Thai Curry Episode X: Authentic Massaman Curry Paste and Cornish Game Hen in Massaman CurryPosted: November 23, 2013
I thought about posting this type of curry all the way at the end of the series, but I changed my mind, because Thanksgiving is coming up. Last year I gave you a red curry with roasted duck recipe that you can use leftover roasted turkey to make. This year I want to give you another recipe before Thanksgiving to cook your birds with.
You can use this recipe to cook your turkey for Thanksgiving dinner, or use it with the leftover turkey as well. Massaman curry is actually very well known, because it was listed on CNN Travel as the #1 most delicious food in the world in 2011. If you remember, Massaman curry is the king of curries, or perhaps the king of all foods! (As CNN Travel said.)
Massaman curry is a hybrid curry. It probably has Persian or may be even Indian influence, since it came into Thailand during the Ayuthaya Era around the mid-1600’s. I believe the origin probably to be Persian more than Indian because Thailand, or Siam at that time, was a hub for all the traders from all around. The Persians were the better sailors compared to the Indians, and we have documents stating we did trade with them.
This is the most use of “spices” in a Thai curry paste. This curry maintains the strong influence of the East Asian spices in it, different than the rest of the curries that you already known from my blog. Which curry was the original curry? How and who blended them together with the Thai curry remains a mystery.
Some would say that the other possibility for the origin of Massaman curry was from Thai Moslems, who called the curry “Salaman”. If that is true, it’s quite possible that the spice wasn’t Persian-influenced but rather would be Indonesian-influenced. The reason that this is also possible theory is because there is no Massaman curry with pork as a choice of meat.
Islamics in Thailand are clustered in the south, where my parents’ families resided, so I know a lot about their cuisine, and they cook their curry differently than the northern/Buddhist Thais. Eventually I will show you how my grandmother made her Massaman curry, but this time it will be the recipe that is believed to be the one belonging to the Royal cuisine.
Massaman was served among the Thai curries as a part of the set menu in the Thai Royal cuisine, as we, the Thais, saw proof of in some older literature dated back in the early 19th century. But from the mid-17th century, the Authaya era, to the late 18th century, the Rattanakosin era, where Bangkok is the capital city (Bangkok was established in 1782), we really don’t have documents to show the development of the Massaman curry.
The taste of Massaman curry is combination of three flavors: salty, sour and sweet, all blended perfectly with the “spices”. The saltiness is from the shrimp paste, salt and fish sauce. The sweetness is from palm sugar. The sour taste source is the one variant, depending on if the curry is made according to the “Royal cuisine” or the “commoner cuisine”. That’s how I’ve been taught.
What’s the difference? The typical sourness would come from tamarind pulp. So the “commoner” Massaman would have the taste of only tamarind. Sadly, some of the Massaman served in Thailand these days doesn’t even have the sour taste anymore, let alone the Massaman at the Thai restaurants all over the world, yet it still the most delicious food in the world!
The Royal cuisine would add fruit to the curry. Most of the time the fruit would be pineapple, which is abundant in the region. Pineapple doesn’t only give the curry its sour taste but also helps break down the tough proteins of the meat as well. The enzymes in pineapple will make the meat more tender.
There is another sour factor. This is from a citrus juice called Som-Sah ส้มซ่า, the Seville orange or bitter orange. Can you guess that the Royal cuisine version has more complex flavors than the one that uses only tamarind? Also, sometimes you will see cashew nuts in the curry instead of peanuts.
First, I want to tell you that there are three important things to remember when you make authentic Massaman curry:
#1 There are no green parts of leaves in this curry. If you see many bowls of Massaman curry and you want to pick the authentic one out, rule out the one that contains green pieces of vegetables. No cilantro, no kaffir lime leaves, no green onion, no Thai basil…NO GREEN IN MASSAMAN.
#2 There will be red oil floating on top of the curry. Why? Because Massaman curry contains many dried spices, and remember what I told you about how to cook the curry paste in the episode How to make a pot of Thai curry. You need to cook the curry with some oil in order to draw the flavor out from the dried spices.
The oil can be the coconut oil that was released from the coconut milk (the best), or by just using coconut oil if you don’t have coconut milk that can “break”. The oil is the key flavor of Massaman.
I normally don’t like a curry with thick layer of oil floating on top, but Massaman is the exception. In order to make the meat in the curry tender, the meat also needs to be simmered in the curry for quite a while. We normally don’t simmer them together with the coconut cream. We do it in the “watery” part of the coconut milk, or what we call “the tail” of the coconut milk, to prevent the coconut cream from breaking into too much oil.
#3 There is ABSOLUTELY NO GINGER OR CURRY POWDER IN THE MASSAMAN CURRY OR CURRY PASTE.
If you want to use pre-made Massaman curry, please skip this section and go to the cooking Massaman curry section
Massaman is the most complicated curry paste to make, due to many its ingredients and the fact that the spices need to be roasted. Some households even roast the shallots and garlic too.
Massaman Curry Paste Ingredients: (This yields about 1 – 1-1/4 cups of finished curry paste)
Shallots, sliced 2/3 cup
Garlic, sliced 1/2 cup
Red California Chili, soaked, de-seeded, and cut into small pieces 1 cup
Lemongrass, sliced 1/3 cup (If you can use only the purple part, use only 1/4 cup. I used my backyard lemongrass and I didn’t have enough, so I added the green part to it and used a little more)
Galangal 2 tablespoons
Cilantro root (Coriander root) 1 1/2 tablespoon
Shrimp paste 1 1/2 tablespoons
Salt 1 teaspoon
Coriander seeds 3 tablespoons
Cumin seeds 1 1/2 teaspoons
White peppercorn 1 teaspoon
Nutmeg (ground) 1-1/2 teaspoons
Mace 1-1/2 pieces
White cardamom (whole) 7 pieces
Cinnamon (ground) 1-1/2 teaspoons or 1 inch long stick
Clove (whole) 7 pieces
1) Roast all the spices with medium-low heat until they are fragrant, about 3-5 minutes.
2) Put all of the roasted spices and herbs together in a blender and puree them.
If this is the first time you’re making Thai curry paste, you probably won’t recognize the different result. But if you’ve made fresh Thai curry paste (following my recipes) before, you’ll notice that when you open the blender’s lid the aroma that comes out is different than most other curry pastes. It has a much stronger spice fragrance. So aromatic! Even though it isn’t going to smell like Indian curry, it much stronger than Kaeng Kua, for sure.
Once you have the curry paste, then you are ready to roast your bird. I used a game hen because two of us can’t eat a whole turkey, and chicken is quite scary right now with the outbreak of salmonella that hasn’t been resolved yet (even with organic chicken).
One cornish game hen (Mary’s organic) about 2lb
Massaman Curry paste 3-4 tablespoons
Coconut milk 2-3 cups
Potatoes (I used russet potatoes, but this is your choice) quartered or cubed 1 – 1 1/2 cups
Onions, 2-3 small to medium size, cut in 8 pieces (The best really would be the tiny onions that you can just cut in half and every layer remains attached, even after two hours of abuse.)
Roasted peanuts or cashew nuts 2/3 cups
Salt 1 teaspoon
Palm sugar (or brown sugar) 1/4 cup
Tamarind pulp 2 – 3 tablespoons (This depends on how concentrated your tamarind pulp is)
Fish sauce 1/4 cup
Lemon juice 1-2 tablespoons
Sour fruit of your choice (optional) cubed 1 – 2 cups (see note #2)
White cardamom (optional) 4 pieces
White cardamom leaf (optional) 4 leaves (It usually comes in the same bag of the white cardamom pod)
1) If you plan to make Massaman with turkey, just re-calculate the above portions based on the weight of your turkey. The listed amounts are the ingredients for a 2lb. bird. (Note that the curry paste ingredients up above will be sufficient for a good size turkey, 8-10 lb.)
2) Choice of fruits, all should be sour and firm
- Kiwi (do not cut them up–they will disappear in the curry; use whole)
- Sour Mango; I’ve used the Mexican mango that already turned yellow before, but I don’t recommend the green mango.
- Tomato (Can be halved or whole, but only add to the curry at the end or they disintegrate)
- Grapes (Same rule as tomato)
- Peach (Sour and firm yellow peach only. Do not use white peach)
- Hibiscus flower
I never use any citrus or berry in Massaman curry because they can’t stand the heat. The stone fruits will get soft or even mushy by the end of the process, so pick carefully or add them at the very end.
1) Clean and prep the bird. I de-boned the Cornish game hen that I used because my husbanditor doesn’t like to pick tiny little bones out of his food. (I have to keep him happy, you know, or you guys will have to figure out my Thainglish!)
2) Stuff the fruit, potatoes and some onions inside the bird. I used apples and potatoes, and only added the pineapple to the broth for no good reason. I should have stuffed the cavity with pineapple chunks so the bird would have some pineapple flavor, and put the apples in the broth. But…but…but I just though the whole pineapple ring would look pretty on the plate…only if anyone can see it!
3) Truss the bird.
4) Cook the curry paste. Do you remember how to cook the curry paste? With Massaman curry you need to cook it longer, with slightly lower heat.
I used medium heat and once it bubbled, continued to cook it for at least 5 minutes.
If your coconut cream doesn’t break after 5 minutes of cooking, just add coconut oil to the mix.
The longer you cook it, the more the spices release their flavor in the oil. If the coconut milk or coconut cream gets dry, add more.
5) Once the curry paste is cooked, add the bones and more water (or broth), add the extra spices, then season the curry. I don’t use the extra spices with the bird but I do if I cook beef Massaman.
WARNING: For a bigger bird, cook a very, very thin curry with less coconut cream. You shouldn’t put ALL of the curry in the roasting pan because the coconut milk will start to break, and the longer you roast the more it will break. You don’t want to end up with a gallon of oil in the pan, so the proportion of water to coconut cream is different, but use the right amount of curry paste for flavor. Once you take the bird out of the oven you will add more coconut cream or coconut milk to the dried-up curry and adjust the taste again.
6) Pour some curry INSIDE the bird so the stuffing has some flavor and put the bird in a roasting pan, breast side up.
Add more onions, potatoes and fruit all around.
Pour more curry over the bird. The right amount is the curry covers about half to 3/4 of the bird. The longer you roast, the more liquid you add. You can also add more liquid as you see fit.
7) Cover the roasting pan with foil, then put the pan in the oven and roast for 1.5 hours at 350 F convection for a Cornish game hen. For the last half hour take the foil off. (I forgot to take the foil off, so I had to roast it for two hours.)
Chicken (3-5 lb.) should be roasted for at least 2.5 hours. If you roast a full turkey, I recommend preparing the bird and the curry the day before and roasting it at least 8 hour for an 8-15 lb. turkey, then place the bird inside the oven (covered with foil) at 300F for another two hours on Thanksgiving day.
For the bigger birds, you can start with the breast-side down and half way through flip the breast-side up. Make sure to add the water or broth to keep the curry from drying.
Seriously, I’ve never roasted a turkey bigger than 15 pounds, so I really don’t know the exact time, but adding another 40% to the normal time should be good. The longer cooking time is to ensure that the meat not only reaches the cooked point, but is tender and falls off the bones. You have to make sure that the bird stays simmering in the curry so it won’t get dry.
8) At the last half hour or an hour that you try to brown the bird’s skin, unless you have more curry sauce left in a separate pot, you can add the nuts in this pot too. I did. I like to have extra sauce, and you will need to re-season the curry anyway after the bird is cooked.
8) Once the bird is cooked until tender, take it out of the oven. Put just the bird in a deep plate that can hold a decent amount of liquid, so you can put the curry in there too.
Re-season the Massaman curry again with the curry from the pan, which has already mixed with the juice form the bird. Add the peanuts or cashew nuts to the curry at this time. You might want to add coconut milk, water, or broth. Then adjust the final taste of the curry to your preference. Heat, let the curry bubble, then pour the curry over the bird.
10) It’s done! You can serve it with cucumber salad, A-jad. I added chopped pineapple to my a-jad too. Serve with steamed rice, bread, naan, puff paratha, scones, biscuits or couscous.
This is not the traditional way of making Massaman curry at all. I just wanted to give you this recipe as a choice for your Thanksgiving feast. Back in the day, when I didn’t know that turkey took at least 5 hours to cook, I invited a friend of mine to a Thanksgiving dinner and put the turkey in the oven at 3pm when the dinner time was 5pm…Yikes! We ended up eating dinner at 9pm. I was glad my friend, Melissa still loved me after that!
The next time I cooked turkey, of course I was nervous, so I made Massaman turkey. I already calculated the amount of cooking time and the time I needed to prepare all the other side dishes, and then decided to cook the bird the night before, just in case, you know. If I failed, I’d still have time to fix the situation. It was also the first time cooking Thanksgiving feast for my boyfriend’s (at the time) family.
Everything came out so perfect! I was surprised myself. Well, Massaman curry is better the next day anyway. Everyone LOVED my Massaman turkey. Even though, behind the scenes, my ex-bf had to beg his cleaning lady to come and clean his 300 sq.ft. kitchen and arrange the dining room on Thanksgiving morning! Yes, as you might expect, my second time cooking turkey and cooking for twelve people, I made the kitchen condition look just like a hurricane had just swept through. In fact, a hurricane attacked seem gentle by comparison.
How is authentic Massman curry made?
1) You simply cook the meat of your choice, cut into a big chunks, with thin coconut milk until the meat is tender and falls off the bones. (I have only used beef, chicken, lamb, duck, and game hen so far. Never used pork or seafood with Massaman yet.) Chicken and game hen take about 1.5 hours, duck about 2 hours, beef and lamb about 2-3 hours. Add your potatoes to the pot in the last hour.
Remember how to make fresh coconut milk from shredded coconut that I explained it earlier. The skimmed coconut milk, or the “tail” part, is probably come from the third or fourth round of adding warm water to the shredded coconut and squeezing the milk out or the coconut milk that was left after the coconut cream was skimmed out. The milk will be very very thin near the consistency of water.
If you are not making your own coconut milk, you can mix the coconut milk from the can with water in a ratio of coconut milk : water of 1:8.
2) Cook the curry paste as I described above and add it to the meat pot.
3) Add onions, fruit and season the curry to your preference.
4) Wait until the curry is back to boiling again, add the nuts, either peanuts or cashew nuts. Once the curry is back to a boil, it’s ready to be served.