Comfort food doesn’t get any better than a braise

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One of my favorite comfort foods this time of year is a braised dish of beef, lamb or veal shanks. They make the house smell great and are delicious with the gravy spooned over mashed potatoes. Plus, just get them cooking and you can go off to shop or visit for a couple of hours and come home to dinner.
I recently bought a couple of beef shanks and tried braising one in the oven and one on top of the stove. On top of the stove, you end up with a lot of liquid and have to cook it down more.
The juices concentrate better in the oven, but you have to check the Dutch oven halfway through to make sure all the liquid isn’t evaporating, which it almost did. I think my pot lid wasn’t tight enough. You can cover the pan with foil and then fit the lid on to seal it better, which I will do next time.
But, either way, the meat was moist and succulent. I get one large shank for the two of us, but you can cook a 3/4-pound or 1-pound shank per person if your guys have big appetites.
And, this is a dish you can tinker with. You all know how I like to do that! You can add tomatoes – or not. You can use beef broth or vegetable broth or a mix of the two. I’ve used Port, red wine or beer at different times.
Rosemary or thyme are both good herbs. But, I always add a bay leaf or two. And, I think a splash of balsamic vinegar (or lemon juice) is a must to cut the richness of the meat.
Braised Beef Shanks
Serves 4
2 beef shanks (1 pound each)
Dried thyme, salt and black pepper
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
1/2 cup chopped onion
1/2 cup diced celery
1/2 cup diced carrot
6 garlic cloves, peeled
3 whole thyme sprigs
2 bay leaves
14-ounce can diced tomatoes with juice
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
1/2 cup port or dry red wine (like a Cabernet)
2 cups beef broth or stock
Let the shanks come to room temperature and pat dry. Rub with the dried thyme, salt and pepper.
In a large, heavy Dutch oven, heat the oil over medium high heat until it’s just starting to smoke. Brown shanks on both sides (about 5 minutes on each side). Depending on big the shanks are, you might have to do this in two pans.
Remove shanks to a plate and set aside. Lower the heat to medium, and sauté the onions, celery, carrot, garlic and thyme for about 6 minutes, stirring frequently, until it just starts to caramelize.
Stir in remaining ingredients and bring to a simmer. Return shanks to the pan. Liquid should come about halfway up their sides.
Cover and simmer on very low for 2 1/2 hours.
Or, cover tightly and place in a 350° oven for 2 1/2 hours. Just check after the first hour and a half and, if necessary, add a little more broth to keep the liquid about halfway up the shanks.
Remove shanks and keep warm. Then reduce the pan juices over high heat for a gravy. You can strain them first if you want.
Note: You can use lemon juice instead of vinegar, beer instead of wine or rosemary for the thyme. You can eliminate the tomatoes. I’ve even used vegetable broth in a pinch.
Visit Lynda Rego on Facebook at www.facebook.com/lynda.rego where she shares tips on cooking, books, gardening, genealogy and other topics. Click on Like and share ideas for upcoming stories.

food, beef, cooking

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Mike Rego has worked at East Bay Newspapers since 2001, helping the company launch The Westport Shorelines. He soon after became a Sports Editor, spending the next 10-plus years in that role before taking over as editor of The East Providence Post in February of 2012. To contact Mike to submit information, suggest story ideas or photo opportunities, etc., email mrego@eastbaynewspapers.com.