The beef shank has a reputation for being dry and tough. And that’s too bad. It’s time the shin received it’s redemption. When cooked properly, it can be a hearty, healthy, mineral rich meal. This is one of those cuts that all you need is time and patience to prepare. Sound, familiar?
In the meat case, look for the long, cylindrical-shaped piece of meat (approx. 1 foot long) with a bone running through the middle. But you’re more likely to see it already cross cut into 1.5 to 2-inch thick pieces. The hindshank is what you most commonly find in the case. Butchers prefer selling the hindshank because it’s easier to cut, longer (so you get more uniformly shaped cuts), and it has a higher saleable yield, which means it’s more profitable.
“But I’m partial to the foreshank.”
But I’m partial to the foreshank. Let’s talk anatomy! The hindshank is the lower back leg of the cow and includes the tibia. It’s cut below the knee and above the ankle. The foreshank is the lower front leg of the cow (below the elbow and above the foot) and includes the ulna (thicker bone) and radius. These two bones basically fuse together in the cow. Here’s the interesting part: the foreshank is cut above the elbow, which is why you don’t often find it at the grocery store. It doesn’t have a high yield, and consumers may think it looks ugly. If you have access to a specialty or whole animal butcher shop, you’re in luck. Ask your butcher for the foreshank, and ask her/him to separate the elbow out for you. These small bones are excellent for soup, stock or broth.
How to talk to your Butcher.
Shanks are made up of multiple muscles covered in a heavy, white opaque connective tissue, which helps the shank keep its form during cooking. These muscles are well exercised, which makes them lean. Beef shank bones are filled with rich marrow (fatty substance inside the bone) which adds a rich, tremendous flavor to any dish. Shanks are packed with heavy, tough connective tissue and collagen, which has to be strong. After all, they’re helping to carry the weight of a 1,200 pound animal!
So what’s the secret to turning this tough beef shank into a fork-tender and tasty meal? First, make sure to ask your butcher for center-cut cross-cut shanks, because these will provide you with the most meat to bone ratio. So remember, all you need is the right cut … and time. This cut is ideal for slow cook methods such as braising, stewing, or even a low and slow smoke.
“I love braising the shank.” – Kari Underly
I love braising the shank. During this slow cook method, beef connective tissue and collagen proteins break down into a gelatin, which infuses into the meat and helps give you that rich, meaty stock. Now it’s time to build your flavors.
This basic cut can be turned into an amazing dish with just a few simple ingredients. Set it and forget it! It will stand tall and proud on your family’s table. Don’t freak out if the butcher does not have the exact cut you’re looking for. There are alternatives.
Alternative Cut: Beef Shank Cross Cut – Hindshank, Beef Shank Cross Cut – Foreshank, Meaty Knuckle Bones
Boneless Alternative Cut: Beef Shank, Boneless, biceps brachii, digital flexor
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