoy beef dishes in the colonial city of Cochin as well as luxury resorts like Coconut Lagoon.
Gaeng Massaman is a unique Thai dish as its sauce is thicker than typical Thai coconut curry. Gaeng Massaman also distinguishes itself on Thai curry menus with its mild heat level, fragrant Middle Eastern spices and roasted peanuts.
Types of Thai Curry
In Thailand, curry refers both to dishes in Thai cuisine that are made with various types of curry paste and to the pastes themselves. A wet Thai curry is made from curry paste, coconut milk, meat, seafood, vegetables and herbs.
Popular Thai curries include Green, Red, Yellow, Penang and Gaeng Massaman. Most Thai curries are categorized by the colour of the curry paste. The colour of the chilies and other ingredients gives each curry its distinct hue. Traditionally, all Thai curries were made with the same ingredients except for one thing: the chilies. Usually green curry is the mildest, red is the hottest and yellow falls somewhere in between.
Gaeng Massaman uniquely influenced Thai cooking thanks to visiting Persian traders. The sauce is thick with a mild, slightly sweet flavour.
Penang Curry is sweeter than its sister, spicy Thai Red Curry. It is named for the island of Penang off the west coast of Malaysia and is served sometimes topped with coconut cream.
Most Thai curry paste recipes are made with spicy chilies, garlic, ginger, galangal, lemongrass, shallot, fish sauce, shrimp paste, cane sugar, lime, spices and coconut milk.
We suggest making our Authentic Massaman Curry recipe by preparing the curry paste from scratch. Massaman curry paste is not wildly available in grocery stores like green curry paste or red curry paste. You may be able to purchase prepared Massaman curry paste at a local Thai restaurant so it doesn’t hurt to ask.
What Meat To Use in Our Authentic Massaman Curry Recipe
Traditionally, Massaman is braised, slowly stewed and simmered, allowing chefs to tenderize tougher cuts of meat in liquid.
Tough cuts of meat contain large amounts of collagen, which require long cooking times to break down into rich gelatin. That’s why tougher cuts of meat like the chuck, shoulder or short rib are typically used when braising Thai curries.
We suggest using beef short rib when making our authentic Massaman curry recipe. Beef Massaman is traditionally prepared with potatoes or sweet potatoes, proving that it’s not just the English who love “meat and potatoes.” The pairing seems to be a cultural universal!
Tips for Making the Best Authentic Massaman Curry Recipe
If it’s your first time making Gaeng Massaman we suggest you start by reading the ingredients list and recipe directions below.
We prepared this recipe by using a large dutch oven pot topped with a lid, which helps trap the steam and tenderize the beef short ribs until the meat falls off the bone. The braising process over the stove takes around two hours. If you’re in a time crunch or don’t have a large pot you can braise the beef in the oven covered in tin foil, an Instant Pot under the stew function or overnight in a slow cooker.
When slicing spicy red chilies, be sure to wear gloves and avoid touching the seeds as they contain oil that will irritate your eyes and skin. I once forgot to wear gloves when slicing a mountain of birds eye chilies and spent hours suffering the sting of burning hands. If you do find yourself with swollen and irritated skin from chili oil exposure, soak your irritated skin in cold milk or yogurt.
You can also increase the heat of the dish by adding the chili seeds into the stir fry rather than disposing of them. If you have a low tolerance for spicy food we still suggest adding peppers as they offer an important flavour profile to the dish. Simply remove all of seeds to ensure the spice level is to your pallet’s preference.
The dish is traditionally prepared with palm sugar in Thailand but we’ve suggest brown sugar as it’s more readily available in North American grocery stores. If you love fishy flavours, feel free to add a little extra Thai shrimp paste or fish sauce.
I’ve seen some Beef Massaman Curry recipes that include 2-3 tablespoons of peanut butter. If you’re a big peanut fan try adding organic peanut butter (no sugar added) to create a more rich, creamy and nutty curry sauce.
There are also traditional versions of the dish with recipes that feature oranges, orange juice, and pineapple juice. Once you’ve mastered our Authentic Massaman Curry Recipe, feel free to great creative by adding a splash of orange or pineapple juice. The juice helps thin out the sauce (if that’s what you prefer) and the acid in the fruit offers a nice contrast to the fat and starch in the braised beef, sweet potatoes and curry sauce.
If you don’t eat beef, feel free to substitute for chicken thighs, turkey breast or lamb. If your’e a vegetarian you can omit the shrimp paste and fish sauce and substitute beef short ribs for your favourite mushrooms, tofu and fresh vegetables.
What To Serve with Gaeng Massaman
Beef & Sweet Potato Massaman keeps in the fridge for 2-3 days so store it in an airtight container and enjoy leftovers as a quick and easy lunch or dinner.
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Best Authentic Massaman Curry Recipe
Thai Gaeng Massaman Beef & Sweet Potato Curry
- Dutch Oven
- measuring cups
- measuring spoons
- Mortar & Pestle or Food Processor
- Wooden spoon
- 1/4 cup Roasted peanuts
- 1 Small onion chopped
- 5 Garlic cloves peeled
- 2 Red Chillies deseeded and chopped
- 1 tbsp Ginger minced
- 1 Lemongrass stalk finely chopped
- 1/2 cup Cilantro Stalk
- 1 tsp Ground Coriander
- 3 tsp Ground Cumin
- 1/2 tsp Ground Cinnamon
- 1/8 tsp Ground Nutmeg
- 1/8 tsp Ground Cloves
- 1/4 tsp Ground Cardamom
- 1 tsp Shrimp paste
- 3 tsp Fish sauce
- 1 tsp Brown sugar
Beef & Sweet Potato Gaeng Massaman
- 2 tbsp Vegetable oil
- 5 tbsp Cornstarch
- 1 kg Beef Chuck
- 1/4 tsp Salt
- 1/4 tsp Cracked pepper
- 400 ml Beef stock
- 14 oz Coconut milk
- 2 tbsp Tamarind paste
- 2 tbsp Brown sugar
- 500 g Sweet potatoes diced into cubes
- 1 Lime juiced
- lime leaf, chili, cilantro, peanuts, fried onions garnish
- Place all the curry paste ingredients in a food processor and blend until it forms a smooth mixture. Set aside.
- Heat the oil in a large wok. Toss the chopped beef in the cornflour, salt and pepper.
- Fry the beef chunks in hot oil for 5 mins on medium high heat until the exterior is browned.
- Once the beef has cooked, turn down the heat to medium low and add in the curry paste. Stir to coat the beef and let it cook for an additional 2-3 minutes.
- Add the beef stock and coconut milk. Stir and then cover with a lid while gently simmering on low heat for 1 hour 45 mins. Stir every so often and if the beef is starting to look dry add additional beef stock.
- After the 1 hour 45 mins, add in the sweet potatoes, give it a stir and cook for a further 25 – 30 mins until the potatoes are tender. This is the perfect time to start cooking your rice!
- Once Thai Beef & Sweet Potato Curry is fully cooked remove from the heat and add lime juice, tamarind paste and brown sugar.
- Serve the Gaeng Massaman Curry with steamed rice topped with cilantro, chilies, wedge of lime, peanuts, lime leaf and fried onions.
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