Lamb shanks, slow braised in spices and yoghurt. A wonderful example of the Mughal influence on the Awadhi food tradition. This dish, naili gosht, is an archetype 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, stripped of its meat, and then this 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.
- 4 lamb shanks – (see notes)
- 50 g ginger – coarsely chopped
- 8 cloves garlic – coarsely chopped
- 100 ml yoghurt
- 3 tomatoes – pulp removed and quartered
- 4 tbsp vegetable oil
- 5 cloves
- 1 stick cinnamon
- 5 green cardamom pods
- 1 blade mace
- 1 tsp black peppercorns
- 1 tsp caraway seeds
- 2 red onions – halved and thinly sliced
- 1 tsp salt
- 1 tsp garam masala
- 2 tsp cumin seeds – toasted and ground
- 2 tsp coriander seeds – toasted and ground
- 1 tsp Kashmiri chilli powder
- 1½ tbsp white poppy seeds – soaked in 50ml water
- Preheat oven to 140C.
- 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 a deep pan that has a lid and is suitable for the oven, heat the oil over a high heat then add the whole spices to the pan and cook for two minutes.
- Add the onions and salt, and fry for five minutes. You want the onions to soften and to start turning brown on the edges.
- Reduce 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, and the cumin, coriander and 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 into the oven. Cook for 4½ hours, turning the shanks every 30 minutes. Gently stir and spoon the sauce 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 pan from oven and add the poppy seed paste. Gently mix the sauce, taking care not to break up the meat. Return the uncovered pan to the oven. Cook for a further 30 minutes to reduce sauce and brown the dish.
- Remove the shanks from the pan, and place onto a serving plate.
- Place the pan over a high heat. Add the julienned ginger and the remaining garam masala to the sauce and mix well. Adjust seasoning, if required. Cook for a further five minutes. The sauce will thicken noticeably.
- Pour the sauce 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 shanks, and you will end up with a thin, watery sauce.
- 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.