Let’s cut to the meat of this story–whole sectional cuts of beef are irresistible to me. They harken back to pioneer days and more rustic farm-style butchering techniques. But beef shanks are rarely seen whole in the supermarket. My guess is that retailers fear that timid customers will panic and run screaming from the meat counter at the site of such a gargantuan chunk of steer. But, if you really analyze it, the meat off of a whole shank portion of beef is no bigger than most pot roast cuts with one exception–the bone. With my Braised Beef Shanks recipe, I aim to reintroduce you to this tasty cut.
It is true that the protruding shank bone is a gasp-inducing and somewhat scary sight for most shoppers unaccustomed to a butcher’s back room. In addition, it goes without saying that most folks don’t want to pay the added price-per-pound cost of the bones. That’s why shanks are usually portioned into the more manageable 2-inch-thick, osso bucco-type cut. Not for me. I’ll take the leg of the beast every time.
Make friends with your local butcher and he can find this cut for your next Braised Beef Shanks recipe. Right here in South Louisiana, my go-to source for any custom cuts is Eunice Superette in Eunice. Over fifty years ago, Jerome Moore opened up the “Superette” as it is now known. What was a typical Cajun prairie grocery store is now the state’s largest meat processing facility. Each morning, trailers full of livestock line up in the rear of the store destined for the “kill floor” and on to slaughter, processing and shipping. In the front retail center your senses are overwhelmed with the flavors and aromas of a tamer sort–smoked sausage, fresh boudin, and an endless array of meats. It is a meat lover’s nirvana. Calling ahead (get the contact info on the Faces and Places page) for a custom order is appropriate and a good idea for a quick in and out pick-up for the beef for your Braised Beef Shanks.
The point of roasting a whole shank is twofold: The bone imparts enormous flavor, and the slow braise breaks down the collagen inside. The shank is the weight-bearing leg portion of the cow that is all muscle and very little fat. An 8-hour cooking time in flavorful braising liquids reduces the connective tissue into sticky, sweet meat that is almost impossible from leaner, quickly grilled cuts, and the luscious marrow is a hidden treat inside the bones.
For my Braised Beef Shanks recipe, I braise my shanks in two stages. The day before, I slow cook them in beer and refrigerate them in the braising liquid overnight. The day I plan to serve my Braised Beef Shanks, I put them on in the morning and add a bottle of red wine to the liquid along with chicken broth. Low and slow is the only way to reduce the sinewy tissue clinging to the bone. After a few hours, the meat is fork-tender and gelatinous–literally falling off the bone. And the long shank is exposed for a most dramatic presentation. Adding a bit of Port wine to the reduced liquid creates a sauce that is rich and beefy.
Taking a cue from the gaucho culture of Argentina, I like to serve these magnificent Braised Beef Shanks with a chimichurri-like pesto sauce. Instead of typical basil pesto, I use parsley as my dominant herb along with rosemary and garlic. Pecans add a bit of crunch and a grated Mexican cotija is a salty replacement for the typical Parmesan. With just the right balance of extra virgin olive oil, I think you will enjoy the fresh change of this new pesto version.
- 3 cups firmly-packed flat-leaf parsley
- 2 garlic cloves, peeled
- ½ cup toasted pecans
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt
- 1 cup extra virgin olive oil
- 2 tablespoons freshly grated Mexican cotija cheese or Parmesan
- 2 large (4-pound) bone-in beef shanks
- Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
- 2 (12-ounce) bottles beer
- 4 cups chicken stock
- 2 whole onions, peeled and quartered
- 4 large carrots, peeled and ends removed
- 2 whole heads garlic
- 4 ribs of celery
- 6 sprigs fresh rosemary, divided
- 2 bay leaves
- 1 (750ml) bottle dry red wine
- ½ cup Port wine
- 4 tablespoons cornstarch
- 4 tablespoons cold water
- 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
- In the container of a blender, add the parsley, garlic, pecans, salt, and cheese. Slowly drizzle the oil and turn the blender to the lowest speed. Gradually increase the speed and continue adding oil just until the ingredients are pulverized, but before it becomes a paste. Stop the blender and stir in the cheese. Using a rubber spatula, remove the pesto to a bowl, cover and chill.
- Preheat the oven to 350ºF.
- Sprinkle the beef shanks with salt and pepper, making sure to coat all sides. In a large cast-iron dutch oven with a heavy lid, add the shanks. Pour in the beer and 2 cups of the chicken stock, and place all of the vegetables in the pot. Add 4 rosemary sprigs and the bay leaves. Place in the oven for 4 hours, and turn the meat over after 2 hours.
- Once the meat has cooked the full 4 hours, remove from the oven and let cool to room temperature. Move the shanks and the liquid to the refrigerator overnight.
- The next day, preheat the oven to 350ºF. Remove the meat and liquids from the refrigerator, and skim the fat from the top of the liquids and discard. Remove the vegetables and herbs. Add the red wine and additional 2 cups of chicken stock. Place the meat and liquid back into the oven for 4 hours, turning the meat once at the half-way point. Remove from the oven and check for doneness. The meat should be fork tender but still clinging to the bone. If needed, return to the oven for additional cooking.
- Remove the meat from the oven and drain off all the braising liquid into a saucepan. Wrap the meat in foil and keep warm.
- Over high heat, bring the liquids to a boil and add the Port wine. Turn down the heat to a simmer and cook the liquids until it reduces by half. Taste the sauce and add salt and pepper if necessary.
- Make a slurry by combining the cornstarch and water in a small bowl. Stir until dissolved and then add to the sauce. Turn the heat to high and let it come to a boil. Reduce to a simmer and stir until the sauce thickens to coat the back of a spoon. Add butter and stir until dissolved into the sauce. Remove from the heat and keep warm until serving.
- For serving, bring the meat to the table in the pan and pour over the sauce. Garnish with the remaining rosemary sprigs and spoon over some of the pesto. Serve portions of the meat with roasted carrots and mashed potatoes along with a good bottle of red wine. Make sure to spoon the marrow from the bones onto slices of crusty French bread along with a squeeze of the roasted garlic.
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