Thai Massaman Curry Paste

Curry pastes from Thailand. From left: Red, Green, Yellow, Penang / Penaeng and Mussaman / Massaman.

Thai Massaman Curry Paste

Massaman curry paste is one of the five core curry pastes from Thailand that I am going to describe on Cookgypsy. There are innumerable other curries, but for the sake of being able to cross reference recipes for now I am going to include the core groups that most Westerners are familiar with.  Red, green, yellow, Penang / Penaeng and  mussaman / massaman. 


  • 4 pods cardamom
  • 2 inch piece cinnamon sticks
  • 5 cloves
  • 1 tablespoon coriander
  • 1/3 tablespoon cumin
  • 4-6 Dried whole chilis
  • 1/2 inch piece julienne galangal
  • 1 head garlic
  • 1 stalk lemongrass
  • 1/3 tablespoon peppercorns
  • 1 tablespoon salt
  • 3 shallots
  • 1 teaspoon shrimp paste
  • 1 Mace
  • 1 Nutmeg



Grill or roast garlic and shallots with skin on. In Thailand, we bury the garlic and shallots in hot ashes below the fire in the charcoal stove. Roast until the skin is charred and the flesh is soft and cooked. It should take about 5-10 minutes depending on your roasting method. I put them directly on the grill over my gas stove. Using low flame, it takes about 5 minutes. When garlic and shallots are cooled, peel the skin and remove any charred spots. 

Tear the chili stems off and remove the seeds. Cut or tear the chili into big pieces. Slice galangal into thin pieces and julienne them. Slice lemongrass thin. You only need about half of the stalk, about 6-7 inches. Use the part of the stalk closer to the root.

In a pan, over medium heat, toast the chilies and lemongrass until slightly brown. It should take about 2-3 minutes. Remove the roasted chili peppers and lemongrass.  Add the rest of the spices, except for the garlic and shallots and toast them by moving them around the pan. Roast them until they are fragrant, for about 2 minutes. Remove the spices from heat.


Start with the chili peppers and salt. When your chili peppers are roughly ground, add the lemongrass. Pound until the lemongrass is roughly ground.  Add all the other spices, except for roast garlic and shallots. Pound until well blended, it may take up to 30 minutes depending on your biceps and the size of your mortar and pestle. Add the roasted garlic and shallots. Pound again until everything is mixed in and smooth. Add shrimp paste and pound to mix everything together.

Massaman Curry Paste should be dark red from roasted ingredients, finely ground and fragrant

Tips and Techniques

  • Use the large California chili peppers to get the flavor and color but not the heat. Massaman curry should be spicy but not hot.
  • The toughest thing to pound is the lemongrass.  To save some time, I recommend, process the ingredients in a food processor first and finish off in the mortar. Pounding in the mortar crushes and separates the fibers as opposed to cutting which you get with food processor.
  • In Thailand, we use white cardamom (not the bleached green cardamoms) but it's not available in the US. Substitute green cardamom for white cardamom.