It's What's For Dinner Tonight
Now that we are settled into the cold winter months, I can’t help but dig up memories of my mother’s comfort cooking. Growing up in Buffalo, New York, the short walk from the school bus to the door would instantly send chills down my spine. Nothing soothed me more than the warmth of the house and the delicious aroma of whatever she had simmering on the stove or in the slow cooker. One that particularly comes to mind is the iconic beef shank.
Now that the street tacos and hamburgers that are perfect for the warmer weather seasons are in hibernation, it’s time to make way for the hearty, filling meals that warm both our souls and our bellies. While there are many great meat options to use in preparation for the low temperatures of winter, thanks to Mom’s delicious cooking from my childhood, my choice is the aforementioned beef shank. Beef shank is a lean cut that comes from the leg portion of the animal. The attribute of this cut is a direct result of what cows do all day – stand, walk, graze, and walk some more. With a longer cooking technique to break down the meat and draw out the natural marrow, the shank becomes a celebrated entrée.
One way to cook beef shanks is in the oven. First, start by heating a large pot on the range to 350 degrees on medium heat. Season the shanks on both sides. Add a little EVOO to the pot and sear when up to temp. Using tongs, hold the shank and drag it across the bottom of the pot. Use the sizzle from the pot as your cheering section! Sear both sides of the shanks to create the fond at the bottom of the pot. The term fond refers to the caramelization left in the bottom of a pan after you’ve browned meat or vegetables. Heat changes proteins and carbohydrates in ways that make them fall apart and regroup into browned, flavorful bits.
Once you have your sear, remove the shanks and add your vegetables of choice, garlic, and a seasoning mixture of garlic, onion, black pepper, salt, white pepper, and celery salt to the bottom of the pot. Carrots, onions, and celery are a great set to match with the shanks. Allow the vegetables to soften and engage with the fond, then coat the veggies with tomato paste, helping them to caramelize. Continue to stir the vegetables in with the paste.
The next step is to deglaze with about a half bottle of red wine. After the wine is added, place the shanks back into the pot side by side; the acidity of the wine will assist in their breakdown. Lastly, add bay leaves to propel bold flavors into your meal.
Place a lid slightly ajar for evaporation, which will allow for a nice finishing sauce extracted from the bottom of the pot, then insert into your oven, pre-heated to 325 degrees. Cook for three hours. Once ready to come out, the shanks should be incredibly tender and fall right off the bone. For a heartier, soulful dinner, place some of the meat from the shank atop mashed potatoes, surround with some vegetables, and ladle some sauce from the pot atop it all.
I’d be hard-pressed in finding a better meal to help transport me to those cold winters in Buffalo, and the smell, taste, and love shared at the family table.
You can find this, and more recipes, on our YouTube Channel – The Butcher’s Market.
General manager of The Butcher's Market – Heritage.