This meal is easy, comforting, and almost 100% local! We’ve teamed up with The Piggery in Ithaca to offer you some great recipes for budget cuts in the New Year. We started out with Black-eyed Peas and Ham Hock – don’t limit these to New Year’s Day. Now we’re moving on to beef shanks, one of my favorites for braising. A few years ago short ribs (another budget cut) were all the rage. They’re cheap, and a slow braise yields tender, flavorful meat. Well, beef shanks yield just as tasty results without the extra layers of fat to sift through. They are my absolute winter favorite! Clocking in at just $6/lb, you’ve got nothing to lose if you give them a try.
Beef shanks take several hours to cook in a low oven or better yet, a slow cooker. These meaty cuts are seared a deep, golden brown and then braised with a rich balsamic and beef stock mixture. Balsamic is a great choice for braising, it yields a sweet/sour flavor I love. This recipe is adapted from a slow-cooker beef roast recipe, similar technique just a different cut.
When there’s about 30 minutes left on your timer (or after the meat’s been in the slow cooker all day), make the polenta. This is a simple approach, lightly sauté the leeks and then simmer the polenta on the stove top. Finish it with cheddar and an extra smidge of butter.
What I love about beef shanks is when they’re ready, just transfer to a cutting board, pull out the bones, and gently chop the meat. It should shred apart very easily, and you can pull out any of the big hunks of fat/connective tissues. Stir in as much of the braising liquid as you like to season the meat. Serve in big bowls with a salad or as is!
Balsamic Braised Beef Shanks with Cheddar Leek Polenta
2 beef shanks (3-4 lbs total)
1 cup beef broth
½ cup balsamic vinegar
2 tablespoons tamari or shoyu soy sauce
1 tablespoon honey
½ teaspoon red pepper flakes
4 cloves garlic, chopped
oil for browning the meat
salt and pepper
Preheat oven to 325 F
Brown the meat. Generously season the shanks with salt and pepper on both sides. Heat a thin layer of oil in an oven proof dutch oven or pan you can seal with foil for braising. Brown the meat over medium high heat 3-4 minutes per side. Transfer the meat to a plate, turn off the heat and let the pot cool a bit.
Mix the remaining ingredients in a measuring cup. When the pot is still warm, but not piping hot pour in the liquid and stir to scrape any bits from the bottom. Place the shanks in the pan, cover with lid, and bake for 2 hours. The meat should easily shred with a fork. Let cool and transfer to a cutting board. Remove the bones and coarsely chop the meat. Transfer to a bowl and stir in braising liquid to taste. Serve warm with polenta.
*To cook in a slow cooker or crock pot, brown the meat, then put all the ingredients in the cooker. Cook on high for 3-4 hours or high for 7-8.
*beef recipe adapted from Add a Pinch
Cheddar Leek Polenta
1 cup polenta
4 cups water
1.5 tablespoons butter
1 cup grated white cheddar
salt and pepper
Chop the leeks. Remove the bottom of the leeks and the top dark green parts. Discard. Slice the remaining portion in half, then hold under running water to rinse in between the layers. Pat the leek halves dry and thinly slice each half.
Sauté the leeks. Heat 1 tablespoon of the butter over medium heat. Add the leeks and cook for about 4 minutes, stirring frequently. Leeks should be bright green and softened. Add the water to the pan and raise the salt to bring to a boil.
Make the polenta. Whisk in the polenta and reduce the heat to a low simmer. Cook, stirring frequently until the polenta is very thick and creamy, about 20 minutes. Remove from heat and stir in the remaining butter and grated cheese. Add salt and pepper to taste.