Malaysian Lamb Shank Curry

Hearty lamb shank dishes are a winter staple in Australia, but this dish is a great one for times like now just as the weather starts to warm. We often think of lamb shanks as a hearty winter dish, but lamb curries in South East Asia work fantastically well in warmer weather.  This dish crosses the boundary of the seasons and takes advantage of the great spring lamb that we have in Australia, and matches it with the nostalgic Malaysian flavours I grew up with.

Malaysian Lamb Shank Curry

Curry Paste

  • 3 brown onions (or 6-8 red schallots)
  • 15 small dried red chillies, seeds removed and soaked in hot water until soft
  • 2 stalks lemongrass, white part only, sliced
  • 4 garlic cloves
  • 2 tsp grated ginger
  • 2 tsp ground coriander
  • 1 tsp ground cumin
  • 1 tsp ground fennel seed
  • 1 tsp ground turmeric
  • 1 tsp ground white pepper
  • 1 tsp belacan
  • 5 candlenuts
Curry Ingredients
  • ½ cup neutrally flavoured oil
  • 1.75kg lamb shanks (about 6 shanks), (Alternatively, you could use 1.5kg lamb chops, or 1kg boneless lamb leg, cubed)
  • 400ml coconut cream
  • 400ml water or White Chicken Stock
  • 6 cloves
  • 2 sticks of cinnamon
  • 1 star anise
  • 1 tsp caster sugar
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 3 kaffir lime leaves
  • a handful of curry leaves, picked

Make the curry paste by processing all the paste ingredients together to a fine paste. If you have time, I recommend doubling or tripling the recipe freezing the paste in portions for later use.

Heat the oil in a large casserole dish and fry the paste for 5-10 minutes until it is coloured and fragrant, stirring frequently so that it doesn’t stick to the bottom. Add the lamb shanks to the paste and oil and lightly brown on all sides. Add all the remaining ingredients to the pot, bring to the boil and simmer covered for about 1.5 hours, stirring occasionally. Remove the lid and simmer for a further 1 to 1.5 hours until the meat is very tender, pulls away easily from the bone and the liquid has reduced to a thick gravy.

Cover the curry and allow it to cool on the stove. Refrigerate overnight if possible. Reheat and adjust seasoning before serving. Serve with white rice and sliced cucumbers.

28 thoughts on “Malaysian Lamb Shank Curry

  1. Greetings from Pommy land!

    What a superb dish!! I cooked this yesterday for a few friends and it went down a treat all round. The only complaint was that there wasn’t anymore left.

    Andrew Copley

  2. Hi Adam, I’ve been cooking from your book for a while and really enjoying it, I even got a “exquisite” from my brother, who is a chef, when I made him gong bao chicken!

    I have a question, my wife is allergic to seafood and I guess belacan, the shrimp paste, that are used here and there in your book might be a problem. Is it possible to use anyting else instead? I though about using tomatopaste and a litte salt to get that umami-feeling, but I don’t know.

    Best regards

    • Hi Fredrik,

      I’m glad you (and your brother) liked the Gong Bao Chicken! It’s one of my favourites too.

      As a substitute for belacan there are actually vegetarian belacans available. Depending on where you live, you might be able to find it – or at least be able to order it online.

      Alternatively, miso is a great source of umami for vegetarians and could be substituted for belacan in a dish like this.


      • Thanks Adam, wow you are quick to answer! I live in Stockholm, Sweden and we got some good asian food stores here, count on that I’ll make my wife a good Lamb Curry!

        Cheers and all the best!

    • Yes, Kim, it should be fine in a slow cooker.

      But with a slow cooker you might need to reduce the sauce a little to get it to the right consistency.

  3. Hi Adam.

    After living in KL for over a year, we are missing the flavours terribly! We do not have belacan (is this just shrimp paste?) and candlenuts in South Africa-can you suggest alternatives?

    Also, do you have a good Rendang recipe?

    • Hi Teri,

      Instead of belacan you could try a tablespoon of Thai fish sauce and instead of candlenuts try macadamia nuts or cashews.

      There’s a beef rendang recipe in my book that I use all the time, as well as a bunch of other Malaysian recipes if you’re ever missing KL (or Penang).


  4. The lamb shank curry looks awesome!as I’m a Malaysia
    settled in India and pressure cookers are commonly used to cook meat fast is it ok to use one or 1.5 hours of slow cooking it is a must ? Can’t wait to try it is

    • Hi! You can definitely use a pressure cooker, but you may need to reduce the liquid after you have finished as pressure cookers don’t allow for evaporation. – Adam

  5. Great curry, I cook it all the time for my Burmese family! I also freeze the paste for another time too!……..Also just wondering why you use chicken stock and not beef stock? I find it a little confusing as there is no chicken? Thanks, cassy

    • Hi Cassy,

      A “white” or unflavoured chicken stock is quite neutral in flavour and I use as a way to add depth to a lot of dishes, whether they contain chicken or not. It’s a common thing to do in Chinese cooking.

      Beef stock would be too overpowering for a dish like this as its flavour is quite strong and beefy and this dish doesn’t contain beef.

      If you didn’t want to use chicken stock, I’d suggest substituting it with water.

      I hope that clears it up!


  6. Hi Adam. I was wondering if I use dried kaffir lime and curry leaves do I need the same quantity or will they be stronger or weaker in flavour then fresh ones?

    • Dried leaves will always be slightly weaker in flavour than fresh ones. I’d use a few more if you can spare them.

  7. hi adam,
    i really want to make this for a family dinner this week. just wondering how long i would need to cook the meat in a slow cooker and on what setting (low/high).also do you still recomend browning the meat in the curry paste before putting it in the slow cooker?

  8. Made this for my girlfriend’s parents, who are Singaporean. They declared it to be restaurant quality and insisted we make it for the whole clan for Christmas… your fault Adam

  9. Hi Adam,
    Oh god, this Malaysian lamb shank curry is delicious. I was a bit hesitant to cook it at first with a 2+ year old in the family, given the chilli content in the recipe, but I took a punt and made it anyway. I used a 2cm piece of chilli instead of the 15 suggested in the recipe. Results speak for themselves…my son kept on asking “more that one pweesh mummy”(whilst pointing at the bowl of curry) and he finished off one whole shank! If I let him he would have had more.

    Thank you for sharing such wonderful recipes, they are so well written making them easy to understand and execute.

  10. Pingback: Cracking out my slow cooker … 5 new recipes | housegoeshome

  11. Hi Adam
    I tried to make this recipe as it looks amazing. My curry came out quite runny and did not take on that lovely dark colour that yours does. What should i be careful to make sure i do right to get my curry darker? Which one of your books is this recipe in?

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