Now that the cool autumn weather is here (I have my fingers crossed for one more blast of summer heat before the snow flies), my thoughts turn to braises that fill the house with tempting aromas. Hearty, cool-weather food that nourishes the body and soul.
Today we were at the market, deciding what to pick up for dinner when I thought of braised beef short ribs. I ended up picking up a couple of beef shanks instead, but short ribs would work well here. This recipe comes together quite quickly, and after that the oven does the rest of the work.
The sauce of finely minced vegetables, wine and beef stock is rich and intensely flavourful, and the meat is falling-off-the-bone tender. Mashed potatoes are a great accompaniment for a dish like this, but today I tucked wedges of potatoes into the pan and let them cook along with the meat. Even less work, and they picked up so much flavour.
While the meat was braising in the oven, I was in my office tending to paperwork when I got a text from the Culinary Enthusiast, who was in the basement. “It smells so good!” it said. Yes, we text each other in the house sometimes, and why not, when tantalizing aromas are wafting through the air, sharpening the appetite and making you glance at the clock. How long until dinner? This meal was worth the wait and is a harbinger of the winter cooking to come.
Braised Beef Shanks
I’ve made a few dishes like this over the years, and the last time I made braised short ribs I was inspired by Julie Powell’s recipe in her book Cleaving. I had borrowed it from the library at the time, and didn’t copy the recipe down. I believe I got the idea to finely mince the vegetables somewhere else. This recipe is pretty much as I remember making it before, with a quick reference on the internet to make sure I wasn’t missing anything important.
Pre-heat oven to 325º F.
- beef shanks for two
- 2 tbsp olive oil
- 2 carrots
- 2 stalks celery
- 1 large onion
- several cloves of garlic
- 2 tablespoons tomato paste
- a handful of mixed herbs, roughly chopped (I used sage, rosemary, thyme and flat-leaf parsley from my garden)
- 1 cup hearty red wine
- 1-1/2 cups beef stock (I use a low-sodium, organic stock and adjust my seasonings accordingly)
- salt and pepper to taste
- 2 bay leaves
Cut the carrots, celery and onion into large chunks, and put into a food processor along with the garlic. Pulse until very finely minced, and just beginning to become mushy.
Heat the olive oil in a large oven-proof skillet over high heat. Season the beef shanks with freshly ground pepper and a bit of salt and sear on both sides. Remove the beef to a plate. Add the minced vegetables to the pan along with the tomato paste and cook, stirring, until the colour intensifies (a good 5 minutes or so). You’ll need to turn the heat down a bit after a few minutes. Add the herbs and some more salt and pepper and mix well.
Add the red wine and stir well to deglaze the pan if any bits are still sticking to it. Add the beef stock, stir, and then put the beef shanks back into the skillet, along with any drippings. Put the bay leaves into the pan and, if you wish, tuck in some large chunks of peeled potato to cook with the braise.
Cover the pan and put into the pre-heated oven for about an hour and a half. (This is an excellent dish to cook in a slow cooker, should you be so inclined.) When it’s done, transfer the meat (and potatoes, if using) to a heatproof dish and put into the oven to keep warm. Remove the bay leaves. On the stovetop, put the skillet over high heat and bring the mixture to a boil. Reduce the heat somewhat and cook, stirring occasionally, until the liquid has reduced to your liking.
To serve, place a large portion of the braising liquid and vegetable mixture on the bottom of a plate. Top with potato wedges or mashed potato, then arrange the meat on top. Garnish with more of the braising liquid.
Enjoy, and raise your glass of robust red wine to the hearty winter meals ahead!