Winter was a good time for oxtails when I was growing up. My dad was fond of the Basque oxtail recipe in Jeff Smith’s The Frugal Gourmet on Our Immigrant Ancestors, a really good soupy dish perfect for sopping up with warm crusty bread. There wasn’t much meat on those starburst-shaped discs of bone; it was about the flavor, and of course the gelatinous cartilage that felt slightly more jellyfish-like than fat in your mouth.
I’ve never cooked with the shanks before, sliced thick with a huge slab of bone and marrow in the cut, and welcomed the additional meat–anticipating it falling apart at the grains with the touch of a fork when cooked for long enough. I grabbed some mushrooms and instead of celery, took one look at some fennel stalks and fronds leftover in my fridge and cast them instead. They made a mild impact, a whiff of something a little bit different. Then again it’s not hard to make anything taste good when you braise it for several hours in wine. I think that’s a scientific certainty.
Strangely, someone else echoed my thoughts exactly on a Chowhound post from a while ago, discussing the differences between cooking with beef shanks and with oxtails.
Beef Shanks Braised with Fennel and Mushrooms
(makes about 2 servings)
1 lb beef shank with bone
1 medium onion, chopped
1/2 cup chopped fennel, chopped – stalks, fronds, and bulb
5-6 button mushrooms, sliced (the more bruised and less fresh-looking, the more flavorful)
2 cloves garlic, chopped
1 cup dry red wine
1 cup beef broth
1-2 Tb olive oil
Flour for dredging
Coarse salt and fresh ground pepper to taste
Trim fat from shanks. Season with salt and pepper. Dredge in flour, shaking off excess. Heat olive oil in pot or Dutch oven. Brown each side of shanks until lightly carmelized. Add onion and fennel and cook, stirring, about 5 minutes. Add garlic, wine, broth and bay leaf and bring to a boil. Simmer over low heat, covered, for 4 or more hours. Add mushrooms halfway through or about an hour before the end of cooking. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Serve with crusty bread, noodles or pasta.
1 lb beef shanks: $3.00
1 onion (at bag of 5/$1): $0.20
6 button mushrooms (at $3/lb): $1.30
1 cup wine: $1.50
1 cup beef broth: $0.50
1/2 cup chopped fennel (at $2.79/lb): $0.35
Olive oil, garlic, salt, pepper, flour: $0.10
Seven brownie points – this is heavy stuff. Not for your everyday, but compared to how many similar stews have bacon simmered into them, it could be much worse. There’s a high payback for trimming fat from the start, because even though I did this a little layer of clearness floated at the top (which I tried to skim off). And I wish I knew a little more about the health benefits of bone marrow which, evidenced in the telling photo below, got entirely cooked in. Hmm…