Braised Beef Shanks in Tarragon & Wine
Yesterday, I went to my favorite butcher shop, Ream's Meat Market in Elburn, IL, on my way to the stable. This super busy market has award winning sausages, award winning meat snack sticks, and a full butcher shop. This is the kind of place you can talk "meat" with the people behind the counter.
It's also the kind of place you can blow your grocery budget in an afternoon, if you aren't careful. So unless I'm ordering something special, I'll gravitate to what is on sale. Yesterday, they had these beauties: grass-fed beef shanks!
Just the thing for a cold-weather day with a high of only 14 degrees.
The shank is the upper part of the cow's leg. These for are from the front legs. They tend to be a little smaller, cook a little quicker and since I'm just cooking for the two of us, the perfect size for a dinner and lunch leftovers. Shanks are full of fat, connective tissue, and that lovely marrow in the center of the bone. Because of this, you need to cook these low and slow. Perfect for a Sunday afternoon.
Beef Shanks Braised in Red Wine and Tarragon
4 small beef shanks, about 2 pounds
2 TBS of fat (this can be beef fat, lard, bacon grease, or even olive oil in a pinch)
1 Medium onion, chopped
3 Cloves garlic, coarsely chopped
2 Cups red wine (remember - this should be something you would drink)
1-2 Cups beef stock, preferably homemade
1 small bunch fresh tarragon
Salt and pepper
Pre-heat your oven to 300 degrees.
Liberally salt and pepper both sides of the shanks. Using an oven-proof braiser with a lid, like the one I use, put 1 TBS of fat into the braiser and raise the heat to medium-high. When hot, put the seasoned shanks into the pan to sear. You want to get a tasty browned color on each side. Don't over-crowd them - you don't want them to steam. Remove them from the pan and let them rest on a plate.
Add the rest of the fat into the pan, and add your onions and a little salt. Stir occasionally until they are translucent, 5-10 min. Add garlic and stir until fragrant (don't brown, or it will become bitter.)
Next, deglaze the pan with the wine. I chose this wine that came from my wine club this week. Its a Spanish red with big flavor. I would normally use a bold Italian, but I thought this would go well with the tarragon. Add the shanks back into the pan with any drippings on the plate.
Add beef stock until the liquid is about three-quarters up the sides of the shanks. It took about a cup and and half in my pan. Add in the tarragon bunch, and put the lid on.
Put the braiser with lid into the center of your 300 degree oven. Start checking at about 2 hours, but the length of time will vary on the size and thickness of the shanks. These were about 2 inches thick, and took just a little over 2 hours. You know they are ready when the tough tissues are buttery, the meat is beautifully browned, the marrow is melting and the liquid is thick.
Remove from the oven, and let them rest about 5-10 minutes while you prepare any veggies. I made roasted broccoli rabe (olive oil, salt, pepper, 425 degree oven for 12 minutes and lightly dressed with champagne vinegar). I wanted something fresh with a little bitter to pare with the very rich meat.
Plate, and serve with homemade crusty bread. (You'll need something to scoop out that marrow with!)
You can spoon some of the "sauce" left in the pan over the shank, but be sure to use some of the beef fat in the pan on your bread instead of butter. It has a rich, silky feel that butter could never come close to!
After we were done eating, and the pan cooled slightly, I strained the fat into a small container, and stored it in the refrigerator for a later use (don't waste this stuff - it is SO good!)
Variations: This recipe is really versatile. Switch out wine with another liquid (fortified wine, ale, cider) and switch the herbs (rosemary and garlic, parsley/thyme/sage). You can even use Italian herbs and add tomato paste after removing the beef. This will make a great sauce for a first course of pasta, followed by the meat course (just like in Italy)!