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24-hour chicken massaman curry (Kaeng massaman kai)

Massaman curry is unlike any other Thai curry. It is distinct, and its history delves deep into the effect trade routes and migration had on the region and the cuisine.

The origins start with trade for h=gems and precious metals in Thailand. With trade came Persian and Indian traders who brought with them their cooking techniques, flavour profiles and spices. Mace, nutmeg, cloves, cassia, bay leaves and nuts all play a part in this rich, aromatic, slow-braised dish’s distinctive character, spices that are more Islamic and from India than native to Thailand. It is changed to incorporate Thai flavours by mixing them with super-traditional ingredients like lemongrass, galangal and kaffir lime peel. This is a curry that belongs to the Muslim community in Thailand, a community that settled here and became part of the culture.

This is a rich curry loaded with spices and ingredients. The unique cooking technique makes it decadent, and the flavours are perfectly balanced and have penetrated the meat, which has almost dissolved into the curry. This is one of those dishes made for a special occasion or for special guests. It takes time and is labour-intensive, but the results are spectacular.

This is a wonderful cookbook that highlights recipes from a city renowned for its cuisine. The recipes stay true to their origins, and the author gives each dish a wonderful history. The fabulous flavours draw me more to cooking.

For more recipes from this wonderful cookbook, click here.


For the curry paste:

11/2 tablespoons cumin seeds

11/2 tablespoons coriander seeds

1 tablespoon fennel seeds

4 cloves

6 green cardamom pods

1 teaspoon white or black peppercorns

6-15 dried Thai red chillies, or to taste

2-3 blades of mace

Salt, to taste

1/2 cup shallots, peeled

1 tablespoon galangal

2 1-inch pieces of lemongrass

1 teaspoon kaffir lime zest

1 teaspoon Thai shrimp paste

1 tablespoon cilantro root and stems

10-12 cloves garlic

4-5 tablespoons water

4 tablespoons coconut oil

For the curry:

2 tablespoons coconut oil

1/2 lb boneless, skinless chicken thighs, halved longitudinally

3 tablespoons oil

1 large bay leaf

1 2-inch piece cinnamon stick

6 cups coconut milk

1/4 cup packed palm sugar or jaggery

31/2 tablespoons tamarind concentrate

2 teaspoons Thai fish sauce

Salt, to taste

Water, as needed

2 large white or purple onions, peeled, keeping the core intact cut into quarters

1/4 cup orange juice

Zest of 1 Seville or Navel orange

1/2 cup roasted peanuts

1 large potatoes, peeled and chunked into 6 pieces

4 cups water

1/2 teaspoon salt

For the curry paste:

Dry roast the spices—cumin, coriander, fennel, cloves, cardamom pods, peppercorns, and dried chillies—individually until they are toasted lightly and aromatic. Cool and grind to a fine powder in a spice mill.

Add the spice powder to a small blender with the remaining curry paste ingredients except the oil. Add just enough water to make a thick paste that slides down the sides of the blender easily. Blitz till very smooth.

Heat the oil in a small saucepan and add the paste. Fry on medium-low heat until the paste is dry and the oils begin to pool in small bubbles on the surface. The paste should be rich reddish-brown in colour.

NOTE: I like to make the paste at least five times and freeze what I do not use. This helps me skip this step the next time I need to make this dish.

Also, for a redder shade, add a red pepper for colour.

For the curry:

Heat the oil in a large frying pan. Fry the chicken until it turns a deep golden colour, about 3-4 minutes a side. You will have to do this in 2-3 batches to avoid overcrowding the pan, as the chicken will begin to stew instead of fry. Set the fried chicken aside.

Heat the oil in a large pot for the curry. Add the bay leaf and cinnamon stick and fry for 20 seconds until the bay leaf turns a shade darker. Add the curry paste and fry for 1 more minute. Add the fried chicken and toss well for 2 minutes to coat the chicken pieces with the curry paste. Be careful to do this on a low flame to avoid burning the paste.

Add the coconut milk, jaggery, tamarind, fish sauce, and salt and bring to a boil. Simmer very gently with the lid shut for 11/2 hours, turning the curry occasionally. The curry will thicken, and the oils will float in a pool on top.

Meanwhile, add the potatoes to another pot and cover with the water and salt. Bring to a boil and simmer for 5 minutes. Drain and dry on paper towels. The potatoes will not be cooked, but that is okay. This step removes some of the starchiness from them.

Once the curry is cooked, cool it and store it in the fridge overnight.

The next day, heat up the curry, simmer, and add onions, potatoes, orange juice, and orange zest. Simmer gently with the lid tightly sealed for 40 minutes or until the potatoes are cooked and soft. Taste for salt and adjust as needed.

Serve hot in a bowl garnished with the peanuts and with jasmine rice.

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