Makan Time in Singapore


Gaeng Massaman Kai

Following a number of requests I received by e-mail I'm posting this as
(possibly) the first of a series of my wife's Thai recipes. This recipe
is for Gaeng Massaman Kai. The "massaman" indicates that the recipe is
of a "musselman" or islamic origin, and it probably owes something to
early Portuguese influences, and is similar in concept to the "sour and
hot" Goan style vindaloo dishes. By Thai standards this is usually a
fairly mild curry, so I find it is a good starting point.

Two points should be made

(i) the quantities are a guide only: if you like a spice use more, if
you don't, use less. If your favorite spice is missing, try adding

(ii) the dish is cooked "when it is cooked". The meat should be cooked
until tender and the potatoes should be cooked thoroughly, but otherwise
taste it and stop cooking when you are happy. As the British chef Keith
Floyd remarked in a series about South East Asian cuisine, Thai charcoal
burners don't have thermostats. I would add that most Thai cooks have
neither a wrist watch nor a clock in their kitchen (which is often the
back yard of the house, or even the sidewalk in front of their door).

First you must prepare a massaman curry paste. This can be prepared in
advance and stored in the fridge in a preserving jar for several weeks
or even months.

(note 'T' = tablespoon, 't' = teaspoon)

Massaman Paste

10-20 dried red chillies
1 T ground corriander seed
1 t ground cumin
1 t ground cinnamon (from fresh bark)
1 t gound cloves
1 t ground star anise
1 t ground cardamom
1 t ground white pepper
4 T chopped shallots (i.e. the small red skinned onions)
4-6 T chopped garlic
2 2" pieces of lemon grass stalk, sliced into thin rounds
a cube about half an inch on a side of galangal root, roughly chopped
1 T "kaffir" line skin (ordinary lime skin will do if you can't get it)
1 T "kapi" (preserved shrimp paste - note this smells awful until after
you cook it, but it is quite essential to the flavor)

To this you add a little salt: preferably about 1-2 t of fish sauce.

The galangal is roasted before use. The ground spices should preferably
be fresh, in which case you should briefly toast them in a wok without
any oil to bring out the flavor before grinding them.

The ingredients are blended to a fine paste (traditionally in a heavy
granite mortar and pestle, but you can use a food processor just as
well, and with far less effort). Note if you can get fresh red chillies
you can usefully use them instead of the dried ones.

The curry

about 1 pound of shicken (you can also use pork or beef), cut into the
usual "bite sized pieces"

3 cups of coconut milk.
2 T roasted peanuts (unsalted of course)
5 peeled, but whole, small onions.
5 small potatoes, peeled and partly boiled.
3 bay leaves, 
5 roasted cardomom fruits (i.e. the whole pod)
a small piece of roasted cinnamon bark
3 T palm sugar (you can use a light brown sugar instead if you can't get
palm sugar)
3 T tamarind juice (this is the "sour" ingredient - you can use white
vinegar instead if you can't get tamarind juice. The juice is made by
soaking tamarind paste in a little water then squeezing it out, and
running it through a seize to extract the juice from the pulp).
3 T lime juice
1-3 T of the curry paste (above).
about 1-3 t crushed garlic. (optional)

Allow the coconut milk to separate and you will have about 1 cup of
thick "cream" and two cups of thin "milk". In a small saucepan bring the
milk to a simmer and add the chicken or pork. If you are using beef you
will need another two cups of milk. simmer the meat until it is
beginning to become tender (beef takes longer, hence the additional

Put the coconut cream in a wok and bring to a boil, add the massaman
paste and "stir fry" until the flavor is brought out and maximised. The
coconut oil will seperate out and can be skimmed off with a spoon or
ladle. (this removes much of the vegetable cholesterol or whatever it is
called, and makes the dish much less trouble for those watching their
weight or heart).

Add the remaining cream and curry paste to the meat. 

Add teh peanuts. taste and adjust the flavor until it is (just) sweet
(by adding sugar), sour and salty (by adding tamarind juice, lime juice
and fish sauce). 

Add the remaining ingredients and cook until cooked.

Note : the potatoes we use are a yellow fleshed sweet potatoe of the
type sometimes called a yam in the US. Western style potatoes can be
used, but absorb less of the sauce and flavour. The potatoes act as a
"moderator" to reduce the heat of the curry, and should not be left out.

You can either serve it on a bed of rice, or double the amount of
potatoe and serve it alone.

Accompany it with a dressed green salad and a bowl of pickled cucumbers.
The traditional Thai table also offers chillies in fish sauce (Phrik nam
pla) cillies in vinegar (phrik nam som or phrik dong), powdered chilli
(phrik phom - not to be confused with the powedered chilli mix sold as
chilli powder in the US - it only contains chillis), sugar, and often
MSG. You can if you wish add about a teaspoon of MSG to the above recipe
to bring out the flavors, but I personally don't think it is necesary.

And finally a word of warning to those who burn their tongues on the
chillies: chilli/curry cooked this way is oily - drinking water does not
alleviate the burn, it spreads it around your mouth and throat. You
should use a sweet effervescent beverage such as Coke, Pepsi or 7 UP to
wash the burn away as quickly as possible. If you do not suffer the
burn, I suggest you accompany the meal with a beer Singha is
traditional, but any strong flavored lager stype beer will do), or a
robust red wine.

Special thanks to - Muoi Khuntilanont.