The lamb shank is a cut of meat from the leg, usually the bottom portion. This section of meat is very tender when taken from a lamb, but can become gamey and tough as the animal matures. Lean and flavorful, the lamb shank is used in a number of traditional curry dishes, including dhansak, pasanda, rogan josh, and saag gosht. All of these types of lamb shank curry use different spices and ingredients to highlight the lamb.
The Parsee word dhansak doesn’t refer to lamb at all. In fact, it means rice and vegetables, which always accompany this lamb shank curry, but on the side. The main part of the dish is usually a bed of spicy and sweet pureed lentils with fried or roasted lamb shank on top. Red curry gives the lentils their spice, while the sweetness may be from either sugar or pineapple. Some versions of this lamb shank curry include lemon juice to create a sweet-and-sour flavor with a spicy twist.
Pasanda lamb shank curry offers a lot of flavor without delivering much spiciness. Thin pieces of lamb shank are marinated in a mixture of milk, cinnamon, cardamom, and black pepper. The chef then fries them in clarified butter with thick yogurt or cream and sometimes tomatoes. The tomatoes may be diced or in the form of a sauce. Flat, fried naan bread usually completes this kind of curry. Almonds or cashews may be simmered with the dish or used as a garnish on top.
The words rogan josh literally mean oil and hot or spicy in Persian, and describe this kind of lamb shank curry perfectly. Originating in Kashmir, the spiciness comes from large handfuls of seeded Kashmiri chili peppers. Lamb shank strips are seared in hot oil and then cooked together with the peppers, saffron, and sometimes onions, garlic, and tomatoes. A wide variety of Indian spices also go into this lamb shank curry, varying depending on the chef and the region in which the dish is prepared.
Saag gosht translates to tender green leaves with lamb in English. It is a traditionally very spicy lamb shank curry made with tomatoes and wilted spinach leaves as the base. Chefs usually render the lamb shank pieces in a pan first, then set them aside. Tomatoes, shallots, garlic, ginger, coriander, and turmeric may all go into the pan next to simmer until warm. The spinach goes in last, to prevent it from becoming mushy, along with the previously cooked lamb shank pieces.