I feel like a bit of a cheat this week. Normally when I cook Thai food, I haul out my heavy mortar and pestle and make my own curry paste using one of the recipes I learned in Thailand. In fact, making curry usually means I visit about 3 different markets to procure the keffir limes, the galangal, good-looking lemongrass, the “right” kind of dried red chilies, etc. And I am happy as a clam while I’m rushing about procuring and pestling.
This week, I am gearing up to teach a rather involved Thai seafood cooking class at In Good Taste Cooking School on Saturday, so when Mr. Tofu asked me to make Massaman Curry, I went straight to the can. Not the W.C., no. To a can of curry paste. Normally I don’t use canned curry, but in a pinch, it can be quite good, especially on a weeknight. I use Maesri brand curry paste, you’ll know it by the tiny little picture of an old lady on the can. She’s there to tell you that the product is wholesome and trustworthy, I gather. Sort of a Thai version of Betty Crocker or Mrs. Butterworth. Brilliant marketing that.
Massaman is a Thai transliteration of the word Muslim. While Thai people are largely Buddhist, there are 6 million Muslim Thai and Persian culinary influences on Thai cuisine are most noticeable in the cooking of southern part of Thailand near the Malaysian border. The combination of cardamom, cloves, cinnamon, coriander, and cumin go particularly well with potatoes, carrots, and peas. I use the thicker, creamier coconut cream in this recipe to up the comfort food quotient, but regular coconut milk will do, too.
Though I’ve seen Massaman curries in Thailand that include beef, pork, fish and even duck with pineapple, I prefer chicken. I don’t have to tell you that Mr. Tofu likes tofu in his, do I?
Massaman Curry with Chicken or Tofu
2 2/3 cup coconut cream
1 can Maesri Masaman Curry Paste
3/4 pound fingerling potatoes, scrubbed and cut into bite-sized chunks
1 medium onion, cut into 1-inch wedges through the root end
4 carrots, peeled and cut into bite sized chunks
1 large boneless, skinless chicken breast, cut into bite size pieces
6 ounces firm Thai-flavored baked tofu (I like Wildwood brand)
1 cup fresh shelled peas, or frozen edamame, defrosted
1 teaspoon tamarind concentrate (optional)
1/2 cup roasted peanuts, roughly chopped
Steamed jasmine rice
Spoon 3 tablespoons of the thick cream off the top of the can of coconut milk and add it to a wok or medium saute pan. Cook over medium-high heat until the cream has melted and is liquid. Add the curry paste and cook, stirring constantly with a wok spatula, until the paste is fragrant, 1 minute. Add the remaining coconut milk, potatoes, onion, and carrots and bring to a simmer. Reduce heat, cover, and cook until the potatoes are just tender, about 20 minutes.
Vegetarian: Transfer 1 1/2 heaping cups of the sauce and vegetables to a small saucepan. Add the tofu and bring to a simmer over medium heat. Cover.
Add the chicken to the remaining curry-vegetable mixture in the wok or saute pan, stir gently to combine, cover and simmer until the chicken is just cooked through, 8 minutes. Add 3/4 of the peas, 3/4 teaspoon of the optional tamarind concentrate, and 3/4 of the peanuts to the saute pan, stir to combine and cook for 3 minutes.
Vegetarian: Add the remaining peas, optional tamarind concentrate, and peanuts to the small saucepan and cook for 3 minutes, or until the peas are just cooked.
Serve curries with steamed jasmine rice.
Note: Cut the chicken up on a separate cutting board with a separate knife. Use two different spoons to stir the curries.