Chicken Massaman curry


This may look like a daunting set of ingredients but its pretty easy once you line them up. Two stages,  grind and then fry! I made this for a big lunch and doubled the chicken while keeping the paste ingredients the same – it makes enough for two x 4-6 servings. I love this blend of Indian with Malay food, spices with coconut, lemon grass, galangal and palm sugar. You can buy galangal in a jar if difficult to get fresh, ditto shrimp paste which is a must. And I used my own home-grown chillies! I served with a fish curry and a sambar…for 14!

For the massaman curry paste (double quantities)

6 cardamom pods, seeds only
1 tsp cumin seeds
5 cloves
1 tsp whole white peppercorns
½ tsp ground cinnamon
2 tsp dried chilli flakes
2 tbsp groundnut oil
25g/1oz peanuts
5 garlic cloves, roughly chopped
5 lime leaves, thinly sliced
3.5cm/1½in piece fresh galangal, peeled and roughly chopped
2 sticks lemongrass, outer leaves removed, inner core finely chopped
1 tsp shrimp paste
2 tbsp fish sauce
½ tsp grated or ground nutmeg
2 tbsp palm sugar
2 tbsp cold water

For the chicken curry (serves 4-6)

2 tbsp vegetable oil
2 red onions, sliced
500g/1lb 2oz boneless, skinless chicken thighs cut into 1.5cm/½in strips
1 large potato, peeled and cut into 1.5cm/½in cubes
2 bird’s-eye red chillies, cut almost in half lengthways (or more, to taste)
200 ml/7 fl oz water or stock (or a splash to cover the chicken)
200 ml/7fl oz coconut milk
2 tomatoes, skins removed, flesh roughly chopped, or half tin chopped tomatoes
6 lime leaves
1 star anise
2 tbsp fish sauce
1½ tbsp palm sugar
2 tbsp soy sauce
1 lime, juice only, optional
small handful sweet Thai basil (or normal basil), plus extra sprigs to serve
25g/1oz roasted peanuts, roughly chopped



  1. For the massaman curry paste, heat a small frying pan over a medium heat. When the pan is hot, add the cardamom, cumin and cloves and dry-fry for 1–2 minutes, or until fragrant.

  2. Transfer the spices to a spice grinder or pestle and mortar and grind to a powder.

  3. Blend the ground spices with all the remaining curry paste ingredients in a food processor, until smooth and well combined. (Alternatively, pound the paste until smooth in a pestle and mortar.) Chill until needed, covered.

  4. To make the chicken curry, heat the oil in a medium, flameproof, lidded casserole. Add the onions and fry for 8–10 minutes, or until softened and light golden-brown.

  5. Increase the heat, push the onions to one side, then add the chicken to the other side and fry for 2–3 minutes on all sides, or until sealed all over.

  6. Add the curry paste

  7. Stir well to coat the chicken and onions in the paste. Fry for 1–2 minutes, or until fragrant.

  8. Add the potato, chillies, stock, coconut milk, tomatoes, lime leaves, star anise, fish sauce, palm sugar and soy sauce to the casserole. Stir well and bring to the boil, then cover with the lid and reduce the heat until the mixture is simmering. Simmer for 12–15 minutes, or until the potatoes and chicken are cooked through and the liquid has evaporated to create a thicker sauce. Season to taste with a little more fish sauce or some lime juice.

  9. Just before serving, stir in the basil leaves and half the roasted peanuts.

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