What is kaeng massaman?
Kaeng massaman [mát.sā.màn] is a Thai curry that literally translates as “Muslim curry” – “massaman” is an archaic term for Muslim. Originally a Southern Thai dish, the name refers to the Muslim traders of yore who introduced the dried spices needed for this curry.
Kaeng massaman contains many dry spices – coriander, cumin, black pepper, clove, cardamom and nutmeg – and is reminiscent of Indian curries. The dish is usually served with rice or roti. The combination of Middle Eastern and typical Thai flavours makes this curry unexpectedly tasty. However, it’s a mild dish and, therefore, suitable for, and sought after by our Western palettes.
The depth of flavour that is characteristic of kaeng massaman is partly the result of the strong meats that go into it, such as chicken drumsticks, stewed beef or lamb. Given the Muslim background of the dish, pork is rarely used. Potatoes and shallots help to bulk out the curry.
How to make kaeng massaman
A massaman curry paste (nam phrik kaeng massaman) is made by first roasting and then grinding dry spices, such as coriander, cumin, black pepper, clove, cardamom and nutmeg with a pestle and mortar. Shallot, garlic, chilli peppers and lemongrass are also roasted. All this, together with aromatic ingredients, such as shrimp paste, is ground into a paste.
The cook then scoops the thick layer of cream out of a can of coconut milk; this is added with a few tablespoons of the curry paste. The chosen type of meat is brought to the boil with some coconut water, sugar, fish sauce and tamarind pulp and simmered until cooked through. Potatoes and shallots are gradually added and, finally, some peanuts.
How to eat
Kaeng massaman is eaten with jasmine rice or Thai roti; a pancake made from wheat flour and egg. Spoon some curry on the rice and eat small bites of rice with curry with your spoon. If necessary, use a fork to put the food on your spoon.
A typical side dish for kaeng massaman is ajaat, sweet and sour pickled cucumbers with shallots and chilli pepper. This sweet and sour side dish makes the curry a bit lighter.