Saturday, September 22, 2007

Matsaman Curry

Matsaman is a rich, heart-attack inducing but unbelievably moreish classic Thai curry with a round, satisfyingly warm flavour that just begs you to keep eating until you're at the Mr. Creosote stage. The combination of the spice and coconut flavours with the rounder texture and flavourrs of lamb, cashew nuts and potato is a real winner.

It’s widely thought to originate from the near east: the spices used in the paste are certainly a warmer, more Indian mixture than found in many other Thai dishes – cloves, mace, coriander, cassia - and the name of the dish is thought to derive from ‘Musulman’, an archaic version of ‘Muslim’. Which may even explain why it gets to me so much: I’m probably marginally more susceptible to a good old Indian curry than HMHB, whose time in Asia has rendered him something of a, well you know, jungly fellow…

I’ve assumed you’re using fresh cilantro type coriander in this recipe but if you can get hold of fresh Thai coriander, use four stalks and roots, chopped, instead.

You can find fresh Thai vegetables at the amazingly eclectic little Green House Supermarket just off King Faisal Street in Sharjah – and they also sell fantastic home-made matsaman paste as well as some nice commercial ones. The supermarket is actually an offshoot of the company that flies in most of the fresh ingredients for the UAE’s Thai restaurant businesses and always has a fantastic selection of fresh Thai herbs and vegetables, curry pastes and freezers full of frogs and stuff – telephone 06 533 2218 to get their location. Lal’s also sells matsaman paste. And if you feel particularly authentic and adventurous, you can make your own using this recipe!

There are some substitutions. Firstly, I tend to use jaggery instead of palm sugar, which is the traditional sugar used in Thai recipes: jaggery's easily available in the Emirates and comes in more convenient lumps than palm sugar tends to. Alternatively use about 3 Tbsp date syrup. Coriander roots can be got from specialist Thai shops but you can use coriander leaves instead.

If you haven't used tamarind before, then soak a good fist-sized chunk of pressed tamarind in about 1/2 cup of boiling water, stirring until it cools, then strain it to give the pulp. If you want to omit the tamarind, then go ahead. It's highly likely that nobody will notice, although you may not sleep properly that night, plagued as you will be by the guilt of the frustrated purist.

  • 1kg lean lamb leg, cubed in 2-3cm cubes
  • 600g potato, cubed in 3-4 cm cubes
  • 1 tin coconut milk
  • 1 rounded tbsp matsaman curry paste
  • 4 cloves garlic
  • 4 inches or so of fresh ginger
  • 6-8 coriander roots with stems, or ½ cup chopped fresh coriander
  • 1 tsp ground cinnamon
  • ½ tsp ground cumin
  • 2 tsp ground coriander seeds
  • 8 shallots, whole and peeled.
  • 100g jaggery
  • 75g cashew nuts
  • 4 tsp fish sauce
  • 4 tbsp tamarind pulp
  • Flavour neutral oil, sunflower or whatever. About 4-5 tbsp.
  • 3 or 4 lime leaves, torn
  • 3 or 4 bay leaves

Peel the garlic and ginger and whiz these in a hand blender along with the coriander root. (If you’re using leaves, just chop these and add later on during cooking when it’s all in the pan and starting to boil up) – or just grate them with a fine grater.

Put about 1 tbsp of the oil in a frying pan and brown the lamb cubes over a high heat and reserve them – you’ll have to do this in relatively small batches, a handful at a time, to stop them losing their moisture. Add more oil as needed between batches.

Now fry up the potato, covering the pan and giving the cubes a toss every now and then to stop them sticking. About 10 minutes should do it, taking the heat down a bit once they’ve browned along the edges.

When the potatoes are cooked up, reserve these and then use the pan, again at a high heat, to fry off the cashew nuts, tossing them occasionally until they’re nicely highlighted with brown.

Heat about 2 tbsp of oil in the frying pan and then add the matsaman paste, stirring it until it combines with the oil and starts to bubble. Add in the whizzed fresh spices and the dry spices and give these a couple of minutes and a stir around to heat up, then add the lamb, shallots and potato. Stir these around until they’re covered in spice, then add in the coconut milk, the lime and bay leaves. Bring to a boil, give it all a stir and then take the heat down to medium, stirring occasionally to stop the coconut milk splitting. Add in the date syrup and, if you like it a tad spicy, add in a couple of birds eye chilies, split down the middle.

At this point you can take the heat off if you’re making it for a party and then reheat for 10 minutes, again with the occasional stir, when you’re ready. If you want to add tamarind and fish sauce, do it here. About 4 tsp fish sauce and 4 tbsp tamarind. If you’re cooking it up there and then, give it about 10 more minutes over a medium heat with the occasional stir, adding the cashew nuts near the end. You can also throw in a handful of coriander leaves at the end as a garnish.

That’s it! Serve with rice. You can garnish it with a drop of coconut cream if you’re feeling particularly lavish…

1 comment:

Huge said...

Tried this tonight for the first time and it's absolutely delicious. Would just say that you need to get everything ready before you start cooking because when you do start to cook it can happen rather quickly. The end result was yummy - thanks guys!