One of the fundamental realities of meat cookery is that some of the tastiest cuts of meat, such as beef shin, are also unfortunately among the toughest. Coaxing a memorable meal from this reluctant hero of the dinner table requires patience, but is otherwise surprisingly uncomplicated. The key is to cook it for a long time at low temperature, so its dense muscles and chewy connective tissue can gently dissolve to mouth-filling tenderness.
Things You'll Need
Heavy skillet or Dutch oven
Salt and pepper
Onions, garlic, celery, carrots or other aromatic vegetables to taste
Serving platter or dish
Braised Shank Pot Roast
Wipe the ends of your shank with a clean paper towel to remove any fine bone fragments from your butcher's saw. Heat a heavy skillet or Dutch oven over medium-high heat and add a scant tablespoon of oil. Sear the shank on all sides until well browned.
Line the bottom of a casserole dish or roasting pan with diced carrots, celery and onions, with onions accounting for about half of the total. Season the shank liberally on all sides with salt and pepper and rest it on top of the aromatic vegetables. Add garlic, bay leaves, juniper berries or any other herb or spice that appeal to you.
Pour in enough liquid to immerse the shank at least halfway. Water, beef or veal broth, thinned gravy, tomato sauce and thinned barbecue sauce are all good choices. A splash of beer, cider or red wine can also lend a pleasant flavor to the finished dish.
Cover the casserole or roasting pan and slide it into a preheated oven. Slow-cook the shank at 325 degrees Fahrenheit until it's tender enough to cut with a spoon, typically 4 to 6 hours. Turn the shank after the first 2 hours, so each side spends time in the flavorful cooking liquid.
Remove the shank to a serving platter and cover it loosely with aluminum foil to keep it warm. Strain the cooking liquid into a measuring cup and ladle off the fat that pools at the top, and then thicken the juices to make a sauce for the beef.
Slice or shred the tender beef, serving it with the sauce it was cooked in and your choice of side dishes.
Slow-Cooker Center-Cut Shank
Dry your center-cut shank slices by blotting them with a clean paper towel. If the cut surfaces of the bone show any fine fragments from the butcher's saw, wipe those away.
Sear the pieces of shank one or two at a time in a hot skillet, browning them thoroughly. Remove each slice to a plate as it's finished and repeat until all the slices are browned. Blot up any excess fat with a paper towel, and then return the skillet to its burner. Pour in a splash of water, beef broth or wine, and stir it vigorously until all the pan's tasty, browned-on juices are dissolved. Slide the skillet from its burner to cool.
Place a small mound of aromatic vegetables in the bottom of your slow cooker. Season each slice of beef shin liberally with salt and pepper or other flavorings if desired. Stack the slices in a loose mound in your slow cooker, and then pour in the flavorful juices from the skillet.
Cover the slow cooker and cook the shin beef for 6 to 8 hours on the "Low" setting or 3 to 4 hours on the "High" setting, depending on the thickness of your slices. When the meat is fully cooked, you should be able to cut it easily with the side of a fork or spoon.
Lift the shank pieces carefully from the slow cooker with a spatula or slotted spoon, and set them aside to keep warm in a serving dish covered loosely with foil. Strain the concentrated juices from the slow-cooker into a measuring cup and ladle off the fat that accumulates at the top. Thicken the cooking juices and serve them as a sauce with your beef.
Shin Soup or Stew
Sear one or more thick, meaty slices of beef shin in a heavy-bottomed Dutch oven. Remove the beef and blot up any excess fat with a clean paper towel, and then return the shin pieces to the pot. Add water or beef broth and aromatic vegetables such as onions, garlic, carrots and celery as desired.
Simmer the shanks for 3 to 4 hours until they're very tender and the broth is richly flavorful. At this point you can refrigerate the shanks in their broth overnight -- the fat will rise to the top and harden, making it easy to remove -- or continue and finish the meal in one cooking session.
Remove the shanks from the broth with a slotted spoon and peel away the layer of connective tissue that surrounds each piece. Dice the shin meat into small cubes for soup or pieces of up to 1 square inch for stew. Cover the beef and set it aside in your refrigerator.
Skim any surface fat from your beef broth and return the Dutch oven to your stovetop. Add large-diced vegetables for stew or small-diced vegetables for soup. Simmer until the vegetables are tender.
Add the beef back to the pot, if you're making soup, and then adjust the seasoning as necessary with additional salt and pepper. For stew, drain off and thicken approximately one-half to two-thirds of the broth -- wheat flour or potato starch will give the heartiest texture as a thickener -- and pour it back into the pot. Add the reserved beef and serve once it's heated through.
Braising liquid can be added to the slow cooker, much as it can for oven braising, but it isn't strictly necessary. The enclosed environment of the slow cooker retains the juices that cook out of the beef and aromatic vegetables, maintaining a high level of moisture and preventing the meat from drying out.
Beef shin cooked by any of these methods will be well done. The connective tissue within the shin melts into gelatin at around 180 degrees Fahrenheit, but it often takes an hour or more at that temperature for the process to be complete and for the shin to be fork-tender.
Depending on your choice of seasonings, shredded beef shin makes an outstanding barbecue sandwich, a memorable batch of handmade ravioli filling or stellar taco meat.