This beef massaman curry may not have the spicy heat of some other curries, but it is packed with fabulously aromatic flavors. The slow cooked beef is meltingly tender in this delicious, comforting meal.
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Like many people who grew up in Europe, I suspect, I didn't grow up with a huge diversity of Asian foods. In Edinburgh when I was little, we had pretty good Indian food (although no doubt mixed in how authentic) and very Anglicized Chinese food, but that was it.
Gradually I got to know Thai food when I was a bit older, but it was still limited. I definitely wasn't prepared for the range of delicious dishes when I went to Thailand, Laos and Cambodia on our honeymoon. In fact it started on the flight there, with beef massaman curry.
In fairness, I had tried massaman curry before but only a couple times, and I was still surprised by how good it was on the flight. As I've come to realize, curry in general is pretty well suited to being in-flight meals as it keeps pretty well, and a good doze of flavor is just what you need at altitude.
What was funny about our flight, though, was in every other aspect we were far from having your typical honeymoon experience.
I can't think how many people I have heard stories about getting upgrades or other boosts on their honeymoon. We had none of that, apart from some rose petals on our bed in Cambodia. I know we maybe weren't that vocal on it, but the flight was a bit lacking anyway.
The seats didn't recline and we didn't have individual screens for entertainment. I couldn't even see the shared screen unless I sat on my knees. Not ideal for a long haul flight, for sure.
However the crew seemed to appreciate the plane was a bit old and below typical standards so were very good in coming round with drinks and snacks. Plus the curry, as I say, was delicious.
Despite all the tasty food on our trip, while I make Thai green curry and Thai red curry now and then, as well as larp and green papaya salad, I rarely make massaman curry. I think it's partly that it traditionally take a bit of time to make.
However either making your own massaman curry paste ahead of time (which I highly recommend) or buying it (in a pinch) and using the slow cooker, it becomes a whole lot easier. It's also a great way of using cuts like chuck roast that have a good amount of flavor but are less tender.
Is massaman curry a Thai curry?
The exact origins are a bit debated, with some saying it is from Southern Thailand and influenced by Malaysia and India. Others believe it is a Thai interpretation of a Persian dish.
But broadly speaking yes, massaman curry is Thai. However it is probably not quite the flavor profile that you would imagine when you think of a classic Thai curry.
Unlike some other Thai curries, massaman is more about aromatic flavors than heat. But if you like your spice, don't worry - there is a bit of spice in there too.
It uses spices like cinnamon, cardamon, cloves and nutmeg that are not native to Thailand. These are then combined with more local flavors like lemongrass, ginger and coconut milk.
How to make slow cooker massaman curry
All you do is:
- Brown the meat and set aside.
- Soften the onion.
- Give the curry paste a bit of a fry with the onion.
- Add the beef, paste-loaded onions, coconut milk, fish sauce and additional spices to the slow cooker along with some diced potatoes and leave it to cook.
- Serve over rice for a truly delicious meal.
You can make it with other meats, but I think beef works particularly well. It becomes so incredibly tender cooked this way and takes on the spice flavors. I had wondered if the potatoes might fall apart but they didn't, instead absorbing flavor and color from the curry.
Massaman curry makes a delicious, hearty meal that's perfect for cooler weather. It's so wonderfully aromatic with a complex mix of spices, you'll not miss the heat. But you almost certainly will be back for more.
Try these other slow cooker meals:
- Slow cooker short ribs
- Lamb rogan josh
- Pork carnitas tacos with tomatillo salsa verde
- Chinese spare ribs (slow cooker)
Plus get more Southeast Asian recipes in the archives.
Beef massaman curry (slow cooker)
- 2 ½ lb chuck beef 1.1kg, or stew beef, in medium dice
- 1 ½ onions
- 1 ½ lb potatoes 680g
- 3 tbsp vegetable oil or other non-aromatic oil eg canola, groundnut
- ½ cup massaman curry paste
- 14 ½ oz coconut milk 400ml
- 3 tbsp fish sauce
- 2 tbsp brown sugar or palm sugar
- 2 cinnamon sticks
- 4 cardamon pods
- 2 star anise
- ¼ cup water 60ml
- ¼ cup peanuts
- If not already diced, cut the beef into approx 2-3in/5-7cm cubes. Cut the onion into thin slices or a medium dice and cut the potatoes into large dice (similar size or slightly smaller than the beef chunks).
- Warm roughly half of the oil in a large skillet/frying pan over a medium-high heat and brown the meat in batches on all side. Transfer to the slow cooker as it is ready. Repeat until it is all done.
- Add the remaining oil to the pan and reduce the heat a little. Add the onion and massaman curry paste and cook a couple of minutes until the onion is starting to go translucent and the curry paste is aromatic but not burning.
- Transfer the onions and paste to the slow cooker. Add a little of the coconut milk to the skillet to get all the last little bits of the curry paste off. Pour into the slow cooker along with the rest of the coconut milk, potatoes, fish sauce, sugar, cinnamon sticks, cardamon, star anise, water (if needed - you want the beef to be almost covered once you stir everything in) and peanuts.
- Give everything a gentle stir then cook on low for approx 8 hours. The beef should be really tender but not falling apart. Mix slightly as the sauce towards the bottom will be thicker than at the top, but take care not to break up the potatoes. Serve over rice.
See some of my favorite cooking tools and ingredients in the Caroline's Cooking Amazon store.
And if you're looking for more slow cooker meals, try these ideas from fellow bloggers:
- Slow Cooker Asian BBQ Pork by Simple and Savory
- Slow Cooker Salisbury Steak by Soulfully Made
- Beef Brisket in Slow Cooker by Life Tastes Good
- Slow Cooker Baked Ziti by A Mind “Full” Mom
- Slow Cooker Southwestern Pork Stew by The Freshman Cook