Saturday, February 24, 2018


Winter drags on. Today is grey, overcast and cold. Which puts me in the mood to simmer something savory all day—soup, stew or a braise. The warmth and aroma while it’s bubbling away on the stove promise a comforting meal.

Ready for all-day simmering--a pot of beef shanks.

Today I’ve got beef shanks, a cut of meat so tough that slow cooking is the only way to make it edible. The shank is the lower leg of the animal. It’s very lean muscle with sinews and connective tissue. The white membrane that encases the long, tubular muscle looks like fat, but is mostly collagen that converts into gelatin when cooked. It gives the stew flavor and substance (and causes it to set-up like a jelly when cooled).

You may know beef/veal shank better as osso buco, Italian-style braised shanks. They are cross-cut slices including the marrow bone. I’m using the boneless, cylindrical  muscle that runs the length of the bone. In Spanish, it’s called jarrete or morcillo. Morcillo is usually added to cocido, a one-pot boiled dinner, to add substance to the broth.

The shank is a tubular-shaped muscle, full of connective tissue. It needs long, slow cooking to become tender.
I made this with jarrete de ternera, boneless shank of “veal,” which is actually young beef, not true veal. Cut into thick, cross-wise slices, the meat was fork-tender in about 2 ½  hours. A larger piece of meat may take longer.

Shank meat shrinks considerably during cooking. Two to three pounds look like a huge amount of meat, but once braised, the meat loses bulk as it flavors the gravy.

I cooked the shanks on top of the stove. They can also be slow-cooked in the oven (325ºF for about four hours) or in a slow cooker (about 8 hours on low).

You can cook the shank the day before you intend to serve it. Let the stew cool, making sure the meat is submerged in the cooking liquid so that it doesn’t harden when exposed to the air. Cover and refrigerate overnight. The following day, lift off any congealed fat from the top and reheat the stew.

After removing meat, carrots and potatoes, you might want to sieve the cooking liquid/gravy. If desired, the remaining solids—the diced onions, carrots and peppers that started cooking with the meat—can be pureed to thicken the gravy.

Leftovers? Shredded, the meat makes a good filling for tacos. If lots of flavorful gravy remains once the meat is gone, cook more vegetables in it and turn it into soup.

Cooked until tender, chunks of beef shank share the stew pot with carrots and potatoes. Add other vegetables if you wish.

A hint of spring to come! While the stew was cooking, I thinned the carrot patch and added these baby ones to the pot at the last minute.

Fat carrots and baby carrots plus potatoes go into the stew.

The stew makes lots of flavorful cooking liquid. Use any that's leftover to make soup.

Meat is fork-tender after hours of cooking.

Slow-Cooked Beef Shank
Xarrete Estufado

This recipe is from Galicia in northwest Spain. In the galega language, jarrete is xarrete and estofado, stew, is estufado.

Serves 4-6.

2 ½ pounds boneless beef or veal shank
4 cloves garlic
1 teaspoon coarse salt
¼ teaspoon black peppercorns
1 clove
2 tablespoons chopped parsley
Pinch of thyme
5 tablespoons olive oil
1 ½ cups chopped onions
½ cup chopped carrots
1 cup chopped red bell pepper
1 teaspoon pimentón (paprika)
Red pepper flakes (optional)
1 cup chopped tomato
½ cup dry fino Sherry
2 tablespoons brandy
4 cups meat stock or bone broth
2 bay leaves
4 carrots, peeled
1 pound potatoes, peeled and cut in 2-inch pieces
Chopped parsley, to serve

Cut the shank crosswise into 1 ½ -inch slices. Place them in a shallow bowl or tray.

Before cooking, the meat is seasoned with salt, pepper, garlic and parsley.

Crush the garlic in a mortar with the coarse salt, peppercorns and clove. Place the mixture in a small bowl and add the parsley, thyme and 1 tablespoon of oil. Rub the spice mixture all over the meat. Allow to set at room temperature for 45 minutes or, covered and refrigerated, up to 8 hours.

Heat remaining 4 tablespoons of oil in a large stew pot. Brown the pieces of shank on both sides, 5 minutes, and remove them. Add the onions, carrots and bell pepper to the oil and sauté until onion begins to brown, about 5 minutes. Stir in the pimentón and red pepper flakes, if using. Add the tomato and continue cooking until tomato begins to fry in the oil, 5 minutes. Add the Sherry and brandy and cook 3 minutes. Add the meat stock.

Return the pieces of shank to the stew pot. Add the bay leaves and salt to taste. (Amount of salt depends on how salty the stock already is. Remember, as cooking liquid reduces, salt will intensify.) Scrape any remaining garlic-spice rub into the pot.

Bring the liquid to a boil, then cover the pot and turn down the heat to a simmer. Cook the shanks 2 hours, stirring the pot occasionally. Meat should be tender enough that it can be pulled apart easily with two forks. If not, cook another 45 minutes. Add the carrots and potatoes and cook until vegetables are tender, 30 minutes.

If desired, the gelatinous rim on the pieces of meat can be removed before serving. Serve hot garnished with additional parsley or cool and refrigerate up to 3 days. 

Beef shank also goes into Madrid Style Boiled Dinner (Cocido).

An overcast February day puts me in the mood for slow cooking. The silvery line on the horizon is the Mediterranean Sea. Not so blue today.


  1. Wonderful,
    Not in Spain so this is close to my Goulash,,,Paprika,,Mmm, have been making this hearty meal in New York now. The carrots makes a big difference in taste, Delish !!

    1. Sweet Basil: It is somewhat like goulash, now that you mention it. Maybe a dollop of sour cream would be a good finishing touch?