Modern Thai people do appreciate fresh curry paste, but will also guiltlessly enjoy ready-made curry pastes from tubs or tins. It’s therefore confusing to me that some Western foodies seem to think curry is so incredibly precious that it should only be freshly made – you’d think they too were desirous of a good match!
Repeat after me and ignore the tin-fearing gourmands: ready-made curry paste is alright. The results are still delicious and have the right flavours and ingredients. It’s not thought of as cheating. It’s a bit like baking your own bread: if you have the time and ingredients, it’s very rewarding; however, no-one expects you to do so even if you have the wherewithal. It’s perfectly normal to buy it ready made.
Try to use mostly bone-in chicken pieces…
Now that I’ve spoken on curry generally, let me talk a little bit about Massaman curry in particular. It’s deeply fragrant, warm and rich, and only mild in the sense that it’s not at all chilli-hot – a good choice if you’re new to Thai curries. Try to use mostly bone-in chicken pieces in order to impart depth of flavour to the curry. If you want to use breast meat, add them towards the very end of cooking time just before the potatoes are done so they remain tender.
Serve the curry over hot steamed rice, and enjoy it greedily without the slightest bit of guilt over the fact that it came out of a packet.
- . 400ml tin full-fat good quality coconut milk, unshaken. (I use Chaokoh brand)
- . 100g (about 4 packed tablespoons) Massaman curry paste
- . Approximately 1 kg chicken pieces – drumsticks, thighs, or wings
- . 2 tablespoons fish sauce, plus more to taste
- . 3 bay leaves
- . 500g waxy potatoes, cut into 2 inch chunks (peeled or not as you choose)
- . 8 shallots or 1 large onion, peeled
- . About 8 whole cardamom pods, lightly toasted, a few of them gently crushed
- . 1 teaspoon whole cumin seeds, lightly toasted
- . 3 – 4 tablespoons prepared tamarind paste, to taste
- . 2 tablespoons palm sugar (or less of caster sugar), also to taste
- . 50g roasted unsalted peanuts, plus a few more tablespoons for sprinkling
- Measure about 100ml thick coconut cream from the top of the tin. If there’s no cream, then just measure out the same amount of coconut milk.
- Pour it into a large pot and let it bubble over a medium heat.
- After a few minutes, it should start splitting into oil and cream. This is an important step called cracking the coconut milk.
- Add all the curry paste and blend well with the coconut milk.
- Fry for a few more minutes over a medium heat until the curry paste is very fragrant, a little darker, and starting to seep oil.
- Place the chicken pieces in the pan, turning to coat it in the curry paste.
- Stir in the 2 tablespoons fish sauce and the bay leaves.
- Pour in just enough water to barely cover the chicken pieces – leaving 1-2 cm exposed is fine; you don’t want to dilute the curry too much.
- Cover and leave to simmer over a medium-low heat for 20 – 30 minutes until the chicken is firm and cooked, pierce with a fork to check.
- At this point, add the potatoes, shallots, along with the cardamom and cumin seeds if using. Stir well and top up with more water if needed.
- Cover and simmer for a further 15 minutes or so. The curry is ready when the chicken, potatoes and onions are completely cooked and tender.
- When the curry is done, season it to your liking. Taste it first: the sauce should be perceptibly sweet, balanced with a gentle tang and savoury, fragrant spices.
- Add the tamarind paste, palm sugar, and perhaps more fish sauce to your liking, or perhaps a little stronger as it’s going to be served with rice.
- The amounts of tamarind paste and palm sugar suggested are within the range I’ve used; I like my curry very flavourful.
- Once you are pleased with your curry, serve it with rice. Sprinkle over more peanuts if desired.
- The curry keeps for about a week in the fridge – indeed, it tastes better the day afterwards. It also freezes well for several weeks.
Images courtesy of Pear Nuallak