A mildly spicy fusion dish, it’s Massaman

MASSAMAN is a Thai-style curry dish that is known for its rich flavour that is only mildly spicy. It is a fusion dish that combines the ingredients of Thailand, India and the Middle East.

Its name massaman is derived from the Persian word “mosalman” meaning Muslim, and the dish was mentioned in 1840 in The Magazine of Domestic Economy as mussulman curry.

The spice palette of massaman includes many ingredients that are not frequently used in Thai curries such as cardamom, cinnamon, cloves, cumin and nutmeg.

However, it also incorporates lemongrass, galangal, shallots and garlic which are commonly used in Thailand. And being a Thai curry, the quintessential fish sauce, tamarind paste and coconut milk are evident.

Because of its Muslim roots, this curry is commonly made with beef or chicken, and occasionally mutton, venison or duck.

The first time I tried this dish was when I was at a Thai restaurant in Austin, Texas in the US, more than 30 years ago.

I always had an affinity for duck and the pairing of its gamey meat with the curry spices was so good that I ordered extra bowls of rice to go with the gravy.

My friends who dined with me remarked that the cost of the extra rice could’ve gotten us another dish, but to be fair the size of each bowl at this restaurant only fitted two tablespoons of rice.

Massaman curry is a Thai dish that is known for its rich flavour.Massaman curry is a Thai dish that is known for its rich flavour.

For this recipe, I opted for the convenience of buying half a roast duck from the store instead of roasting my own.

You may substitute it with roast beef instead or you may even use the massaman sauce to braise chunks of beef for about two hours before adding the potatoes.

Vegetarians can substitute tofu for the meat and omit the fish sauce.

Massaman curry


800g roast duck, deboned and sliced

2 tbsp cooking oil

400ml coconut milk

2 stalks lemongrass, crushed

1 cinnamon stick

1 tsp tamarind pulp

½ cup hot water

1 tbsp fish sauce

1 tbsp granulated sugar

2 medium potatoes, peeled and diced into 2cm cubes

2 tsp salt to taste

¼ cup cold water

2 kaffir lime leaves, torn into small pieces

Spice paste

100g shallots, peeled

25g garlic, unpeeled

65g galangal, chopped

10g dried chillies

1 stalk lemongrass, finely sliced

½ tsp ground cloves

¾ tsp ground cumin

¼ tsp ground nutmeg

¾ tsp ground coriander

½ tsp ground cardamom

½ tsp ground cinnamon

6 tbsp cooking oil


> Soak tamarind pulp in half a cup of hot water to rehydrate for 20 minutes.

> Extract the juice over a wire mesh and set aside.

> Toast garlic, shallots, galangal and dried chillies in a dry wok until slightly charred and fragrant.

> Discard chilli stems and garlic peel.

> Toast ground spices in a dry wok until fragrant. Grind all spice paste ingredients in an electric mill into a fine puree.

> Heat oil in a wok to medium and temper lemongrass and cinnamon stick.

> When fragrant, add spice paste and saute until fragrant.

> Deglaze with coconut milk and simmer until the oil splits. Stir in tamarind juice, fish sauce and sugar until combined.

> Stir in potatoes, then cover with a lid to simmer for 20 minutes until potatoes start to soften. Add salt to taste.

> Tear in kaffir lime leaves and add cold water as needed for a runny curry sauce.

> Place potatoes into the bottom of a serving dish, arrange roast duck slices on top of curried potatoes, then drizzle duck slices with more curry sauce and garnish with extra kaffir lime leaves to serve immediately with steamed rice.

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Retro Recipe , Ian Lau


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