Sunday, February 20, 2011

Sweet and Savory Balsamic-Braised Beef Shanks

Another great winter braise to make on the weekend. If you don't have beef shanks, this would also work well with any other tough, bone-in cut, such as short ribs, or even a pot roast. This is excellent with mashed potatoes.

I like to make this type of braise by browning the meat in the oven, then simmer on the stove top, partly because it's easy and you can do all the meat at once and partly because it involves a lot less smoke. But you can also brown on the stove top. For that matter, you can also cook the braise in the oven (at about 300 degrees) if you prefer. I like to do it on the stove top so I can check on it more easily.

If you like, you can substitute dry red wine for some of the beef stock.

4 lbs beef shanks
Salt and pepper
2 Tbsp olive oil
2 large onions, finely chopped
6-8 cloves garlic, minced
1 Tbsp dried lemon zest (or 1-2 tsp fresh)
3/4 cup balsamic vinegar
1 Tbsp sugar
1/2 lb plum tomatoes, finely chopped (frozen or canned is fine)
1/2 cup raisins
A few cups of beef stock

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees. Sprinkle the beef shanks all over with salt and pepper, then place them in a single layer in a roasting pan and brown in the oven for about 25 minutes.

While the beef browns in the oven, heat the olive oil in a Dutch oven. Add the onions and saute over medium-high heat for 6-8 minutes until nicely soft and a bit browned. Add the garlic and saute another minute. Then add the lemon zest, balsamic vinegar, sugar, tomatoes, and raisins.

When the meat is browned, place it in the Dutch oven with the other ingredients. Add enough beef stock to cover the meat about three quarters of the way. Bring the whole thing to a nice simmer, then reduce heat to very low and cook for 2-3 hours, covered. The meat is done when it is very tender and easily pierced with a fork.

Serves 4-6.

Tip: You'll probably have a few cups of braising liquid leftover when you finish the shanks. Don't throw it away! Stick it in the freezer (well labeled, of course) and pull it out later for an instant sauce. This is especially great for a slow cooker meal - just stick chicken legs and braising liquid in the cooker, all still frozen in the morning, and enjoy a delicious meal at dinnertime.

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