I have many friends who are vegetarian or pescatarian, and I respect their views. There have been phases in my life where I haven’t eaten meat. I thought that a non-meat diet was healthier and I worried about the future of the planet. My problem is that I enjoy the taste of meat, and I cannot imagine a permanent future without smoked back bacon. Over time, however, for health and planetary reasons, I have cut down the amount of red meat that I eat, and I prefer to eat organic meat, if possible.
There was a time not so long ago when every restaurant in London had lamb shanks on the menu – slowly cooked meat that fell from the bone, with a gravy enriched by the marrow. They were almost always delicious, but I never cooked them at home. However, I recently saw beef shanks for sale in Whole Foods. Now obviously cattle have much larger feet than sheep and so the shanks had been sawn into slices. They were very reasonably priced and so I bought three. I cooked them last Sunday, and Dad and I differ about our views as to how successful they were. We both enjoyed eating them, but I felt that they were a lot of effort for the taste; Dad felt that though they were reasonably priced, boneless short ribs of beef are the same price and again much less effort to prepare. We are undecided as to whether we would make them again, because we were hampered by not having a large enough pan. When we moved here, we only bought what we thought we would need to prepare food for the two of us and occasional visitors. Hence we simply don’t have very large casseroles. Beef shanks are big, and I struggled to fit them into my Le Creuset skillet. Anyway, if you feel like doing something different, make sure that you start the process 24 hours beforehand and get your timing right! I was inspired by a recipe by Michael Mina which I found online.
Braised Beef Shanks
- A bottle of rich red wine – I used a Bordeaux because I wanted a really big red, and because we had a bottle in the apartment
- 3 beef shanks
- 4 cloves of Elephant Garlic, crushed – 8-10 cloves of ordinary garlic
- 2 celery stick, sliced
- 2 carrots, peeled and sliced
- 1 medium onion, sliced
- 3 sprigs of rosemary
- 5 bay leaves – I used some dried bay leaves which I bought in the Caribbean. They have a slightly aniseed flavour and are much smaller than usual. I used them because I didn’t have any others. I would use two ordinary bay leaves
- 2 tbsps tomato paste
- Beef stock
- Salt and pepper
Put all the ingredients except for the tomato, paste oil and stock into a large bowl. Mix well, cover and put in the fridge for 24 hours.
Pre-heat the oven to 150 C / 300 F.
Remove the bowl from the fridge and remove the shanks. Pat them dry, and season generously with salt and pepper. Strain the liquid and leave the vegetables in the colander or sieve so that as much liquid comes from them as possible.
Heat half the oil and brown the shanks for about 10 minutes on either side. Put into a lidded casserole/skillet.
Heat the remainder of the oil and soften the vegetables. Do not allow to brown. Add the tomato paste and cook for a further two mins. Put the vegetables on top of the beef shanks.
Pour the wine from the marinade on top, and add as much beef stock as you have room for (this was my problem). Bring to the boil. Put on the lid, and put into the oven.
Cook for 2.5 hours. Remove the lid and continue to cook for a further 30 mins.
This is the part that I honestly don’t think was worth it. If I cook beef shanks again, I will simply remove the shanks to heated dish, and then bring the remaining liquid to the boil and reduce to about half. Skim off the fat (of which there is a lot). I would have preferred to use a richer beef stock, like the Knorr Stock Pots I mentioned a couple of recipes ago.
What the recipe said to do was to put the liquid through a sieve, pushing through as many of the vegetables as you can. Bring to the boil and reduce by half. Skim off the fat. Adjust the seasoning if necessary. Serve.
I felt that the dish was very brown and I would have preferred some colour. We served them with roast Brussels Sprouts (toss the Brussels Sprouts in salt and olive oil – put into a pan and then roast – simple and so tasty) but the effect was still a bit dull for me.