Shanks are making a comeback. This is a Tuscan style braised peppered beef shank recipe. Due to its ease of preparation and low cost to acquire, many restaurants have veal or lamb shanks on their menus. This is the perfect type of comforting dish to prepare at home and serve.
Beef shanks are the grown up versions of veal shanks. Here in the US, outside of ethnic communities, these older shank cuts do not receive anywhere near the affection and attention that veal/lamb shanks receive. Click here for a discussion of why that may be. While beef shanks are much more tough & sinewy pieces of meat, after a slow braise these cuts of meat maintain more of their body/shape and also pack a much more gamey & beefy taste than veal.
What is a beef shank?
The shank is the lower part of the leg (shin) of the cow. Since it is a highly used part of the cow’s body, the meat is mostly lean muscle and low in fat. I am a firm believer that the best tasting parts of any animals are those that had to work for a living.
In its natural state, the beef shank is one heck of an incredibly tough piece of meat. This cut normally consists of a bone in the middle, which is surrounded by lower leg meat. In the middle of this bone is precious bone marrow, which is key for flavor. It is only after a nice low braise do these beef shanks transfigure into something not only edible, but delicious. The flavors of the braising liquid are sucked up by the beef shank and the sinew & collagen melt away.
Recipe for Tuscan style braised peppered beef shanks, pepposo notturno
Bill Buford’s book, Heat, is the inspiration for trying to prepare this dish. Buford’s dish is a braised beef shank in Chianti wine and lots of cracked black pepper. It is supposed to be cooked over night, Pepposo Notturno meaning pepper by the night. All in all, it is an easy and simply dish, and if done properly with good wine and beef product, it is awesome. All this dish requires is time and I would not recommend cooking it overnight as the book suggests.
To get started, trim the beef shank meat off the bone. Save the bones though, as a couple of them will be used for the braise. Cut the shank meat into decent sized cubes and season with salt & pepper. In a hot braising pot, pour in olive oil and sear the cubes of shank meat.
After the meat has been browned, throw in slices of garlic. Once the garlic is fragrant, pour in the Chianti wine. Make sure to use a decent type, as it makes a huge difference on the final outcome. General rule for Chianti’s: make sure it is Classica Riserva, at least 5 years old, and from an odd number year (like 1999, 2001, etc). Pour in two bottles worth. Then grind in a lot of fresh black pepper and pop into the braising liquid a couple of the shank bones.
Throw this into an oven on low heat, like 250 degrees, and let it braise for at least 3 hours. Check on it constantly and pull out once meat is at a soft consistency but not overcooked and dry. This can be saved for another day or enjoyed on the spot once cooled as is or served over polenta/pasta/rice/risotto. Enjoy your Tuscan style braised peppered beef shanks aka pepposo notturno.