Preparation / Directions:
* sliced into thin rounds a cube about half an inch on a side of galangal root, roughly chopped ** preserved shrimp paste - note this smells awful until after you cook it, but it is quite essential to the flavor of this dish *** (you can use a light brown sugar instead if you can't get palm sugar) **** (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)
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:
1) 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 some.
2) 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.
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 chiles you can usefully use them instead of the dried ones.
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 milk).
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 maximized. The coconut oil will separate out and can be skimmed off with a spoon of a 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 the 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 potato of the type sometimes called a yam in the US. Western style potatoes can be used, but absorb less of the sauce and flavor. 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 potato and serve it alone.
Accompany it with a dressed green salad and a bowl of pickled cucumbers. The traditional Thai table also offers chiles in fish sauce (Phrik nam pla) chiles in vinegar (phrik nam som or phrik dong), powdered chile (phrik phom - not to be confused with the powdered chile mix sold as chile powder in the US - it only contains chiles), 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 neces