แกงมัสมั่น – Kaeng Matsaman or Thai Massaman Curry ‘via Djerba’!

It’s been a few weeks since I’ve posted a blog, illness, and holiday eating up time like a ‘Hungry Monk’! Holiday took the family to the island of Djerba, nestling off the coast of Tunisia it was truly awesome. I’ve been to Tunisia 3 times, my 21st birthday (many years ago), a tour with the boss a few years back where we visited many historic sites from the roman occupation and a couple of Star Wars sets too, now was the time to take our son for a weeks all-inclusive winter sun. We were not let down, the weather was +30 degs every day and the food was truly awesome.

Tunisia 1

Traditional food such as the Couscous Royale was on offer, you can see the spicy Merguez sausages and Chicken pieces sitting atop the Couscous, truly delicious. There were several different local dishes available each day for Breakfast, Lunch and Dinner so if you wanted a truly Tunisian experience, you could immerse yourself completely.

Tunisia 4From previous trips to Tunisia, and to be honest Egypt and Morocco, the bread is always freshly baked daily with lots of variety on offer, again we were not disappointed with a large selection always available.

One of the many benefits of a climate that encourages plants to grow, is the array of salads available, especially the tomatoes. The hotel restaurant seemed to always have at least 3 massive coolers, full of different salads, vitamin heaven especially with winter coming.

Tunisia 2We were truly spoilt with food, many of the hot items were freshly prepared in front of you and there was enough variety for even the fussiest of eaters not to ever go hungry. At Breakfast, even the Head Chef was mucking in with his team, frying eggs and chatting with everyone, rather than hiding away in the background.

Tunisia 3Oh, I forgot to mention the Desserts! There were 3 of the above chilled tables absolutely covered with a variety of desserts as well as a freezer cabinet with Ice Cream, Fruit and……… The Desserts were seriously awesome, and changed for each service so there was always something different to finish off lunch and dinner.

Way back in August I had probably the best curry I have eaten, at Chaophraya in Manchester. Thai Massaman Curry is a complex heady beast, with a list of ingredients as long as your arm. I wanted the boss to experience this fantastic dish, and as a trip to Manchester is out of the question at the moment why not recreate it at home!

In doing the research for this particular delight there are a significant number of recipes on the Internet and in my cook books, my version is based on what was described on the menu at Chaophraya, and a combination of several other recipes and cooking processes including in no particular order Rick Stein (Far Eastern Odyssey)Pim Techamuanvivit (Massaman Nuea Beef Massaman Curry) and Bee Yinn Low (Beef Massaman Curry).

Spice Paste Ingredients

The first job is to prepare the spice paste and your going to need a few ingredients! Please note that other ingredients are also needed to finish the dish so please read the whole blog before starting anything ;-) The quantities are enough for 4-6 people (or two hungry ones)!

    • 10 Red Chillies
    • 1 Tbsp Coriander Seeds
    • 1/2 Tsp Cumin Seeds
    • 6 Cardamom Pods
    • 8 Cloves
    • 5cm Piece Cinnamon
    • 2 Pieces Mace
    • 7 Garlic Cloves
    • 8 Shallots
    • Thumbnail Piece Galangal Chopped
    • 4 c.m. Lemongrass chopped
    • 2 Star Anise
    • 2 kaffir Lime Leaves vein removed
    • 1 Tsp Fennel Seeds
    • 15 Black Peppercorns
    • 15 White Peppercorns
    • Tbsp Coriander Stalks chopped
    • 1 Tsp Shrimp Paste (roasted in a frying pan)
    • 1 Tsp Salt
    • 5 Tbsp Coconut Milk

We are fortunate to have an oriental grocery not far from us, so were able to get fresh Coriander, Lemongrass, Galangal and Thai Sweet Bail which is used later on in the recipe. Barts do both Galangal and Lemongrass and is available at most supermarkets if you can’t get fresh, along with Palm Sugar and Tamarind, although you will pay more compared to an oriental shop where prices are considerably cheaper.

This is where I decided to use some different techniques, rather than just frying the Garlic, Chilli’s and Shallots, they were wrapped in tin foil and baked in a hot oven for 20 minutes (200 deg fan oven, 220 convection). Leave them to cool and then you can remove the skin on the Shallots and Garlic, remove the stalks from the Chilli’s, and using the back of a knife, by sliding from short end to long, you can ease out the seeds and membrane really easily and then roughly chop.

All the dry ‘hard’ spices are roasted in a frying pan, the other ‘wet’ ingredients such as the Galangal, Lemongrass and Coriander Stalk are chopped  roughly. The Kaffir Lime Leaves need their hard centre stalk removed.

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You can see the dry spices ready for a pounding, the smells in the kitchen were fragrant and intoxicating to say the least! Once you have sorted out the dry spices, do the same with the wet spices, Nutmeg and Shrimp Paste and them combine and bash like crazy, this breaks up the fibres in the Lemongrass and Galangal, you can finish off in a food processor or spice blender (I did!).WP_20131116_015

Once your spices are blended you can cover and stick in the fridge whilst we start the next stage. For the Massaman Curry you will need the following further ingredients (for 2 hungry people) .

  • 500 Grams Lamb or Beef
  • 1 Can (400Ml) Coconut Milk
  • Thumbnail piece of Galangal grated
  • 8 whole Shallots
  • Good handful of Unsalted Peanuts or Cashew Nuts (My preference)
  • 5-6 Green Cardamom pods
  • 3 Black Cardamom pods
  • 2 c.m. Cinnamon Stick
  • 2 Tbsp Fish Sauce (Nam Pla) + extra to taste at end
  • 3-5 Tbsp Tamarind Water + extra to taste at end
  • 1 Tbsp Palm Sugar + extra to taste at end
  • Flavourless oil such as Ground Nut
  • 3-4 Waxy potatoes cut into chunks
  • Handful of green beens (optional)
  • Handful of Pea Aubergines (optional)
  • Thai Sweet Basil to finish (chiffonade, cut into very thin strips)

First, trim the meat of any excess fat and put into a bowl with the Coconut Milk, Grated Galangal and 2 Tbsp of fish sauce and set aside for at least 30 minutes, or preferable a couple of hours in the fridge.

Take a decent saucepan or dutch oven and place on a medium heat, put in a couple of tablespoons of oil and add half the spice mix, stirring as it cooks until the mixture and oil start to split. It will look something like this.

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Then add about a 1/4 to 1/2 a cup of the Coconut milk from the marinating mix and cook through exactly the same, until the mixture splits, then add the meat and the rest of the Coconut milk, the Cinnamon, Cardamom, your chosen Nuts, Palm Sugar, 2 Tbsp Fish Sauce, Tamarind and bring up to a gentle simmer. The mixture needs to cook gently for a couple of hours, I stuck mine in the oven at 130 deg fan for the 1st hour, with the lid off, then gave it a stir, put the lid on, and back into the oven for the second hour, it looked like this. The smell was MMMmmmmmmmmmmm!

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After the 2 hours have passed, add the Potatoes, Green Beans and Pea Aubergines (if used), and cook for a further 30 minutes until the vegetable are cooked through.

The taste should be spicy (not too hot, but very spicy), salty, sweet, with an ever so slightly sour aftertaste, in this order. You can adjust the balance by adding Tamarind for sour, Fish Sauce for salty and Palm Sugar for sweet

I finished mine off with a sprinkling of toasted Cashew Nuts, some chiffonade of fresh red Chilli and Sweet Thai Basil, another wowzer dish it tasted fantastic and looked like thisWP_20131116_021To go with the Massaman Curry I served some plain Rice, with chopped fresh Coriander to help temper the gutsy flavours of the dish.

A word of caution though, most of the recipes I looked at called for many more chillies than I used, so check the strength of yours first by slicing the tiniest piece and give it the taste test before committing as once they are in, you cannot take them out.

I hope you give this one a go, its worth the effort if you love food that has bags of flavour.

Till next time, alla ysalmak from Tunisia or laaeo phohp gan mai from Thailand.

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