This beef shanks curry or nalli nihari, is a classic Pakistani curry dish, that is among the most popular and delicious curry dishes in the world. It features mouth-watering chunks of beef in a spicy, gravy-like sauce that is slow-cooked for hours.
The word ‘nalli’ means marrow or hollow bones which of course refers to the hollow bone found in the center of the shank. The word ‘nihar’ apparently is Arabic in origin and means ‘morning or day’ because this is a dish slow-cooked overnight and eaten in the morning.
I’ve always called this beef shank curry because that’s what we called it at home. It was only a few years ago I realized this dish has an official name. In fact, I laughed when a Pakistani friend said that this traditional dish is believed to have a magical ability to cure hangovers.
I often prefer to buy short ribs and veal shanks because I am a huge fan of slow-cooked meats, especially curries. The slow cooker or braising in the oven makes the meat fork tender and all the spices are so beautifully soaked into it.
I’ve never eaten this in the morning! it’s only lunch or dinner in our home!
Ingredients and substitutes
- Meat – this curry needs bones!! It needs that marrow which is why meat with bones is the right way to go. You can also use short ribs but that won’t have enough meat on the bones as a shank does.
- Onions – my mom used classic brown onions but my personal favorite is red Spanish onions. These become sweet when they cook down and caramelized.
- Garlic ginger – these have got to be fresh and finely minced or grated if not pasted. You want these to dissolve into the sauce.
- Spices – Most supermarkets called a box of a spice mix called nihari or nalli nihari. You can use that ready-to-use spice mix. But, I always make it at home, and as you can see the spices are easy to find and already in my pantry
- Flour – the original recipe calls for flour to be added to the curry but I prefer to coat the meat in flour before searing. This adds more flavor.
There are a few ways to cook this curry depending on your time on hand or preferred methods. Below I have given you a few ways to cook it from a stovetop, oven, slow cooker, and even instant pot. Having said that I usually never use the instant pot. My favorite is either the stovetop or slow cooker.
The only difference when using the slow cooker is that I keep the shanks whole so they do not disintegrate into small pieces by the end of cooking.
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- 1 kg Shanks beef or veal
- 4 tbsp Cooking oil
- 2 large Onions sliced
- 6 – 9 large Garlic cloves finely minced
- 3-inch piece Fresh ginger grated
- 1 tsp Salt
- ½ tsp Black pepper
- 1 tbsp Coriander powder
- ½ tsp Cayenne pepper
- 4 tbsp Flour whole wheat or all-purpose
- 2 large Bay leaves
- ¼ cups Cilantro chopped coriander leaves
- 2 tbsp Lemon juice
Nihari spice mix
- 1 tsp Cumin powder
- 1 tsp Fennel powder
- 1 tsp Ground ginger
- ½ tsp Cardamom powder
- ½ tsp Ground cloves
- ½ tsp Ground cinnamon
- ½ tsp Black pepper
- ¼ tsp Nutmeg freshly grated
- Spice mix – In a small bowl combine all the spices for the spice mix and set aside.1 tsp Cumin powder, 1 tsp Fennel powder, 1 tsp Ground ginger, ½ tsp Cardamom powder, ½ tsp Ground cloves, ½ tsp Ground cinnamon, ½ tsp Black pepper, ¼ tsp Nutmeg
- Shanks – Cut each shank into 3 to 4 pieces (3-inch each). Pat them dry and season with salt and pepper. Sprinkle some coriander powder and cayenne pepper over them. Then coat each piece in flour. Dust off excess flour1 kg Shanks, 1 tsp Salt, ½ tsp Black pepper, 1 tbsp Coriander powder, ½ tsp Cayenne pepper, 4 tbsp Flour
- Sear- In a large pot over medium-high heat, add 2 tbsp oil. Add the shank pieces and cook on all sides for 3 to 4 minutes. Remove from the pan and set aside. Pro tip – searing the meat will add more flavor and the flour will help thicken the sauce later.
- Saute – Reduce the heat to medium. To the same pan, add the remaining oil and ghee. Saute the onions until almost caramelized or lightly golden. Add the minced garlic, grated ginger, and bay leaves. Saute another minute or two.4 tbsp Cooking oil, 2 large Onions, 6 – 9 large Garlic cloves, 3-inch piece Fresh ginger, 2 large Bay leaves
- Spice mix – Next, add the spice mix with 1/2 cup water. Saute until all the water has evaporated and is fragrant. Pro tip- spices can burn easily so keep the heat to medium or low making sure to add water as necessary.
- Shanks – Return the shanks to the pan and add the lemon juice. Season with salt and pepper. Then, add 3 cups of water and bring to a boil. Cover the pan making sure you have a tight seal Pro tip – I like to use aluminum foil before the lid to ensure all the steam stays in the pot.2 tbsp Lemon juice
- Stovetop – Reduce the heat to a low simmer. Cook, stirring every 20 to 30 minutes until the meat is fork tender – this should take about 3 to 4 hours.
- Oven – Preheat the oven to 150C/ 300F/ Gas Mark 2. Transfer the covered pan to the oven and leave to braise for 5 to 6 hours or until fork tender. Make sure to check every 2 hours and if necessary add more water.
- Slow cooker – Transfer everything to the slow cooker pot. Close the lid and cook on low for 6 to 8 hours.
- Garnish – When done, taste and adjust the seasoning. Sprinkle some freshly chopped cilantro leaves.¼ cups Cilantro
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