Massaman Curry

Massaman Curry (gaeng matsaman – แกงมัสมั่น) is a Southern Thai curry which has a lot of Indian influence. Massaman is an old way of saying “Muslim”, for many of the dry spices were carried to Thailand by early Muslim traders. Like Indian curries, this curry is heavy on dry spices and very aromatic. It’s typically served with rice or roti, and sometimes with a side of ajaat.


  • 4 tablespoons curry paste (below, or bought)
  • 3 tablespoons oil
  • 1 leg and 2 thighs chicken
  • 1 cup coconut cream + 1 cup coconut milk
  • 1 cup white potatoes
  • 1 cup :onions:, or peeled whole shallots
  • 4 cardamom pods
  • 1/4 cup roasted peanuts, whole
  • 1 tablespoon palm sugar
  • 1″ piece of cinnamon stick
  • 2 dried :cassia leaves:
  • 2 tablespoons fish sauce (or to taste)
  • 2 tablespoons tamarind paste (or to taste)

Curry Paste


  1. If making your own paste, dry roast the dry spices in a pan on medium heat until fragrant, about 2-4 minutes. It’s best to roast each thing one at a time until fragrant. The chilies should be browned. Roast the shrimp paste wrapped in tin foil for a few minutes too.
  2. Soak the dried chilies until soft, then take out the seeds and inner bits and chop fine.
  3. Pound the paste in a stone mortar and pestle. Start by grinding up the dried spices until powdered, then set aside. Put the chilies in the mortar and pound until uniformly smashed, then add the rest of the ingredients, starting from hardest and driest and working up to softest at the end. Then add the dried spice powder back in and the shrimp paste. Mix well. If using a food processor, just mix it all in together. If using canned paste, skip these three steps.
  4. Cut the potatoes and onions into bite-sized pieces and wash the chicken.
  5. Add the oil to the pan and turn on to medium high. Fry 4 tablespoons of the paste until fragrant, about 3-4 minutes. Keep stirring so it doesn’t burn.
  6. Add the whole chicken pieces. Fry until the chicken is sealed on the outside, about 2-3 minutes.
  7. Add 1 cup of the coconut cream (top part of the can if using canned – don’t shake the can). Simmer until the oil separates, about 2-3 minutes. You’ll see reddish oil starting to float to the top.
  8. Add the potatoes, peanuts and onions and the 1 cup of coconut milk. Simmer for a few minutes.
  9. Add the cinnamon, cardamom seeds, cassia leaves. Mix well.
  10. Simmer (and stir well) until the mixture browns and a good deal of oil comes to the top. About 15-20 minutes. If it gets too dry, add some water. Add the fish sauce, palm sugar and tamarind juice at the end. Taste – you may need to adjust the flavor if it’s not salty or sour enough.
  11. Serve with rice or roti. Also is great with ajaat (slightly pickled cucumber salad) on the side.


You can use lamb or beef for this recipe as well. If using either of those, cut into bite sized cubes and boil in coconut milk (not the cream) for about 30 minutes before adding to the curry to soften the meat. If your meat is already really soft, you can skip this.



Dry roast the paste ingredients


Pound the ingredients to make the paste

The Paste

The finished paste


Fry the paste in oil on medium heat


Add the chicken and fry until sealed


Add 1 cup of coconut cream


Add the potatoes and onions


Add the rest of the ingredients

28 thoughts on “Massaman Curry

  1. Tried your recipe a few days ago and it was excellent! I’ve also posted it, do take a look. I’ll be looking at your site to make Thai dishes :)Thanks for sharing.

  2. Needless to say I’m in love with Thai food. Being a vegetarian, I always loved and praised how vegetarian/vegan friendly the Thai diet was. So, I finally decided to learn how to make it instead of going to the restaurant every time. Unfortunately, I’m just finding out that massaman (one of my favorites) and most, if not all, curries have fish sauce and/or shrimp paste in the ingredients. I was hoping it was just a particularity of your recipe, but after searching, I’ve found that every recipe calls for it. How DEPRESSING! All this time I thought I was eating something vegetarian in the restaurants and I now find out that there’s fish in it. Arg… and I just had some yesterday! I guess it’s just one more cuisine to cross off the list.

    Anyway, I digress… I just needed to vent a little bit. Since I obviously can’t go to restaurants anymore considering the fish factor most likely used, I was curious if I could still make this without the fish sauce and the shrimp paste. I saw in other recipes that you suggested using 1/2 tsp in Pangang and 1/4 tsp for the Green Curry of salt to replace the shrimp paste, but what would you suggest for the fish sauce? Is it necessary? Any input you suggest will be greatly appreciated, as I don’t think I’ll be visiting a Thai restaurant anytime soon. *I’m sorry if I sound negative or disrespectful, I’m just upset 🙁 *


    1. If I was trying to substitute, I would try a combination of water, vinegar, a very small amount of roasted sesame oil or a very small quantity of liquid smoke plus salt or a smoked salt, and brown sugar. Increasing the spices might also fill in the flavor.

      As for the shrimp paste, I don’t know how to replace the flavor in the vegan range, but soft mild tofu would give the emulsifying effect and therefore the familiar texture in the mouth.

    2. Just went into an oriental specialty store yesterday and stumbled across vegetarian fish sauce. Had vinegar, water, brown sugar, ground seaweed, and salt in it. Maybe try playing with some of those ingredients!

    3. You can ask them to make the gravy w/o fish sauce. I am a vegetarian and that’s what i do. Also you can ask at any chinese rest also to make your gravy sauce w/o chicken stock.

      Thank you

    4. My mom just made some red curry vegetable and shrimp curry (tastes exactly like Panang without the chicken) and she used soy sauce instead of fish sauce since we can’t find fish sauce anywhere. Perhaps try that instead. 🙂

  3. Graz-
    If you make it yourself just use salt. Many Thai restaurants abroad don’t use shrimp paste in their curry paste – just ask them before you order. We have a downloadable chart in the “articles” section which caters to vegetarians.

  4. I have all the ingredients and cannot wait to make this tomorrow. About how many servings would this equal? I’m thinking around 2?

  5. Graz,

    Instead of using the fish sauce you can use a little extra soy sauce. Also, look for Maggi seasoning in the “ethnic” section of your grocery store. That also will work. I’ve found that no one notices the lack of fish sauce (or shrimp paste, or oyster sauce) in my Thai cooking — they’re too busy raving about it. 😉

    1. yes you can add tofu – add it when you add the potato. i recommend deep-frying it first so that it holds together well.

  6. Graz,

    There are many Thai dishes that do not use shrimp paste and can get around the fish sauce too. The best to use beside salt is black been sauce, yellow been sauce, hoisin sauce, and golden mountain sauce(seasoned soy)any of these will give you very nice flavor. Try them out and hope you like them. On the curry paste, you can leave out the shrimp paste and fish sauce and use salt and yellow been sauce and the taste is still great! and same is true with all stir fried. Good Luck!

  7. Made a vegetarian version of this. Question: where the heck do you find cumin seeds in Thailand?? I’ve checked all the local shops, the markets, the vendors selling curry pastes and spices—and no luck. Cardamom, coriander, peppercorns, cinnamon sticks, white pepper corns, all are easy to find. Found a variety of herbs and spices in dried and powdered form, but no cumin. I’m stumped. I ended up buying a packet of pre-ground seasonings that smelled like it had cardamom, coriander, cumin, cloves and the rest in it, but it’s hard to say for sure. Next time when I buy it I’ll ask what’s in it, but I don’t know the Thai names for most of these.

    Anyway. I used that to make my own curry paste by adapting the recipe from substituting a mixture of soy sauce and salt for the fish sauce.

    Proceeded from there to this recipe and made no other substitutions except for, again, soy sauce and salt for the fish sauce. Turned out very nicely.

  8. I can never get those lovely red oils to appear in my curries, and I’m really not sure why! Presentation wise, it really does add a lot!

  9. I always use fresh red chillies and fresh grated tumeric, cause I grow it, and peanut oil in the paste or pan when required, perhaps avoid reduced fat coconut milk or cream, if you can afford to calorie wise, I get the red oils on top, so perhaps those things help.

  10. Hi Avsky.

    I usually achieve the oils coming to the surface of the curries by frying the thick solid coconut cream from the top of the can, for a few minutes on its own. Then I add the curry paste to this and gently fry for a few minutes until the smell is aromatic. Then add the meat, and lastly the thin coconut milk fish sauce herbs etc.

    I always seem to get that nice oil from the first two steps.

    All the best and happy eating.

  11. How many servings is this? Seems like a lot of ingredients and work for 2 servings. Would like to know if I need to double or triple.

    1. All of our Thai recipes are the same size – enough for maybe 2 people. Thai people generally make more dishes if more people are eating to have a variety. With curry, it tastes good as leftovers, so I generally will double or triple the recipe and put the rest in the fridge.

  12. Do you take the cinnamon stick and cassia leaves out before serving? Just wondering.. I ordered this recently at a Thai restaurant and am determined to make it at home!


    1. Yeah, that’s probably a good idea. I wouldn’t at home but your guests might not know what these things are. You may want to fish out the cardamom too.

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