lamb shanks

Lamb shanks, slow-braised in spices and yoghurt. A wonderful example of the Mughal influence on the Awadhi food tradition. This dish, nalli gosht, is typical of this cuisine.

If you like lamb shanks and are used to Mediterranean preparation you will be surprised. The fall-off-the-bone texture is the same, but the creaminess the yoghurt base gives is very different.

This is a rich, luscious approach to lamb shanks. It is not hot, but there is enough chilli to show it is an Indian dish, although I would say it tastes more like an Arab dish. Which, given its heritage, is no surprise.

My grandmother did not originally have a high opinion of lamb shanks. She thought it a cut of meat best suited for the dogs. There are several quite appalling early recipes featuring shanks in her notes, but there is one stand out, called pish-pash. She considered this a dish for children or invalids, and I will post it in due course. It is a lamb shank used to make stock and the stock is used to cook rice. It is actually a delightful dish.

When the cook first presented this Mughlai dish, she was annoyed. She ate it, but apparently under sufferance, according to her notes. This changed her mind, and it became a family favourite; but she did struggle with serving it to guests, because of what they may think about her serving this cut of meat.

When preparing this there are just a few things to bear in mind.

The times and temperatures below are about the minimum you should use. Food science tells us that temperatures below 140C will not break down the tissue in this cut of meat. Cooking it longer will certainly improve the dish.

You should also select the best shanks you can from the butcher. Smaller, meatier shanks would be best.

This is best served as a feature dish. We would serve with plain rice, and possibly a simple vegetable dish such as bean poriyal.

the recipe

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  • wide pan with lid


  • 4 lamb shanks - see notes

for the gravy

to serve


  • Preheat oven to 140C.
  • Place a small frypan on medium heat and add the coriander and cumin seeds. Toast the spices until they become aromatic then remove from the heat. When cool enough to handle grind to a fine powder. Set aside.
  • Make a paste with the ginger and garlic using as little water as possible. Set aside.
  • Blend the yoghurt and tomatoes to a smooth paste and set aside.
  • Using an oven-proof deep pan that has a lid, heat the oil over low heat then add the whole spices to the pan and cook for two minutes.
  • Add the onions and salt, and fry for ten minutes. You want the onions to soften and to start turning brown on the edges.
  • Increase the heat to medium and add the ginger and garlic paste. Fry, stirring gently for two minutes or until the garlic smells cooked. The onions will continue to darken during this process.
  • Add the tomato and yogurt paste, half the garam masala, the ground cumin, coriander seeds and the chilli powders. Mix well, and continue to fry for another five minutes, stirring often, until the mixture starts to release oil.
  • Add the shanks to the pan and add enough water to almost cover the shanks. Mix well, making sure the shanks are well covered by the masala. Bring to a simmer, mixing frequently.
  • Cover the pan and place it into the oven. Cook for 4½ hours, turning the shanks every 30 minutes. Gently stir and spoon the gravy over the shanks.
  • Grind the soaked poppy seeds to a fine paste, adding a little water if needed, one teaspoon at a time.
  • Increase oven to 200C. Remove the pan from the oven and add the poppy seed paste. Gently mix the gravy, taking care not to break up the meat. Return the uncovered pan to the oven. Cook for a further 30 minutes to reduce the gravy and brown the dish.

to serve

  • Remove the shanks from the pan, and place onto a warmed serving plate.
  • Place the pan over high heat. Add the ginger matchsticks and the remaining garam masala to the gravy and mix well. Adjust seasoning, if required. Cook for a further five minutes. The gravy will thicken noticeably.
  • Pour the gravy over the shanks and garnish with the coriander leaves and almonds. Serve.


  • Choose a pan that can go in the oven and has a tight-fitting lid. You want the pan to be able to just take all the shanks in one layer. If the pan is too big, it will require too much liquid to cook the shanks, and you will end up with a thin, watery gravy.
  • Take the time to select the best possible shanks. Small meaty shanks work best.
  • This recipe does NOT suit pressure cooking. Despite manufacturer claims, lamb shanks need time at the right temperature to obtain the right texture.
  • This recipe can be done in a slow cooker, provided you cook it for several hours on a high setting first. I recommend two hours on high, then six hours on low to get the desired texture.

private notes

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Serving: 300 g | Calories: 531 kcal | Carbohydrates: 23 g | Protein: 46 g | Fat: 29 g | Saturated Fat: 14 g | Cholesterol: 130 mg | Sodium: 765 mg | Potassium: 1079 mg | Fiber: 7 g | Sugar: 6 g | Vitamin A: 1140 IU | Vitamin C: 20.5 mg | Calcium: 203 mg | Iron: 6.2 mg

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