Lamb shank Massaman Curry

Changing up the usual braise for something a little different this week – lamb shank Massamun curry. Cosy, spicy, fall apart tender and stick-to-your-ribs delicious. And you know how much I love a long winded recipe that takes all day, right? This one is no exception. It’s absolutely worth the effort and a perfect task for a lazy Sunday.

While most Thai curries we’re familiar with are known for their light, delicate coconut and bright herbs (think kaffir lime, mint and basil) Massamun comes from the South of Thailand where Malaysian cuisine holds a strong influence. Here, the spices are heavier, richer with the warmth of cardamom, cumin, mace and cinnamon, flavours not often seen in other Thai dishes but remnants of the spice trade that passed through the Straight of Malacca back in the 17th Century.

I’m not going to lie, the paste is a laborious task, but once it’s in the oven you’re on the home stretch. I’ve used whole spices as opposed to pre-ground powders as the flavour is unrivalled (freshly ground, whole seed coriander is one of my favourite things in the world). You can use the powdered stuff, but I urge you to take the time to grind your own. Most of the ingredients are easy to find at your supermarket but you’ll probably need to stop by your Asian grocery for some of the more obscure items like galangal and shrimp paste. If lamb shanks are unavailable, beef or veal shin (osso bucco) would be equally delicious.

Curry Powder
1.5 tbs whole coriander seeds
2 mace blades (or 1/4 tsp nutmeg)
4 Cardamom pods – cracked, seeds removed (discard the pod)
4 cloves
1/3 tbs cumin seeds
1/2 tbs white peppercorns

Curry Paste
1.5 large onions – or 4-5 purple shallots
1 whole head of garlic
2 lemon grass white part only
1 inch piece galangal
5 whole dried chillies
1tbs shrimp paste
1 level tbs salt

The rest
3-4 lamb shanks
½ cup seasoned flour (plain flour, salt, pepper)
400ml coconut cream
2 sticks cinnamon
5 kaffir lime leaves
3-4 tbs of coconut or vegetable oil
1tsp grated palm sugar or brown sugar
fish sauce
8 small waxy potatoes (like charlottes or jersey royals) halved if they’re large
Jasmine rice to server
coriander to garnish
crushed peanuts to garnish

For the curry powder
Combine all the listed ingredients in a fry pan and dry roast over a medium heat, stirring, until fragrant. In small batches grind these down to a fine powder. I used a mortar and pestle, but feel free to use a spice grinder if you have one.

For the curry paste
Take the garlic and the onions, whole, with their skins still in tact, and roast in the oven on a medium-high heat, around 200C until the skins are charred and the flesh is soft. When cool enough to handle, peel and set aside the soft flesh, discarding any charred bits.

While the oven is still warm, make a little foil envelope for the shrimp paste. Roast for 5 minutes (make a little envelope because roasted shrimp paste is not a smell you want ever in your house. Ever.)

Tear open the chillies and discard the seeds, soak the red skins in a little boiling water to soften.

Finely slice the white parts of the lemongrass. Peel and slice the galangal.
Saute these gently in a little vegetable or coconut oil. When fragrant, remove and set aside.

In a blender, add the soaked chills, garlic, onion, shrimp paste lemongrass and galangal. Puree until smooth. Add a little water if necessary to loosen the mix. Stir in the spice mix.

For the curry
Dust the shanks with seasoned flour and in a little oil, brown in a deep lidded casserole dish.  Remove the meat.

Add a little more oil and on a medium-low heat sauté the curry paste for a few minutes, add the coconut cream, and 600ml of water, bring to the boil. Add the meat back to the dish, throw in the cinnamon sticks, 3 kaffir lime leaves and stir in the sugar. Pop a lid on and bang it in the oven for about 3-4 hours at 160C.

Check the meat after 2 hours and add more water if it’s starting to dry up.
Add the potatoes in the last 45 mins of cooking. By then the meat should be falling away from the bone and the sauce should be luscious and thick. Skim away any excess fat that rises to the surface. Season with a splash or two of fish sauce.

Transfer the curry to a serving bowl, finely slice the remaining kaffir lime leaves and scatter over the top with a little coriander. Serve hot with jasmine rice.