Massamun Curry Paste

Prik Gaeng Massamun

Preparation info

  • Difficulty


  • Makes

    ¾ cup

    if pounded, slightly more if blended

Appears in

Southeast Asian Flavors: Adventures in Cooking the Foods of Thailand, Vietnam, Malaysia & Singapore

Southeast Asian Flavors

By Robert Danhi

Published 2008

  • About

The Indian and Muslim influence in southern Thailand shows in this spicy curry paste. Unlike other Thai curry pastes, which are raw until they go into a dish, Massamun curry paste is cooked when it’s made. This brings out a deep red color and also acts as a preservative measure.

Toasting each spice deeply is critical. The dark roast softens the rough edges, enabling the paste to absorb more spices without becoming overwhelming. This creates the profound spice flavor of Massamun curry. If you are making the beef curry, start the beef simmering in the coconut milk before you begin to prepare this curry paste. It’ll save you a lot of time.


  • ½ cup (½ oz. / 14 g.) Dried red chilies, remove stems and seeds
  • 2 tsp. Cumin seeds
  • tsp. Coriander seeds
  • ½ tsp. White peppercorns
  • 2 pods Green cardamom pods
  • 1 2-inch (5 cm.) piece Cassia (Cinnamon), broken in a few pieces
  • 3 Cloves pinch Ground mace pinch Ground nutmeg
  • ½ tsp. Kosher salt
  • 2 stalks Lemongrass, trimmed and sliced very thin, about 1/16 inch (.1 cm.)
  • 1 tsp. Finely grated galangal
  • 2 tsp. Minced cilantro root or 2 Tbsp. minced cilantro stems
  • ½ tsp. Grated kaffir lime zest or 1 tsp. shredded kaffir lime leaves
  • 4 cloves Garlic, roughly chopped
  • 3 medium Shallots, roughly chopped
  • 1 tsp. Thai shrimp paste (gkapi), toasted
  • ¼ cup. Vegetable oil


  • Soak chilies in ½ cup room temperature water for 30 minutes; drain, reserving soaking liquid. Squeeze out excess moisture from the chilies; set aside.
  • In a dry small sauté pan over medium-low heat, individually toast cumin (dark brown), coriander seeds (light brown); transfer to a plate to cool. Combine peppercorns, cardamom, cassia, and cloves. Toast these spices until just until fragrant and beginning to smoke; add to plate with cumin and coriander to cool.

Make the Curry Paste

  • Using a Mortar: Begin by pounding all the spices until very fine (or speed this up by grinding first in an electric spice mill); remove from mortar and reserve. Add soaked chilies and salt; pound until semi-smooth. Add lemongrass, galangal, cilantro root, kaffir lime zest; pound until lemongrass disintegrates. Add garlic, shallots and spices; pound until dark red smooth curry paste is achieved. Add and pound in toasted shrimp paste. (See for more on using a mortar and pestle.)

    Using a blender: Pulverize spices together in spice grinder or blender; reserve. Place ingredients into the blender in this order: shallots, garlic, salt, and ½ cup chili soaking liquid. Puree until smooth, scraping down sides of blender vase often to incorporate stray bits. BE PATIENT: the urge to add more water than needed to make it puree faster (though some may be needed). Once semi-smooth, add soaked red chilies, lemongrass, galangal, spices, cilantro root, kaffir lime zest and shrimp paste. Puree until very smooth.

  • Cook the curry paste: Heat oil in a wok or 2 qt. (2 L.) saucepan over medium heat. Cook curry paste, stirring often, until it darkens substantially and oil begins to separate out of paste, about 5 minutes.

  • Transfer to the smallest possible container. Press a small swatch of plastic wrap on the surface to prevent contact with air. Store in refrigerator. The fresher it’s used, the better. But it will be good to cook with for up to two months.