The temperature has dropped; the leaves on the trees are turning red and my veggie garden also looking a little sad. I had a quick look at the calendar and just realised is already end of May. I felt like I have missed most of summer and autumn this year as I’ve been stuck inside the house, trying to get my third cookbook completed. Good news is the book is about 90% complete, yay! I can finally breathe and let out a sigh of relief, slowly freeing up some time to do other things. To be honest, after the hard slog for the last few months, all I want to do now is Netflix and chill, better still with a hearty bowl of lamb curry. You can tell I am ready for winter.
Last weekend, I scored some beautiful lamb shanks at the supermarket and decided to make a mean Massaman curry with them. If you have never had Massaman curry before then you must give this recipe a try. It is one of the best winter warmers ever and it is perfect to share with friends.
Massaman curry is a rich, relatively mild peanut-based Thai curry dish. Many experts believed that it is an interpretation of a Persian dish and found its way into Thai cuisine. Other theories argued that the dish is influenced by Malay and Indian cuisines, as the word Masam which means “sour” in Malay, and the curry is cooked using Indian spices like cardamom, cinnamon, cloves, star anise, cumin, nutmeg which are not commonly used in other Thai curries. Nevertheless, Massaman curry is always a favourite Thai curry for me to cook. As my better half can’t really take spicy food that well, so this mild curry is just perfect.
The two main ingredients in a lamb Massaman curry are potatoes and of course lamb. My favourite cut to use is lamb shanks, which creates beautifully rich flavours but you can also use diced shoulder.
First thing first, you need to make a Massaman curry paste. Yes, I do prefer to make it from scratch rather than store bought for many reasons. Everyone has his own take of Massaman curry. I’ve tasted many different versions of this dish, some came with a creamy, watery yellow curry sauce, while others were more like a red curry with a layer of chilli oil on top and spicy hot. The best one I’ve ever tasted in Thailand was a rich, thick brown curry sauce but relatively mild with nutty flavour from the roasted peanuts. It was actually very similar to a satay sauce but more aromatic from all the spices. I knew I would never get the same result by using the pre-made curry paste in a packet, so the only way to achieve such intense flavours is to make my own Massaman curry paste from scratch. Also, the freshly made Massaman curry paste keeps relatively well in the fridge up to 1 month or a year in the freezer.
I prefer to cook with lamb shanks as I usually serve each shank as an individual portion. So for this recipe, it will be perfect for a party of four, so no fighting. This recipe, is perfect for a party of four. For bigger groups, just increase the portions. The recipe is super duper easy and straightforward. Fry up some potatoes, seared the lamb shanks, cook the curry paste, then put everything in a big pot, whack it in the oven and you’re done. All you have to do now is be patient because good things come to those who wait. In this case, 4 hours to be exact. It really depends on the size of the lamb shanks you are using, the bigger it is, the longer it will need to be in the oven. For the small lamb shanks, I would say between 3 to 4 hours in the oven for the meat to be almost falls-off-the-bone tender and still hold its shape. If presentation is not your major concern, then I would just leave the lamb shanks in the oven for 6 hours, and it will come out super tender and you can cut the meat like butter.
Here is a hot tip for you, cook the lamb shanks the day before serving, then transfer to refrigerator once they have cool down completely. The flavour will develop overnight and when you are ready to serve the next day, just reheat the lamb shanks in the oven for another hour or so at 170C. The lamb shank should now be very tender and the flavour is much richer and intensified. Another hot tip for you, if there’s any leftover, shred the lamb meat into ragout and toss into pasta. This winter I have you covered.
Lamb shanks massaman curry
4 small lamb shanks
1/2 cup plain flour, for dusting
1/2 cup olive oil, for frying
200g chat potatoes, skin on, washed and halved
2 large brown onions, peeled and thinly sliced
1/2 cup roasted peanuts, no skin, roughly chopped
1 can (400ml) coconut milk
2 star anise
2 tablespoons sugar
2 teaspoons salt
2 tablespoons lemon juice
a handful of coriander leaves, for garnish
Massamam curry paste
1 head garlic
3 french shallots
4 pods cardamom
2 inch cinnamon sticks, crushed
1 tablespoon coriander seed, crushed
1 teaspoon cumin seeds
2 teaspoons black peppercorns
1/2 nutmeg, grated
4-6 dried whole dried chillies, deseeded, tear into small pieces and soak in hot water for 10 minutes
a knob (about 3cm) ginger, peeled
1 stalk lemongrass, white part only
1 tablespoon salt
5g belachan shrimp paste
To make the Massaman curry paste, put garlic and shallots with skin on directly on the grill over gas stove over low flame, roast for 5 minutes. Use tongs and turn them frequently so they burnt, roast until the skin is charred and the flesh is soft and cooked. Remove and set aside to cool, then peel the skin off and remove any charred spots.
Put cardamom, cinnamon sticks, cloves, coriander and cumin seeds, peppercorns in a dry frying pan over low heat. Toast for 3 minutes until fragrant. Remove from heat and tip everything into a mortar and pestle, pound everything into fine powder.
Add roasted garlic and shallots, ground spice mix, nutmeg, soaked chillies, ginger, lemongrass, salt and shrimp paste in a food processor. Blend into a fine paste. Store the paste in the refrigerator up to 1 month, or a year in the freezer.
Dust the lamb shanks in flour, shake off excess and set aside. Heat oil in non-stick wok or frying pan over medium-high heat. Add potatoes and cook for 10 minutes or until nicely browned. Remove and set aside. In the same wok, fry the onion for 5 minutes, until soft and browned. Remove and drain on paper towel. Now, cook the lamb shanks in the same oil, 2 at a time, until nicely browned on all sides, about 5 minutes. Put lamb shanks together with potatoes, onion and peanuts in a casserole dish or dutch oven but keep some of the onion and peanuts aside for garnish later.
In the same wok the lambs cooked in, heat 4 tablespoons of the Massaman curry paste, cook until it is fragrant and the oil has separated, takes about 5 minutes. Pour in coconut milk, stir and bring to a simmer, about 3 minutes. Then pour the curry sauce over the lamb shanks. Top with more water until the lambs and potatoes are almost fully submerged. Add star anise and cover with lid.
Heat oven to 170C. Transfer casserole dish to oven and cook for 3 to 4 hours until the lamb shanks are almost fall-off-the-bone tender. Transfer lamb shanks and potatoes to a serving bowl, then place the casserole dish back on stove and bring to a simmer over medium heat. Season the sauce with sugar, salt and lemon juice according to personal taste. Let it simmer for 10 minutes or until the sauce thickens. Remove from heat and pour the sauce over the lamb shanks. Garnish with extra peanuts and coriander. Serve with steamed rice.