Massaman lamb shanks

The mellowest of the Thai curries, made slow and tender with lamb shanks.


The mellowest of all the Thai curries, and perhaps the most misunderstood. Massaman curry is not a kitchen-sink dish and doesn’t need to be fancied up into anything more complex than meat and potatoes in a mild, creamy sauce. What it lacks in heat – it has none – it makes up for in its spectacular depth of flavour.

In this spirit, my take on massaman is streamlined to the point of laziness. While beef is traditional, I prefer the sweetness of lamb at its most tender in the form of shanks. You cook the meat first, and for a long time. The potatoes, unpeeled to help keep their shape, go in towards the end, and you season with a balanced trinity of Asian flavours very late in the game.

I often break the cooking up over two nights: one for the meat, followed by a day in the fridge where the flavour develops more deeply, and finish with the potatoes and seasoning the next night.

Massaman lamb shanks


Serves 2.

1 tablespoon peanut oil
4 lamb shanks (or 2, if they are very large)
1 brown onion
400ml (14 fl oz) can coconut milk
⅓ cup (4 tablespoons) massaman curry paste
2 star anise
1 cinnamon stick
1 cup beef stock
400g (14 oz) small new potatoes
½ tablespoon fish sauce
1 tablespoon lime juice
1 tablespoon palm sugar, grated (or brown sugar)
chopped cashews, to serve
fresh coriander (cilantro) leaves, to serve

Heat the peanut oil in a broad pan big enough to accommodate all the lamb in a single layer over medium-high heat and brown the lamb shanks all over. Take your time with this, sealing the meat well and letting it develop deep colour. Remove and transfer to a plate.

Halve and slice the onion thickly and fry it until soft. Open the can of coconut milk without shaking it, and spoon the top third of it into the pan. Add the massaman curry paste, stirring until well combined and fragrant.

Add the remaining coconut milk, the star anise and cinnamon stick. Pour in the beef stock and return the lamb to the pan, along with any juices which have collected on the plate. Bring everything up to the edge of a boil and turn down to very low, cover and cook for 1½ hours.

Quarter the potatoes and add to pan. Stir in the fish sauce, lime juice and brown sugar and bring up to a lively simmer. Let it cook, uncovered, for 20 minutes, until the potatoes are tender and cooked through.

Sprinkle with chopped cashews and fresh coriander leaves to serve.