One of my favourite things about winter is the fact that the weather is perfectly suited to slow-braising meats. By the time October rolls around, I’m quite literally craving stews and braises and chilis and such. It borders on the obsessive, really.
I think what I really like best is that I get a perfect excuse to spend a cold Sunday afternoon curled up on the couch, while an underappreciated (and therefore cheap) cut of meat simmers away in a flavourful liquid on the stove.
As the hours go by, the house fills with a warm, comforting aroma, and those tough hunks of meat slowly transform into meltingly tender morsels. I like to think it’s nature’s way of making up for the less-than-pleasant aspects of winter.
This dish is one of my favourite braises of all. I like to think of it as a richer, beefier alternative to a classic osso bucco. It has the same slow-cooked, fall-off-the-bone sauciness, and the same flavour base of mirepoix, stock, wine and tomato.
However, everything is just a little bit deeper, a little bit richer and a little bit meatier – besides the fact that I’ve substituted beef for the traditional veal, there’s also fennel instead of celery, red wine instead of white wine, and tomato paste instead of whole tomatoes.
Best of all, beef shanks happen to be quite cheap compared to veal shanks, which means this dish is as easy on the pocketbook as it is on the palate.
To get the best results, choose the thickest, meatiests shanks you can find, with a relatively high meat-to-bone ratio. You’ll need four good-sized shanks for this recipe, or six smallish ones if that’s all you can get.
Depending on your mood, you can either serve the shanks whole atop a bed of soft, creamy polenta, or pull them apart into bite-sized chunks to make a a hearty sauce to be tossed with cooked pasta or spooned onto plain white rice. The choice is yours. Whatever you do, though, don’t skip the lemony gremolata… it provides a much-needed fresh counterpoint to all that beefy richness.
This recipe gives you all the deliciousness of osso bucco, but for a fraction of the price, simply by swapping out cheaper beef shanks for veal.
- 2 lbs cross-cut beef shanks
- Salt and pepper
- 2 tbsp flour
- 2 tbsp olive oil
- 1 cup diced carrot
- 1 cup diced fennel
- 1 cup diced onion
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- 2 tbsp tomato paste
- 1 cup dry red wine
- 2 cups beef stock
- 1 bay leaf
- 1/4 cup finely chopped parsley
- 1 clove garlic, finely minced
- Zest of 1 lemon
- 1/2 tsp salt
- Pat the beef shanks dry with paper towel. Season the shanks with a generous amount of salt and pepper, then dust with flour. Tie kitchen twine around each of the shanks to ensure they hold together during cooking.
- In a large heavy-bottomed Dutch oven, heat the oil over medium-high heat. Add the shanks and sear on both sides until well browned. Remove from pot and set aside.
- Add carrot, fennel, onion and garlic to the pot. Cook, stirring frequently, for about 5 minutes or until onion is translucent and soft. Stir in tomato paste, and continue cooking for 1 minute. Stir in wine, gently scraping the pot to release any browned bits clinging to the bottom. Nestle the reserved shanks and bay leaf into the vegetables, and pour beef stock overtop.
- Bring the mixture to a boil, then reduce heat to low. Simmer, covered, for about 2 hours, or until the shanks are tender and falling off the bone. Check periodically to make sure the shanks are covered 3/4 of the way up with braising liquid, topping up with water if the liquid level gets too low.
- Meanwhile, prepare the gremolata by combining all the ingredients in a small bowl. Cover and refrigerate until ready to use.
- Once shanks are ready, remove and transfer to a serving platter, leaving the braising liquid in the pot. Snip off kitchen twine from the shanks, and discard.
- Increase the heat to medium-high, and bring the braising liquid to a boil. Cook, stirring frequently, for about 5 minutes or until reduced to a thick, glossy sauce. Discard the bay leaves. Taste to check the seasoning, and adjust as needed with salt and pepper.
- Serve shanks with the reduced braising liquid and a sprinkling of gremolata.
- Category: Main