A beef curry typically takes 2-3 hours of cooking to achieve fork-tender beef, but when I worked in a Thai restaurant, I learned a trick to make it faster without compromising flavour even one bit. The whole thing comes together in under an hour, which means you can have an authentic Thai beef curry on any night of the week; no Instant Pot needed!
What is yellow curry?
Known in Thai as gaeng garee or keang kari, yellow curry is one of the most well-known curries in Thai cuisine. It is unique in a few ways:
The spice level is typically the lowest of all curries, so it’s a great for kids too.It’s a specialty of Thai Muslims; so unlike other curries, in Thailand you will find yellow curry with chicken or beef, but never pork.It is always made with potatoes and onions, whereas with many other Thai curries, the vegetable options are more flexible.The yellow color comes from turmeric, which is not a spice that’s super common in Thai curries, despite popular belief.
Also check out my Thai Yellow Chicken Curry Recipe!
Here are the ingredients you’ll need for the curry. (Note that the picture below is missing the curry paste because I’m making mine from scratch 😄 … but you don’t have to.)
Chuck top blade steaks, or another stew-friendly cut that’s not too chewy. More on choosing the right cut of beef below.Salt (not pictured)Thai yellow curry paste, store bought or homemade (not pictured).Coconut milk, always use full fat coconut milk for cooking. Read this post for how to choose the best coconut milk.Waxy potatoes such as new potatoes, or you can also sub sweet potatoesOnionFish saucePalm sugar or light brown sugarTamarind paste, this is there just to add a little acidity and balance out the richness (Thai food is all about balance!) If you don’t have any, a little lime juice or lemon juice will also work.Grape or cherry tomatoes for pops of colour and acidity. You can also substitute red bell pepper.Jasmine rice for serving
Yellow Curry Paste Ingredients
Before we get into the paste ingredients, let me first assure you that you do NOT need to make your own curry paste in order to make a “legit” Thai curry. Most Thai people buy the paste as well! If you ARE buying, read about how to choose the best curry paste below.
Dried chilies. Yellow curry is typically on the milder side, so I use mostly mild red peppers such as guajillo for the bulk of it. I then add a few spicier dried chillies (arbol or Thai) to make it a little spicier, and this is something you can add to your own taste.Coriander seeds, toasted Cumin seeds, toastedWhite peppercornsSaltLemongrass, bottom half only for best flavorGingerGalangalFresh turmeric, or turmeric powderGarlicShallotsCurry powder, the generic “curry powder” at your local Asian market will work. I personally like the Japanese S&B brand, but if it smells good to you, it’s good to use.Fermented shrimp paste (gapi), optional
How to Make Yellow Curry Beef
Here’s a bird’s eye view of the process, but I highly recommend watching the video tutorial in the recipe card to ensure success!
If making the curry paste, pound the lemongrass, galangal, ginger and turmeric into a fine paste.Grind the dried spices in a coffee grinder, then add to the mortar along with the garlic and shallots.Pound into a fine paste.This recipe calls for only half of what you’re making here, and the other half can be frozen for next time. P.S. I don’t recommend using a food processor for this, as it doesn’t get the paste fine enough – but a good immersion blender works perfectly. See my massaman curry paste video on how to use it.
Slice the steak thinly, then add to a medium pot and cover with water. Add salt and 1 Tbsp of the curry paste.Bring to a simmer, then reduce the heat to maintain that simmer for 20-25 mins and until the beef is fork tender.Meanwhile, make the curry sauce. Reduce ¾ cup of the coconut milk over medium-high heat by about half volume, then add the curry paste and stir over medium low heat for 5-8 minutes.Once the paste is thick and the coconut oil separates from the paste, add the remaining coconut milk, the sugar, 1 tablespoon of the tamarind paste and 1 tablespoon of the fish sauce; stir to mix and bring to a boil.
Add the potatoes and onions and simmer for 5-7 minutes, until the potatoes are about halfway cooked. Remove from the heat while you wait for the beef to be done.Once the beef is tender, use a slotted spoon to transfer only the beef into the curry. Then add only as much of the beef cooking liquid to keep everything barely submerged. (The remaining beef cooking liquid is super tasty, and you can save it to make a soup such as a beef noodle soup!)Turn the heat back on and simmer the curry for another 5-7 minutes or until the potatoes are fully cooked.Taste the sauce and adjust seasoning with more fish sauce, sugar or tamarind as needed. Stir in the tomatoes then turn off the heat and allow the tomatoes to soften in the residual heat for a minute or so. Serve with jasmine rice.
Tricks to Making a Faster Beef Curry
There are a few tricks I employed to make this beef curry weeknight-friendly, rather than it being a 3 hour ordeal, and without needing a slow cooker or a pressure cooker.
Thinly slicing the beef as if you were making a stir fry. People tend to cut beef in cubes or big chunks for curries and stews, and while that makes a pretty curry, you’ll need 2-3 hours of braising time to fully tenderize the beef.Choosing a cut that’s not too chewy so it won’t take as long to tenderize. Brisket, for example, is very tough and should not be used.Braising the beef separately from the curry sauce allows you to multitask. The beef can braise while you make the curry sauce.Cut your potatoes into smaller pieces. People tend to think big chunks for curry, but 1-inch pieces allows for faster cooking time and also better flavour absorption in a shorter amount of time.
Want an even faster beef curry? Try my panang curry recipe here!
How to Choose the Best Thai Curry Paste
If you’re not making your own paste, great! Store-bought curry paste can even be better than homemade ones, especially if you have to make substitutions for certain ingredients.
You can find yellow curry paste at most Asian grocery stores, and even some non-Asian ones. My preferred one is Mae Ploy Brand, which has a great flavour, but Aroy-D is also good. Both of these do not contain shrimp paste (gapi), however so I like to add my own to it, but it’s not necessary.
Whether you’re buying yellow, green, or red curry paste, here are a few tips when shopping:
The ingredient list should include nothing besides herbs, spices, salt and shrimp paste. I try to avoid ones with additives; oil, sugar, or other seasonings. It’s not a terrible thing to have seasonings added, but I like to keep the curry paste as pure as possible so I have the most control over the final taste of the curry.Make sure it is a product of Thailand.Make sure it does NOT say yellow sour curry paste, which is for the wrong kind of yellow curry. (Though you can use it for this sour curry recipe!)
Choosing the Right Cut of Beef
For this recipe you want a flavourful cut of beef that is not too chewy so that it wouldn’t take too long to tenderize. You don’t need an expensive cut for this!
The restaurant where I learned this quick-curry-making trick used flank steak, and it was fine. Flank is an inexpensive and widely available choice, though it is a little too lean for my taste.
I use chuck top blade which has a great amount of marbling and a good beefy flavour. It’s available at my local Asian supermarket, and I think you’ll have better luck there rather than at a Western butcher.
Regular chuck roast will also work, but look for one that has some marbling in it. Beef that is too lean will feel dry after braising.
A Useful Tool for Navigating Beef Cuts
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As with most curries, this will taste even better the next day. Store in an airtight container in the fridge and it should last you at least a week.
When reheating, be careful not to overdo it as you do not want to over-cook the potatoes while you reheat.
More Thai recipes for a Weeknight
A fan of pineapple in savoury dishes? This Red Curry with Shrimp and Pineapple is a must-try.Red Curry Stir Fried Tuna does not get any easier, but packs a punch of fiery Thai flavours!Holy Basil Stir Fry with Beef is a cult-favourite. This one is the “original” style that’s simpler but just as tasty!
Quick Thai Yellow Curry with Beef & Potatoes
Homemade Yellow Curry Paste (makes enough for 2 batches of curry)
0.7 oz dried mild chilies cut into ½-inch chunks, see note 21 tablespoon coriander seeds toasted1 ½ teaspoons cumin seeds toasted½ teaspoon white peppercorns1 teaspoon table salt1 stalk lemongrass bottom half only, finely sliced2 tablespoons finely chopped ginger2 tablespoons finely chopped galangal1 tablespoon chopped turmeric or ½ teaspoon turmeric powder6 cloves garlic finely chopped½ cup cup finely chopped shallots1 tablespoon curry powder2 teaspoons fermented shrimp paste
Once simmering, reduce heat to medium low to maintain a simmer and cook for 20-25 mins or until fork tender; timing will vary if using different cuts of meat. Skim off any scum that floats to the top.
For the curry paste:
Add the garlic, shallots and curry powder and pound into a paste. Add the ground chili mixture and shrimp paste and pound into a fine paste.
You need only half of the paste for this recipe, and any leftovers can be frozen.
You need only half of the paste for this recipe, and any leftovers can be frozen.
Though yellow curry is usually on the milder side, you can make the curry spicier by replacing some of the mild dried chilies with hotter ones, such as chiles de arbol or Thai chilies.