A beef shank (or osso bucco) makes the most amazing stock and stew you could imagine. Since I am a busy (maybe lazy) cook with lots of people to feed, I use shortcuts when I can. Here’s an easy stew made with beef shanks. No marinating, no trimming, no fuss.
Shanks need to cook a long time, so I usually start them right after breakfast is cleaned up. I prefer the stock that comes from browned shanks. You can brown them in the oven, but I really like browning with my large dutch oven. I’ll dredge them in a little cornstarch, and then brown the shanks one at a time in a bit of oil to keep them from sticking, turning them so as to get all sides brown. It’s important to not crowd them in the pan because then they will steam rather than brown, so I often just do one at a time.
Since I cook for a large group, I usually use 5-8 large shanks (or a few more smaller ones; this will serve 6-10 people, depending on appetite). After I’ve browned each one, I put them in a stock pot. I set my Dutch aside for a bit. I’m going to use all that nice browned meat juice and leavings later.
I pour enough water over the shanks to cover them well, throw in 2 medium onions (chopped up), 3 or 4 bay leaves, and 4-5 cloves garlic (whole), cover the pot, and put it on the back burner set to simmer. The shanks will simmer there all day long. Periodically, I’ll skim the brown froth that rises to the top, and add a bit more water if it’s getting low.
After I’ve got the shanks cooking nicely in their stockpot, I’ll return to the Dutch. I add a little bit more oil, and then brown a couple onions and more garlic (5-6 cloves if you like garlic – altogether, I usually use a good-size head for this stew). I add a bit of water and scrape up all the brown bits on the bottom of the pan, then put the contents of the pan into a bowl and into the fridge for later.
By late afternoon, the marrow will have disappeared into the stock, the stock will look and smell wonderful, and the meat will be falling off the bone. I’ll fish the meat and bones from the stockpot and shred the meat into smaller pieces and return it to my pot. The bones head to the garbage (not to the puppies- cooked bones can be brittle).
Now I’ll add my onions and garlic into the stockpot along with some fresh ground pepper, some basil, and a bit of oregano. (Notice, no salt. We really prefer to salt everything at the table). I’ll also add back in the browned bits from my Dutch oven that’s been in the fridge.
I’m an opportunistic cook, so then I add whatever garden vegetables I have on hand. Carrots and celery need about 1 and 1/2 hour to cook, potatoes about 40 minutes. Corn, scallions, green onions, shredded spinach, peppers, sliced cabbage and bok choy only need 10-15 minutes (to heat through).
The result is a robust but not heavy stew that works well for a summer day when I don’t want to run the oven and heat up the kitchen, but I know I’ll have a crew of hungry people at the table.