Chicago’s weather has been making its annual transformation from miserable to unbearable. It must be time for braising!
Braised meats are perfect for wintertime because they warm your entire kitchen as they cook all afternoon and their aroma fills your home with a smell that means dinner will be ready soon.
Braising is when heavier, denser cuts of meat — usually beef, pork or veal — are cooked partially submerged in a small amount of liquid over a low heat for a long period of time, usually two or three hours. Over time, the meat’s tough connective tissues are broken down, resulting in a fall-off-the-fork tenderness.
In any animal, cuts of meat that are the most tender — such as the tenderloin or the sirloin — come from muscles that are used the least. This is why chicken breast is so tender compared to, say, duck breast: chickens don’t fly. Tougher cuts come from muscles that are used the most — such as the shoulder or the leg.
Beef shanks are cross-section cuts that come from the lower leg of the steer and are among the toughest of all. They are also one of the least expensive, making them perfect for budget cooking.
Shanks include part of the bone that runs through the steer’s leg. When you braise them, the bone and its marrow give up an additional layer of delicious beef flavoring you won’t find if you simply grill a sirloin or filet steak.
To me, any kind of shanks go perfectly with Orzo, which is a type of pasta but has qualities more akin to rice. You just throw it in during the last half hour of cooking and it absorbs all the rich, beefy liquid. Simply put, it’s wonderful.
Beef Shanks with Orzo
2-3 lb beef shank
1/3 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp sea salt
1/4 tsp fresh cracked black pepper
2 TBS EVOO
3 carrots, peeled, rough chop
1 white onion, rough chop
2 stalks celery, rough chop
1 clove garlic, crushed
1 TBS tomato paste
32 oz beef stock
1 TBS Italian seasoning
1-2 bay leaves
1 cup Orzo, uncooked
Sprig parsley for garnish
1. Put soup pot or Dutch oven on the fire. When hot, add 1 TBS EVOO. When smoking, add onion, carrots and celery and cook until onion is translucent, about five minutes. Add garlic and bay leaf and cook another minute, then add tomato paste and stir for another minute. Then add beef stock and Italian seasoning, bring to boil, then reduce to simmer.
2. Meanwhile, put cast iron pan on the fire. When hot, add 1 TBS EVOO. In a bowl, combine flour, salt and pepper. When pan is smoking hot, dredge beef shanks in seasoned flour and carefully place in pan, being careful not to splash yourself with hot oil. Brown both sides, about two minutes per side, then place shanks on top of vegetables and cover.
3. Cook over the lowest possible flame for 90 minutes, then stir in Orzo and cook another 30-40 minutes. Turn off heat and let sit for at least 10 additional minutes.
To serve, spoon big pile of Orzo in middle of pasta bowl. Use a tongs to place beef shank on top of Orzo, then garnish with parsley sprig.
What kind of comforting dinners do you like to make when the weather turns colder? Share your ideas in the comments section below. And thanks for looking at my blog!