Rainy day? Fall in the air? Beef shanks in the fridge? Last night’s dinner hit that trifecta and went on to a very satisfying finish. Is that good enough, or did it have to win the race to merit being featured here? Shel and I debated that point: although this isn’t the pinnacle of perfection, the gosh-darndest best thing you ever had on your fork, the dish that will win me eternal fame and fortune, I have to say that it’s really, really good. It’s beefy, since the shin, or shank, is one of the most flavorful bits of beef. It’s silky, because the leeks and marrow that are braised with the beef in a heady mixture of wine and cognac are all puréed into an unctuous sauce. It’s just what it ought to be, a fancy trick done with an inexpensive cut, and you’ll save on heating your kitchen too as this dish braises all afternoon, warming the house and filling it with appetizing aromas before you settle down to mmmmm your way through dinner. Try it and see if you don’t.
Silky Shin Stew
2 T butter
2 T olive oil
3 1/2 lbs beef shanks, crosscut
3 medium leeks
1 ripe tomato
3 cups red wine (I used a Cheverny, you don’t want too much fruit or tannin)
1/4 cup cognac
1 bay leaf
1 tsp thyme
salt and pepper to taste
Salt and pepper the meat generously, using more pepper than you might think is prudent. Melt the butter in the oil in a heavy Dutch oven with a tight-fitting lid. Brown the beef thoroughly, in two batches. When well browned, remove the beef to a plate and set aside.
Preheat the oven to 225°. Wash and thinly slice the white and light green portions of the leeks. Dice the tomato. Add the leeks to the Dutch oven and stir until they are lightly golden. Add the diced tomato and stir again. Add the wine and cognac, then the bay leaf and thyme and stir to combine. Return the beef to the pan, all in one layer, and spoon a bit of the leek and wine mixture over the meat. The liquid will only come about halfway up the side of the meat. Cover the pan tightly.
Set in the oven and let braise for about 4 hours, until the meat falls off the bone and is fork-tender. If you have any doubts about the tightness of your lid, check halfway through to be sure there’s still enough liquid in the pan, if not, add a bit more wine.
When the beef is tender, remove pot from the oven and carefully remove the hot beef from the pot and set it on a plate, leaving the sauce in the pot. With a knife, poke out the marrow from the bones and return it to the pan. Remove the bay leaf. With an immersion blender, purée the sauce until creamy and smooth. If it’s not as thick as you’d like it to be, set it to boil for 5-10 minutes until it reduces.
Pick the beef clean of any bits of connective tissue that have not dissolved during the braising, then return the beef to the sauce. Warm it all together, and add a fresh grinding of pepper, as well as additional salt as necessary. For non low-carbers, serve over polenta or mashed potatoes to soak up the delicious sauce. Low-carbers, be sure to have a spoon handy, you’ll want to lap up the sauce all by itself, and you should.