I'm jumping the gun. Like, so high. I'm catapulting over the gun, 1km skyward through the clouds with a nice soft landing in a pillow factory. This week we had about 5 days over 20ºC. A couple around 25ºC. It was weather for tacos, grilled fish and salad, maybe a gelati. And like the topsy-turvy fool that I am, I went an bought lamb shanks.
It was around the time I had the sniffles, and just felt like some comforting. Comfort food for me does not come in the form of mac and cheese or scalloped potatoes or other such stodge (that, let's be serious, I'd love any other day of the week). Nope, when I'm feeling poorly, it's spicy food all the way.
Side bar: did you know what my all time favourite pasta is? Bucatini amatriciana. And it's not because of the name (mostly). It's a spicy tomato based sauce with porky bits of guanciale (that's cured pork cheek, fellas), the holey spaghetti known as bucatini and grated pecorino on top. BUT. It's all about the spice for me. In fact, I'm not even sure the spice is authentic. I know for sure it's not authentic the way I make it: with a big heaping spoon of sambal oelek (basically pure, unadulterated chilli).
But I digress. Today we are talking curry (but I am kind of salivating over pasta now). Straight up: this takes hours. But it's the kind of recipe that heats up your kitchen on a cold winter's day, fogging up the windows and torturing everyone for hours while the shanks roast. Ain't nothing wrong with that.
And the paste is worth making too. Yes, you'll have half used packets of spices in your pantry for months - maybe years. My Mum has her Mum's spices - that makes them around 100 years old. It's like that old store-breakages sign: lovely to look at, delightful to hold, if you contemplate using them, consider them mould.
Rather than thinking about how many leftover bits and bobs you'll have after making this paste, consider them the ingredients to your next great dish. Lemongrass? Oh wow, try the super fragrant lemongrass chicken. Ginger can go in any stirfry to make you feel just that little bit more virtuous. And coriander goes in Mexican, Indian, Thai, Malaysian, (and on and on).
But you don't need convincing, do you? Because as you'd expect in this schizophrenic old town, Melbourne is back to being miserable and grey. Perfect for dabbling in a little curry-making. It's those kind of antics that will help you will brownie points with your loved ones. Brownie points easily traded in for washing the mountain of dishes you will surely mess up in making this dish. But it will be worth it. Even if the sun is shining outside.
Adapted from David Thompson's recipe
3 lamb shanks
6 dried long red chillies
1 tbsp coriander seeds
1 tsp cumin seeds
1 tsp fennel seeds
1 tsp white peppercorns
1/2 tsp blade mace
3 garlic cloves
1 tbsp ginger
10cm piece lemongrass
2 coriander roots
1 tsp tumeric
2 cups coconut cream
1 tbsp palm sugar
4 tbsp fish sauce
3 cups chicken stock or water
1 cup tomato puree
2 cups pumpkin, chopped in large dice
1 cup frozen peas
juice of 1 lime
coriander leaves, to serve
3 cups steamed basmati rice, to serve
Preheat over to 180ºC. Slice the lamb shanks a couple of times close to the thinner end (this will help it stop curling up while cooking). Rub with olive oil and season. Roast for around 2 hours or until deep golden brown in colour.
To make the curry paste, soak the dried chillies in hot water for 10 minutes. Peel and roughly chop the shallots, garlic and ginger. Heat the spices over a low heat until fragrant. Grind in a mortar and pestle until a fine powder forms. Add the shallots and salt and pound until the shallots have formed a paste. Repeat with the garlic, ginger, lemongrass, chillies and coriander roots, adding one ingredient at a time. Stir through the tumeric.
Heat the coconut cream in a large, heavy bottomed pot. Add the curry paste and cook, stirring occasionally, for around 5 minutes or until fragrant. Add the palm sugar and fish sauce and cook for around 2 minutes. Add the roasted lamb shanks and the stock. Bring to the boil again.
Add the tomato puree and pumpkin. Cook, covered, for around 10 minutes or until the pumpkin is tender. Add the peas and cook for a further 2 minutes.
To serve, each person should receive one lamb shank with plenty of curry sauce and vegetables, 1 cup of rice, coriander leaves and a squeeze of lime juice.