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Thai Massaman Curry Paste Recipe

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Thai massaman curry paste recipe that’s packed with fragrant spices like lemongrass, cardamom, and cinnamon. Learn how it’s made in Thailand, with a mortar and pestle and 100% authentic ingredients.

Thai Massaman curry paste in a clay cup surrounded by fresh herbs and spices.

Once you finish this recipe, use it to make authentic Thai massaman chicken curry from scratch.

What is massaman curry paste

Massaman curry paste is a complex Thai spice blend with a combination of fresh herbs and roasted spices. Roasting the spices distinguishes this paste from others, adding to its flavor. It serves as the base for massaman curry.

Why homemade is the best

Close-up of crushed herbs and spices in a granite mortar.
  • Making Thai curries from scratch is traditional. The Thai tradition of hand-pounding ingredients with a mortar is fun and rewarding. Roasting and grinding the spices for this paste fills your kitchen with a delightful aroma.
  • Freshness and spice control. Homemade paste is made with fresh ingredients, and you get to customize the heat. Find the freshest ingredients at your local Asian market and adjust the spice just the way you like. Massaman curry should be a bit spicy but not hot.
  • Make a large batch for later. One day of traditional kitchen fun, and you can make yourself a supply that’ll last you a couple of months. Store it in the freezer, and you’ve got authentic, homemade massaman paste for later.
Overhead view of pounded dry herbs and spices in a mortar.

Mortar and pestle vs food processor

  • Mortar and pestle: For a true Thai experience, you want to mash the ingredients with a granite mortar and pestle. It’s key for breaking down the ingredients into a fine paste. It also releases the ingredients their natural oils and aroma.
  • Food processor: A food processor is a great tool for when you’re short on time. The result will still be delicious. The curry paste vendor at the local food market in our village uses a food processor herself, since she has to make several large batches at a time.
Close-up of dried red spur chilies, garlic, shallots, and shrimp paste in a mortar.

Mortar and pestle tips

  • Prep the ingredients before pounding. Lemongrass and other herbs and spices can be tough to pound, thin slices make for easier pounding.
  • Use a combination of movements. Combine up-and down movements with circular motions.
  • Hand over opening method. Place one hand over the opening of the mortar to keep the ingredients from spilling out during pounding.
  • Use a spoon. While pounding with one hand, use a wooden or plastic rice spoon to keep the ingredients that run up the edge centered.
A hand grinding a mix of fresh spices in a granite mortar and pestle, surrounded by lush green grass.

Thai massaman curry

What sets massaman curry apart are the addition of roasted peanuts and tender potatoes, soaking up that coconut milk goodness.

Close-up of authentic Thai massaman chicken curry with bite-sized pieces of potato and roasted peanuts in a clay dish on a white wooden background.

Massaman curry was introduced to Thailand by Muslim traders who traveled along the India border. This is why Thai massaman curry paste is a blend of Thai ingredients like shrimp paste and lemongrass, and Indian spices like star anise and cumin.

Ingredients

Ingredients can be sourced at Asian grocery stores and Asian markets.
The exact measurements are in the recipe card at the end of this post.


Top view of ingredients for Thai massaman curry paste recipe: salt, shrimp paste, cumin, star anise, cinnamon, cardamon, coriander seeds, black peppercorns, lemongrass, shallots, garlic, galangal, and dried spur chilies on a banana leaf.
  • Large dried chilies – These mature red chili peppers or dried spur chilies have been sun-dried, and they have a richer, smoky flavor profile. When used, they are soaked in water to soften them up, which will make it easier to crush them.
  • Lemongrass – Lemongrass is a key ingredient of Thai cuisine and also in this recipe for its citrus and aromatic notes. The outer layers of the bottom of the lemongrass has to be removed, and the rest is chopped as thin as possible.
  • Galangal – Galangal has a unique spicy, citrus flavor. It has to be peeled and chopped into small pieces to make it easy to pound later.
  • Shrimp paste – Shrimp paste is made by fermenting small shrimp with salt, and you can use it to give flavor and umami to your dishes. A small amount goes a long way to enhancing the flavor of the curry paste.
  • Cardamom – Cardamom is also available in powder form if you can’t find it fresh.
  • Cumin – Cumin has a warm and slightly nutty flavor, which adds depth to the overall flavors.
  • Star anise – Star anise is used in many Asian dishes for its sweet and slightly spicy flavor.
  • Cinnamon – Cinnamon has a unique aroma which adds a distinct flavor with a sweet and fragrant note.
  • Coriander seeds
  • Black peppercorns
  • Shallots
  • Garlic
  • Salt

How to make massaman curry paste

Got a food processor? Just toss all those ingredients in and blend. For the mortar and pestle method, check out the steps below.

  1. Soak chilies in water

    Slice dry red spur chilies and soak them in water for 10 minutes to ease the pounding. Note that this will reduce the paste’s storage time.
    Overhead view of a small bowl containing dry red spur chilies soaking in water.

  2. Toast the spices

    Place black peppercorns, coriander seeds, cinnamon, star anise, cumin, and cardamom in a pan. Roast for 30 seconds over medium heat.
    Close-up of roasted black peppercorns, coriander seeds, cinnamon, star anise, cumin, and cardamom in a wok.

  3. Pound the dry ingredients first

    Combine the roasted spices with galangal, lemongrass, and salt. Pound these dry ingredients first—doing so helps to draw out the moisture from the other ingredients.
    Pounded herbs and spices in a mortar.

  4. Finish your homemade massaman curry paste

    Add the remaining ingredients and continue to pound until you get a fine paste.Massaman curry paste in a mortar from an overhead perspective.

Kitchen tools

  • Granite mortar and pestle: A granite mortar and pestle is crucial for an authentic, hand-pounded curry paste. A clay mortar and pestle is what we use to crush chilies, garlic, and softer ingredients.
  • Food processor: If you want a quick and easy option.
  • Cutting board and chef’s knife
  • Measuring cups and spoons
  • Skillet: For roasting the spices.

Recipe notes

  • This recipe yields 8.5 oz of massaman curry paste, you can store the leftovers for later use.
  • Experiment with different flavors and ingredients, or adjust the amount of chili peppers to your taste and optionally remove the seeds. Massaman is not a very spicy curry.
  • For a vegetarian curry paste version, you can omit the shrimp paste.

How to store

Curry paste can be stored in an airtight container or a sealed plastic bag in your refrigerator for up to 1 month. You can also freeze it and store if for a long time, mine usually doesn’t last longer than 6 months since me and my hubby love Thai curries.

Frequently asked questions

Where to buy massaman curry paste?

Massaman curry paste can be bought at Asian grocery stores or big supermarkets. I suggest using the Mae ploy or Maesri brands. You can also order it online, for example at Amazon.

More Thai curry paste recipes you’ll love

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Thai Massaman Curry Paste Recipe

Thai Massaman curry paste in a clay cup surrounded by fresh herbs and spices.
This recipe makes a flavorful massaman curry paste with traditional ingredients and cooking method.
Praew
Prep Time 10 minutes
Cook Time 30 minutes
Total Time 40 minutes
Cuisine Thai
Course Ingredients
Serving Size 8

Ingredients

  • 1 ounce dried red spur chilies
  • 1.75 ounce lemongrass
  • 1.75 shallots
  • 1 ounce garlic
  • 0.35 ounces galangal
  • 0.35 ounces shrimp paste
  • 0.18 ounces salt
  • 0.35 ounces cardamom
  • 2 teaspoons cumin
  • 2 teaspoons coriander seeds
  • 0.35 ounces cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon black peppercorns
  • 0.35 ounces star anise

Instructions

  • Slice dry red spur chilies and soak them in water for 10 minutes to ease the pounding. Note that this will reduce the paste's storage time.
  • Place black peppercorns, coriander seeds, cinnamon, star anise, cumin, and cardamom in a pan. Roast for 30 seconds over medium heat.
  • Combine the roasted spices with galangal, lemongrass, and salt. Pound these dry ingredients first—doing so helps to draw out the moisture from the other ingredients.
  • Add the remaining ingredients and continue to pound until you get a fine paste.

Notes

  • Use the nutrition card in this recipe as a guideline.
  • This recipe yields 8.5 oz of curry paste, you can store the leftovers for later use.
  • Experiment with different flavors and ingredients, or adjust the amount of chili peppers to your taste and optionally remove the seeds. Massaman curry is not a curry that's supposed to be eaten spicy.
  • For a vegetarian version, you can omit the shrimp paste.

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