Thursday, June 9, 2011

The Best Thing to Do With a Beef Shank

When I started buying grassfed beef about a year ago, I discovered that the cuts I was used to buying and preparing were now way too expensive for my budget.  I love beef (and so does everyone in my family) but there was no way we were going to be eating $25/lb steaks on any kind of regular basis.  So I started looking at Whole Food’s selection of grassfed beef according to price rather than cut.  I noticed something called a “shank” that went for 5 or 6 bucks a pound.  So I bought some.  I had never cooked shank before and was unsure what to do with it, but in the spirit of the revolution, I decided to figure it out.  It is now one of my favorite parts of the cow and we eat beef shank usually once a week.
Beef shanks are slices of the cow’s shin.  If bone-in (you always want it bone in!), there is always a nice piece of marrow bone surrounded by some meat.  Now, since shank comes from the leg, it is well used, tough muscle and needs to be cooked “low and slow”.   There are a few really awesome things about shank, beyond its reasonable price.  First of all, that chunk of marrow bone that it comes with is magic.  You get all the nutrition and flavor from the bone and the marrow as you braise the shank.  Second of all, I have come to the realization that muscle meat that was worked hard during the cow’s life and then cooked slow in liquid afterward, ends up being just as flavorful (if not more) as the most pricey filet. 
So, here is one of my favorite things to do with a beef shank (or two).  This dish is delicious, chock full of nutrition, and inexpensive.
Beef shanks (you can use just one if your budget is thin or splurge and get two)
1-2 Tbsp of good fat (I usually use tallow but lard, coconut oil and butter all work well.  I have used bacon drippings before and the bacon-y flavor added a very subtle deliciousness to the dish).
Salt and pepper (I use pink Himalayan salt)
Splash of vinegar (I like apple cider)
2 (or more) cloves of garlic, minced
1 large onion, chopped
2-3 carrots, cut into chunks
2 cups diced tomatoes
Any other veggies you have in your fridge that you would like to use up
Sour cream (I culture Piima cream—it’s my favorite)
Choose shanks that have lots of meat on them but also a good chunk of marrow in the bone.  Season the shanks on both sides with salt and pepper. 
In a dutch oven or heavy pot, heat up the fat and then place the shanks in the hot fat, allowing them to brown on both sides.  Add the onion, garlic, and carrots as the meat is browning and allow them to begin to soften in the fat for 5 minutes or so.

Add the vinegar and tomatoes.  Cover with water and put the lid on the pot.  Let it heat up but  just before it boils, turn the heat down to a simmer.  Let the shanks and veggies simmer for two or three hours.  When the carrots are soft and the meat has fallen off the bone, add in other vegetables (or not).   Green and yellow squash, broccoli, or greens are all good.  I also love this dish with nothing added—experiment and see what your family likes best.
When all the veggies are nicely cooked (but not mushy), use two forks to shred the meat.  Take out the bones, making sure that the marrow has fallen out and is somewhere in the liquid (knock it against the side of the pot or poke it with your spoon to get it to fall out).  If you can find it and break it up into smaller pieces, everyone will have a chance to get some…if not, just keep your fingers crossed that it ends up in your bowl!   Serve in soup bowls with a dollop of cultured sour cream to give it a probiotic kick and extra richness.


  1. Thanks for the recipe. I tried cooking beef shanks a couple months ago and I think I overcooked it.

    PS it's been too long since your last post.

    1. And clearly it's been too long since I checked the comments here...I think I am ready to get back to it now. New post coming soon!