Thai Massaman Chicken Curry

A bowl of Thai massaman chicken curry served with rice

The Spruce Eats / Ahlam Raffii

Prep: 10 mins
Cook: 40 mins
Total: 50 mins
Servings: 3 to 4 servings
Nutritional Guidelines (per serving)
745 Calories
46g Fat
56g Carbs
34g Protein
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Nutrition Facts
Servings: 3 to 4
Amount per serving
Calories 745
% Daily Value*
Total Fat 46g 59%
Saturated Fat 31g 153%
Cholesterol 71mg 24%
Sodium 1666mg 72%
Total Carbohydrate 56g 20%
Dietary Fiber 8g 28%
Protein 34g
Calcium 157mg 12%
*The % Daily Value (DV) tells you how much a nutrient in a food serving contributes to a daily diet. 2,000 calories a day is used for general nutrition advice.
(Nutrition information is calculated using an ingredient database and should be considered an estimate.)

Thai massaman curry is a rich, very flavorful yellow curry. Though the ingredient list is lengthy, it's a one-pot dish that's ready in about an hour, and it's fairly easy to make. This is a rather mild curry that is savory and slightly sweet and the flavor can be adjusted to perfectly suit your taste.

A sort of fusion dish, massaman curry originated in southern Thailand and has Malaysian and Indian influences. The bird's eye chilis are a signature ingredient of curries from Thailand and turmeric gives it a yellow color. The use of whole spices (coriander, cumin, and cardamom) makes it more like Indian curries. This recipe features chicken, though beef and lamb are common in massaman and you can use other proteins, such as tofu, if you prefer.

Unlike many versions, you don't have to seek out a premade massaman curry paste for this recipe. Instead, the curry base incorporates lemongrass and nuts with other key Thai ingredients for a fresher taste. Coconut milk is always used in this curry, and combining it with chicken stock creates a lighter curry. Also, instead of makrut lime leaves, massaman curry uses bay leaves and there are good substitutions for some of the specialty ingredients, which makes shopping easier.

This is a sumptuous dish to serve on a chilly fall or winter night, and leftovers are just perfect for hot weekday lunches. Serve with plain jasmine rice, or, for special occasions, with saffron rice or coconut rice.

2:17

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Ingredients

  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 1/2 small onion (sliced)
  • 1 (2-inch) piece ginger (peeled, grated)
  • 4 to 5 cloves garlic (minced)
  • 1 Thai bird's eye chili (sliced; or 1/2 to 3/4 teaspoons chili flakes or cayenne pepper)
  • 1/2 cup chicken stock (good-tasting)
  • 1 stalk of lemongrass (bottom four inches, minced; or 2 to 3 tablespoons frozen/bottled-prepared lemongrass)
  • 3 bay leaves
  • 1 teaspoon turmeric
  • 1/4 cup chopped unsalted dry-roasted cashews (plus handful more to finish)
  • 1 teaspoon ground coriander
  • 1 teaspoon whole cumin seed
  • 1/8 teaspoon cardamon
  • 1 teaspoon tamarind
  • 3/4 teaspoon shrimp paste
  • 2 tablespoons fish sauce
  • 1 tablespoon palm sugar (liquid or cake form, grated if in cake form; or brown sugar)
  • 1/2 to 1 pound chicken pieces (or chopped chicken breast/thigh)
  • 1 (14-ounce) can coconut milk (not lite)
  • 1 to 2 medium waxy potatoes (cut into 1-inch chunks)
  • 1 small red bell pepper (thinly sliced)
  • 1 medium tomato (halved and sliced 1/4-inch thick)
  • Garnish: chopped cilantro
  • For Serving: cooked jasmine rice

Steps to Make It

  1. Gather the ingredients.

    Ingredients to make Thai massaman chicken curry

    The Spruce Eats / Ahlam Raffii

  2. Heat a wok, large frying pan, or soup-type pot over medium-high heat. Drizzle in the oil and swirl around, then add the onion, ginger, garlic, and chili. Stir-fry 1 to 2 minutes to release the fragrance.

    A pan with oil, spices, and onions simmering

    The Spruce Eats / Ahlam Raffii

  3. Add the stock plus the following: lemongrass, bay leaves, turmeric, chopped cashews, ground coriander, whole cumin seed, cardamom, tamarind (or lime juice), shrimp paste, fish sauce, and sugar. Stir with each addition and bring to a light boil.

    A pot of seasoned broth simmering

    The Spruce Eats / Ahlam Raffii

  4. Add the chicken, stirring to coat with the spicy liquid, then add the coconut milk and potatoes. Stir and bring back up to a boil. Reduce heat to low, or just until you get a good simmer.

    A pot of coconut seasoned broth with chicken simmering

    The Spruce Eats / Ahlam Raffii

  5. Simmer 30 to 40 minutes, stirring occasionally, until chicken and potatoes are tender. Add the red bell pepper and tomato during the last 10 to 15 minutes of cooking time. If you prefer a more liquid curry sauce, cover while simmering. If you prefer a thicker curry sauce, leave off the lid.

    A pot of Thai massaman chicken curry simmering

    The Spruce Eats / Ahlam Raffii

  6. Taste-test the curry, adding more fish sauce for increased flavor/saltiness, or more chili if you want it spicier. If too sour, add a little more sugar. If too salty or sweet for your taste, add a touch more tamarind or lime juice. If too spicy, add more coconut milk.

    A spoon stirring a pot of Thai massaman chicken curry

    The Spruce Eats / Ahlam Raffii

  7. Add a handful more cashews and fold in. Transfer to a serving bowl, or plate up on individual plates or bowls. Top with fresh coriander, if desired, and serve with Thai jasmine rice.

    A bowl of Thai massaman chicken curry served with rice

    The Spruce Eats / Ahlam Raffii

Tip

  • Leftover massaman curry can be refrigerated in an airtight container for 2 to 3 days. Before storing, let it cool to room temperature. Reheat gently in a saucepan or the microwave, stirring often, until heated through.

Recipe Variation

  • Tamarind paste can be tricky to find, but 1 tablespoon of lime juice is a good substitute. While they are two very different fruits, they provide that same sourness you're looking for in this curry and it's balanced out with palm sugar or brown sugar.
  • Many massaman curry recipes use peanuts rather than cashews.
  • If you do not have shrimp paste, add 1 extra tablespoon of fish sauce.

Is Thai Massaman Curry Healthy?

Massaman curry is not the healthiest Thai dish you can make. While the other ingredients add a variety of vitamins and minerals, the canned coconut milk used in this recipe (not the dairy milk alternative) is high in calories. The majority come from fats, including a considerable amount of saturated fats. Potatoes add to the curry's carbohydrates but are a good source of protein (as is the chicken). As with similar dishes, eating massaman curry in moderation is recommended.

Article Sources
The Spruce Eats uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. U.S. Department of Agriculture. Nuts, Coconut Milk, Canned (Liquid Expressed From Grated Meat And Water); 170173FoodData Central, 2019.