If you’re mad for lamb shanks and Massaman Curry, this incredibly easy Thai recipe will stop you in your tracks – shanks slow cooked in the oven until the meat is falling off the bone, braised in a rich, coconut Massaman Curry sauce.
It’s a popular Chef’s Special at upscale Thai restaurants that will set you back $30 for just one shank. 5 minutes prep, then just pop it in the oven. Yes, really!
Lamb Shanks in Massman Curry
Aussies are extremely fond of lamb shanks and Massaman Curry. So we never pass it up when we see them together on the menu of a Thai restaurant. Meltingly tender lamb shanks smothered in a rich coconut, spice infused Massaman curry sauce is a heavenly combination – just the thought makes me weak in the knees, and you’ll happily pay upwards of $30 for ONE lamb shank.
So will you choke with disbelief when I tell you the dish you see in these photos is a 5 minute prep, dump-and-bake job??
Close your eyes and imagine fall-apart-at-a-touch lamb shanks smothered in rich Massaman curry sauce….. UGH!!! It’s incredible!!!
What you need for Massaman lamb shank curry
We’re using a store bought curry paste in this recipe – in fact, this recipe does not work as written using homemade. This was an irritating discovery because homemade Massaman Curry paste is an effort to make! 😒 (Reason: Homemade is just too fresh, this recipe needs the concentrated flavour of store bought paste)
Here are the ingredients you need:
- Lamb Shanks – Lamb shanks are the lower part of lamb legs. Front legs = foreshanks which are smaller (use 4 to 5), hind legs = hind shanks which are large (use 2 to 3) – recipe calls for 1.5 kg/3lb in total;
- Massaman Curry paste – Maesri is my preferred brand. Not all curry pastes are made equal! More on this below;
- Cinnamon and star anise – flavour boost of two dominant spices in the curry paste;
- Coconut milk – as used in traditional Massaman Curry sauce;
- Chicken stock/broth – to create volume to make a braising liquid to mostly submerge the shanks, as well as adding depth of flavour into the sauce. Traditional Massaman Curry is made by braising beef cubes in liquid to make a homemade stock; and
- Potato and onion – traditionally included in Massaman Curry.
Other lamb cuts
The only other lamb cut I’d recommend is lamb shoulder, whole. Essentially it will be like a lamb pot roast – Thai style! Directions in recipe notes. (And if I try it, I will pop a photo in here. Likely I will because I know it will be amazing).
I haven’t tried, but I think this recipe will work extremely well with beef cheeks, beef Osso bucco (not veal, cooks too fast), beef ribs (any type). These have similar long cook times, similar meat fibres, and good beef flavour. Do not use: brisket, chuck beef, silverside or other slow cooking beef cuts (not enough flavour in meat to work for this dump-and-bake method of cooking).
Won’t withstand the required cook times to develop enough flavour I’m afraid. Not with this simple cook method!
Best Massaman Curry Paste – Maesri
Here is the undisputed king of all store bought Thai curry pastes – Maesri. Restaurants use it, chefs use it, and food obsessed people like myself are mad for it.
And it happens to be a bargain at ~$1.50 a can.
Where to find Maesri curry paste – at your local grocery store!
It’s sold at most metropolitan Coles and Woolworths grocery stores in Australia (Asian section), at Harris Farms, practically all Asian stores (it would be un-Asian not to carry it!) and here it is online in Australia, US, Canada* and UK.
* Obscenely expensive, please try to get to an Asian store!
Can’t find it?
Use any Massaman Curry paste you can find. Order of preference (Aussie brands) – Ayam, Five Tastes and bringing up the rear is Volcom (it’s always too sweet).
How to make it
Two simple steps:
- Put everything in a baking dish; and
- Bake covered, then uncovered, until meat is fall-apart tender and liquid reduces down to a rich curry sauce.
(I haven’t listed the likely extra step of fending off your neighbours when they smell it cooking and come running over for a taste. It’s a real risk.)
I NEVER cook curries OR lamb shanks like this!
Anyone who knows anything about cooking curries knows that a really great Thai curry calls for either homemade curry paste, or “pimping up” store bought curry paste with fresh aromatics like garlic, ginger, chilli and lemongrass.
We bypass all of that for this recipe. We don’t even brown the lamb shanks beforehand!
And here’s why this recipe still delivers knock-your-socks-off flavour with such little effort:
- Lamb – because it’s probably the strongest flavoured meat around, and the juices from the lamb add a stack of flavour into the curry sauce;
- Slow cooking – because anything slow cooked leads to more flavour;
- Roasting uncovered for a good hour at the end – required to reduce the braising liquid down to a thick curry sauce and to brown the shanks and toast the curry sauce; and
- Using a great store bought curry paste.
What to serve with Massaman Curry Lamb Shanks
Rice is essential for soaking up that incredible sauce. Specifically, Jasmine rice – but really, any rice will do. Nobody will notice what rice you use once it’s smothered in the Massaman Curry!
To complete your meal, add a side of fresh greens. In Thailand, it’s common to just have a side of tomato wedges and cucumbers – no dressing. Welcome freshness for a rich dish like this!
Otherwise, try one of these side salads:
Side Salads suggestions
If you’re feeling inspired to do a full blown Thai feast at home, try some of these on the side – or browse my full menu of Thai recipes (note to self: share some Asian desserts!!)
Thai Sides and Starters
And just one last quick thing – as with stews, this is the sort of dish that gets even better with time which lets the flavour develop even more. So if you really wanting to impress someone, make it the day before! – Nagi x
Watch how to make it
Note: video says covered bake time is 2.5 hrs, this is incorrect, it should be 2 hours. Typo!
Lamb Shanks Massaman Curry
SPICINESS – mild! Massaman curry is one of the mildest curries in Thai cuisine.
- 1.5kg/ 3 lb lamb shanks (5 small, 4 medium, 2 – 3 large) (Note 1)
- 114g/ 4oz Maesri Massaman curry paste (1 can) , or other brand (Note 2)
- 400ml/ 14oz coconut milk , full fat (Ayam brand is best, Note 3)
- 2 cups chicken stock/broth , low sodium (Note 4)
- 1 onion , halved then sliced 1cm / 1/3″ thick (brown, white, yellow)
- 400g/ 14oz small potatoes (2.5cm/1″ wide, halve if bigger)
- 1 star anise
- 1 cinnamon stick
- Red chilli , finely sliced (small = spicy, large = less spicy)
- Steamed jasmine rice
Preheat oven to 180°C/350°F (160°C fan).
Mix curry paste, coconut milk and stock in a 22 x 33cm / 9 x 13″ baking dish, preferably glass or ceramic (Note 5). Add onion, potato, star anise, cinnamon and lamb.
Turn shanks to coat in sauce, then cover with foil.
Bake in oven for 2 hours. Remove foil, bake for a further 1 hour (small shanks) or 1.5 hrs (medium to large shanks), turning lamb twice to brown evenly, until meat is so tender it can easily be teased apart with 2 forks.
Remove lamb onto plate. Carefully skim off excess fat off the surface (tilt dish, it’s easier) – I get about 1/3 cup. Mix sauce in baking dish – it should be reduced down to a syrupy thickness (Note 6).
Serve lamb with sauce over jasmine rice, garnished with chilli and coriander. For a larger banquet, put the curry out on a platter to share!
1. Lamb Shanks cook times for different sizes:
- Small shanks 300g/10oz each x 5 = 2 hr covered, 1 hr uncovered
- Medium shanks 350 – 400g/12 – 14 oz each x 4 = 2 hrs covered, 1.5 hrs uncovered
- Large hind shanks 600 – 750g / 1.2 – 1.5 lb each x 2 = 2 hrs covered, 1.5 hrs uncovered, USE SMALLER BAKING DISH so liquid covers ~ 1/2 to 2/3 of meat
Small and medium shanks are foreshanks (front legs of lamb). Large are from the rear, called hind shanks.
Even though large hind shanks are twice the weight of medium shanks, they will cook to fall apart tender in the same time if they are mostly submerged in liquid as heat transference is efficient (as opposed to roasting exposed without liquid – larger size takes proportionally longer to cook).
Other lamb cuts – the only other one I’d recommend is shoulder, very forgiving, similar flavour and meat fibres. Slow cook whole, upside down (so most of meat is submerged), cook times per recipe (it should be around 3.5 hrs total cook time). You’ll need to scoop off more fat because shoulder is fattier. It will be sensational – essentially a Thai pot roast!!
Other meat – recipe should work as written with beef cheeks, beef ribs (short ribs or long ribs) or beef osso bucco as they have similar fibres, good beef flavour and similar cook times. Use about 1.2kg/2.4lb cheeks, or 1.5kg/3lb ribs or osso bucco, cook times will be around the same (in anycase, all these cuts are very forgiving).
Don’t use chuck beef – I tried, and found the sauce lacking. The meat itself doesn’t have enough beef flavour to work using this method, use the traditional stovetop Beef Massaman recipe.
Chicken won’t hold up to the required cook time for sufficient flavour to develop in the sauce, and while slow cooking pork cuts should work, I’m not convinced about how it will suit the curry sauce!
2. Massaman curry paste – best is Maesri brand, sold at most Woolworths & Coles in Australia, as well as Harris Farms and Asian stores. Also happens to be the cheapest at ~$1.50 a can. Online – Australia, US, UK, Canada.
Keeps 5 days in the fridge in a super airtight container, or freeze for 3 months (but note that this recipe calls for a whole can).
Otherwise, use whatever brand you can find (my preferences: Ayam, Five Tastes and lastly Volcom).
3. Coconut milk – the quality/flavour comes down to the % of the liquid that is actually coconut milk. Ayam is the highest at 89%, cheap ones can be as low as 45%.
4. Low sodium chicken stock – important to get low sodium because it cooks right down and concentrates the saltiness. If you don’t have low sodium reduce by 3/4 cup and add 3/4 cup water instead.
5. Pan – clean up easiest with glass or ceramic because it will require a bit of scrubbing with a brush (it comes off easily after a brief soak). Metal would need to be soaked longer and scrubbed gently.
6. Sauce – if it’s still a bit thin once meat is fall apart tender, just pop it back into oven without the lamb. Will reduce quickly. Keep lamb covered to keep it warm – lasts like that for ages.
If it’s reduced down too much (eg if your dish was large and there’s lots of sauce surface area exposed), just add boiling water to thin it out. Should have close to 3 cups (750ml) sauce (give or take – there’s so much flavour in it, it won’t matter if it’s slightly thinner or thicker).
7. Storage / make ahead – as with all stews, this just gets better with time! Keeps for 4 to 5 days in the fridge, freezes for 3 months (thaw then reheat). Best way to reheat lamb shanks is to cover and reheat in oven at 180C/350F for 30 minutes or so, or microwave on low (high heat will cause large pieces of meat have a tendency to pop – don’t do it!). Loosen sauce with more water if needed.
8. Nutrition per lamb shank, assuming 1/3 cup fat is scooped off and all curry sauce is used.
Favourite Thai Restaurants in Sydney
And I think it would be remiss of me not to mention my favourite Thai restaurants here in Sydney! Our rich, cultural diversity is one of our greatest strengths, and with that comes an abundance of great food from around the world. So really good Thai food is widely available all across Australia – here are the ones I regularly frequent:
- Khao Pla (Chatswood) – top notch modern Thai, I frequent this regularly because it’s my closest really good Thai restaurant (30 minutes away!!). I also like that while it stays 100% true to Thai flavours, it has some wonderfully unique dishes (try the Tamarind Ribs, they are my favourite!)
- Spice I Am (Surry Hills) – the most authentic Thai you will get in Sydney. Big flavours, very spicy, fresh, award winning high regarded restaurant;
- Long Chim (Sydney CBD) – owned by David Thompson, Thai expert restauranteur. Top end prices, trendy, very authentic, very spicy!
- Chat Thai – it’s a chain, but don’t let that deter you. It is very, very good – slightly modern, but very authentic. In Chatswood, Manly, Randwick and multiple locations Sydney city.
Life of Dozer
Dozer in usual form – begging for the very food I just gave Geoff, our friendly local who lives at the dog park and looks after it like its his own backyard! That day, it was this broccoli pasta (with extra cheese – Geoff loves his gooey cheese 😂)