Although I don't believe in having one favorite cuisine, I can say that Thai food definitely comes close to that. Growing up, I used to take many Thai cooking lessons to really try and perfect the complex flavors and ingredients. My focus is always to find authenticity in food, so I am all for the pungent fish sauce, aromatic lemongrass, and burning red chili. I believe that these unique ingredients are really what give this cuisine its amazing depth of flavor. However, it wasn't the cooking lessons, but more the tasting of different dishes that made me understand authentic Thai cuisine.
Although Thai recipes are simple, there is a real art in being able to find and understand that perfect balance of salty, sweet, and sour flavors.
I tried to look into a bit of history for this dish, as it doesn't resemblance the common Thai dishes. The word Massaman is actually derived from the word Muslim, mainly because it is inspired from Islamic cultures, like Persia and Malaysia (Reference).The main ingredients used to flavor this dish include cloves, cardamom, pepper, fennel, and bay leaf, but it is then incorporated into a paste using traditional Thai ingredients such as lemongrass, dried chili, galangal, shallots and garlic. I have made many curry pastes over the years, but this one is a bomb of aromas. It's like an infusion of flavors from different cultures, blending into a rich and gorgeous dish.
I hope that you will try this dish out. I mean I really can't explain in words how good it tasted but I really hope that the pictures are a good hint. I know it might seem tedious to make your own curry paste, but for those who enjoy authentic and fresh curry flavors, this definitely won't disappoint. Although I decided to make Chicken Massaman Curry, this dish is generally made with beef. As always, you can adjust everything to your taste and Make It Your Way :)!
INGREDIENTS 250ml of coconut milk 2 tbsp Fish Sauce 3 bay leaves 500g of chicken drummettes (or any other cut of your choice) 3-4 tbsp of tamarind pulp 2 tbsp of palm sugar ( or substitute of brown sugar)
Curry Paste 1 tbsp fennel seeds 1 tbsp black pepper seeds 10-15 cardamom pods 1 tbsp coriander seeds 1 tbsp cloves 2-3 dried red chili peppers Stalk of 1 lemongrass thinly sliced 1-inch thick sized galangal sliced thinly Quarter of a red onion thinly sliced 4 cloves of garlic chopped
STEPS In a pan, dry roast the coriander seeds, fennel seeds, peppercorns, cardamom, and cloves for 2 minutes over medium heat. Once the spices are roasted, set aside on a plate and remove the seeds from the cardamom pods. Now thinly slice the onions, garlic, chili pepper, lemongrass, and galangal. Then place in the pan and roast slightly for another 1-2 minutes. Just remember, the thinner the slices, the easier it will be to blend into a paste.
I used a mortar pestle to make the curry paste, however, you can use a blender as well. If you are using a blender, you can blend it all into a paste using 1-2 tbsp of water. If you are using a mortar pestle start by pounding all the seeds into a fine powder. Then slowly add a bit of the rest of the roasted ingredients till blended into a fine paste. Add 1 tbsp of water or 1 tbsp of tamarind pulp to make a smooth paste, however, this is optional.
Once you've blended the ingredients enough, it should look as fine as the paste below.
Now in the same pan used to roast all the ingredients, place 2-3 tbsps of coconut milk over medium-low heat. Now add the curry paste and fry for 3-4 minutes over medium heat. Add in the rest of the coconut milk and let the spices cook through.
At this point, add chicken, fish sauce, and tamarind pulp and mix thoroughly.
Add in bay leaves, palm sugar, onions, half a cup of water and simmer for 15-20 minutes over medium-low heat.
At this point, your chicken should be cooked through and the oils should have slightly separated from the curry. Taste the curry to make sure you like the balance of flavors, and check to see if your chicken is cooked through. Once ready simply serve with steamed rice and enjoy!