Gaeng massaman neua


First published in 2022
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John says: "Massaman is a widely recognised curry, but most traditional Thai recipes I’ve encountered are highly time-consuming and complex compared to simpler versions we encounter in Britain. Don’t let that put you off, as the rewards are great for those wanting to make this Muslim-Thai curry at home. The curry paste requires dry-toasting of the aromatic ingredients and uses various dried spices to bring deep layers of flavour to the final dish. This is probably the most complex and labour-intensive recipe in the book, but it certainly makes for a good rainy-day activity – or, if you prefer to break down the main jobs over a couple of days, that will make it more achievable."

"Dried mandarin peel is used in braises and soups to give a lovely sweet background flavour. I make my own by drying mandarin and clementine peels in a low oven (55°C/130°F/lowest possible gas) or dehydrator until bone dry, then storing in an airtight container."




Massaman curry paste

Short rib

Tamarind Water

Fried shallots and fragrant shallot oil

  • 200g of shallots, peeled (small round or banana shallots work best, but they must be very fresh and firm)
  • 500ml of vegetable oil

Preheat the oven to 160°C (320°F/gas 2)


To make the curry paste, add the lemongrass, galangal, ginger, coriander root, shallot and garlic to a wok over a medium heat and dry-toast for 10 minutes to give colour and evaporate some of the water content from the ingredients. This will concentrate the flavour and give a roasted, smoky taste


Transfer to a stone pestle and mortar and pound until smooth, then add the remaining curry paste ingredients. Set aside 


Roll the beef short rib in the fish sauce, then place in a hot,  dry pan over a high heat for 5 minutes to sear. This will give a golden colour and crust to the outside of the meat. There should be enough fat in the short rib to prevent it from sticking to the pan. Set aside and reserve the rendered fat


In a large saucepan, combine the coconut milk, toasted cassia, star anise, cardamom pods, dried mandarin peel and bay leaves. Bring to the boil, then set aside


Add the beef pieces to an ovenproof casserole dish with a tight fitting lid, then cover with the coconut milk and whole spices


Cover with a lid, then braise in the oven for 2 hours, or until tender. The beef should be soft and falling from the bone, but without completely collapsing on itself


Make the tamarind water by breaking up the tamarind pulp in a bowl, then pouring over the warm water. Use your hands to mash and break the pulp further so that it becomes a thick liquid. Leave to stand for 15 minutes for the pulp to loosen with the water


Pour the liquid through a sieve (fine-mesh strainer), using the back of a spatula or wooden spoon to press and scrape the pulp, extracting the thick tamarind purée. If the fibrous pulp looks as though it still has plenty of tamarind flesh attached to it then repeat this soaking and straining process, but this time use caution and only add enough water to just cover the pulp, mashing well with your hands to release all the remaining flesh


Discard the fibrous pulp and stones (pits). Stir the collected purée to completely incorporate the water. You want this to be quite thick and very sour, as it can always be diluted to the desired thickness and sourness later. When using in a more diluted state, remember that it will ultimately dilute the dish you are seasoning, be that a curry, soup or salad, so use your intuition and keep this base thick and powerful in flavour. The tamarind water will keep in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to a week, or can be frozen in portions for up to three months


To make the fried shallots and fragrant oil, slice the shallots as thinly as you can with the grain of the shallot, aiming for slices 1 mm thick. Take your time, as you are looking for a uniform thickness so that the shallots fry evenly. Using a Japanese mandolin makes the job easier

  • 200g of shallots, peeled (small round or banana shallots work best, but they must be very fresh and firm)

Line a large baking tray (pan) with paper towels. Heat the vegetable oil in a large wok until it reaches 140°C (284°F) on a cooking thermometer. If you don’t own one, add a slice of shallot to the hot oil; if it starts to bubble and fry without taking on colour immediately, the temperature is correct

  • 500ml of vegetable oil

Add the remaining shallots to the hot oil and stir to prevent them clumping together. Maintain a steady oil temperature so that the shallots are kept at a gentle sizzle for about 12 minutes, or until they turn golden brown


Strain the shallots through a sieve (fine-mesh strainer) over a heatproof dish so that the oil is collected. Shake the sieve, then transfer the shallots to the lined tray. Use two forks to gently tease the shallots apart into strands, separating them into a single layer on the paper. The shallots will darken and become crispier as they dry. You want them to dry and cool as quickly as possible to prevent them turning too dark and becoming bitter. This takes some practice, but you will quickly realise how dark you want the shallots to be before straining


Leave the fried shallots to cool completely before storing in an airtight container lined with a sheet of paper towel. Store in a cool dry place for up to two weeks. Leave the fragrant shallot oil to cool completely before transferring to a separate airtight container. It will keep in a cool, dry place for up to two months


Once the beef has had its cooking time, strain the braising liquor and set aside; you should have about 500ml. Leave the beef to cool slightly before slicing into 2.5cm pieces


Add the potatoes to a large saucepan and cover with lightly salted water. Bring to the boil, then reduce the heat and simmer for 8–10 minutes until cooked through. Strain and set aside


Combine the thick coconut cream with the reserved rendered fat in another large saucepan and warm over a medium heat for 3 minutes, or until the cream separates, the thinner liquid evaporates, and the surface develops an oily sheen. Add 4 tablespoons of the curry paste and cook for another 5 minutes until it is completely incorporated with the coconut cream

  • 200ml of coconut cream, (the richer, heavier solids that rise to the top of the thinner milk), plus an extra splash to finish)

Fry for about 8 minutes, or until the mixture darkens and becomes fragrant, then season with the sugar and fish sauce, allowing these to cook into the paste before adding the reserved braising liquor. Bring to a simmer and cook for another 8–10 minutes until the sauce develops an oily sheen on the surface


At this point, you should have a sauce of pouring consistency, which is rich in aroma and colour, and tastes sweet, rich and complex thanks to the dried spices. Add the sliced beef short rib to the sauce, along with the golden raisins and cooked potatoes, and warm all the ingredients together for 1 minute. Remove from the heat and leave to stand for 5 minutes so the flavours can develop. Add the tamarind water to lighten the seasoning and add a slightly fresh taste to the final curry – it should be sweet, sour and salty. Transfer to a serving dish and top with a splash of coconut cream and the fried shallots

First published in 2022
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