February Kitchen Play Part 3: Sherried Beef Shank on Herbed Polenta with Roasted Tomatoes and Mascarpone Cream.

We had a great time participating in Kitchen Play’s February Progressive Dinner Party, and I’m feeling a bit sniffly and sad that this is our last post; Appetizer #3 in our Canadian Beef trio.  I’m also rather torn, because just like a mother isn’t supposed to choose a favorite child, well, let’s just say that this is one really, really good dish. Mike and I had a hoot brainstorming recipe ideas and putting together a trio that went from seared to pan fried and eventually braised, and we hope that you’ve enjoyed watching our video clips and reading through our recipes.  For more ways to enjoy the great flavor of Canadian Beef, don’t forget to check out all the other mouth watering recipes from fellow flood bloggers over at Kitchen Play!

Now then, let’s get a leg up on this recipe, shall we?  I’ll start with why to try beef shanks, if you’ve never cooked them before.  The beef shank is a cross section of the cow’s leg, which means that it’s a touch and sinewy muscle. In the same way that you wouldn’t braise a tenderloin (my heart palpitates at the thought), you also wouldn’t grill a beef shank because the cut requires a long, slow cook, preferably with moisture and a bit of acid, to break down that tough tissue and yield succulent, intensely flavorful and incredibly beefy meat.

The shank also contains a cross section of the thigh bone, and although the bone itself isn’t edible, the delicious marrow inside certainly is. As the beef braises, the marrow will soften and melt into the braising liquid. All that the liquid needs is a quick reduction and you have a luxurious, rich sauce that is lick-your-plate good.  If you’ve ever had thick and gelatinous beef stock, which is almost confusing if you’re used to watery store bought beef stock (and I won’t lie, I use that all the time), the elevation in quality is directly from the bones.

The presentation for this dish is elegant, and the flavor is delectable times 10, but don’t be fooled by what seems like a lot of process steps and long ingredient lists.  I promise you, cross my poxy little heart, that this dish is surprisingly easy and well worth trying out at home.  A long braise is particularly forgiving, and it’s a low pressure dish because you have hours to make the other components before the beef is done.  In fact, in a couple of weeks it might be making a second appearance for a romantic Valentine’s Day dinner, because once is simply not enough.

Sherried Beef Shank on Herbed Polenta with Roasted Tomatoes and Mascarpone Cream

Serves 8 as an appetizer, 4 as entree

Sherried Beef Shanks

  • 3 large beef shanks (~2.5 lb/1 kg) *
  • 1-2 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 yellow onion
  • 4 cloves garlic
  • 2 celery stalks
  • 2 carrots
  • 3 tbsp tomato paste
  • 2 cups dry sherry **
  • 3-4 cups beef stock
  • 4-5 sprigs fresh thyme (or 1.5 tsp dried)
  • 1 tsp whole allspice berries
  • 1 star anise
  • 1 bayleaf
  • salt and pepper to taste

Herbed Polenta

  • 1 cup fine cornmeal
  • 4 cups chicken stock
  • 1 bulb garlic (to roast)
  • 2 tbsp butter + more for pan
  • 100 g/ Brie or soft cheese
  • few big sprigs fresh thyme (2 tsp finely chopped)
  • small handful parsley (1/4 cup finely chopped)
  • salt and pepper to taste

Roasted Tomatoes

  • 8 Campari tomatoes ***
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 1/4 tsp sugar
  • salt and pepper to taste

Mascarpone Cream

  • 1/4 cup mascarpone
  • 1/2 cup whipping cream (35%)

* Beef shanks are cut from the leg portion of the animal and vary in size.  Look for a large, thick cut from the top of the shank.  Beef shank tends to be fairly affordable, but not always easily found. If you prefer, you can use beef short rib for this recipe and it will be just as good.

** Sherry is a fortified wine with a vast range in color and sweetness depending on the type of grape used to make the wine and the liquor used as a fortifier.  You may want to stay away from a very saccharine cream sherry, and a moderately dry tawny or brown sherry is ideal.  If you don’t have sherry, you could substitute a tawny Port, or for more sweetness, Madeira or Marsala. Just be sure to use a drinking sherry instead of a cooking sherry which tends to be too salty and astringent.

*** Campari tomatoes are relatively small, round little gems. You can substitute cherry or grape tomatoes, but amend cooking times accordingly.

Preheat your oven to 325ºF because the shanks are going to cook low and slow until they’re meltingly tender.

Season the shanks generously with salt and pepper on both sides.  Heat a tablespoon of oil in a medium Dutch oven set over high heat.  Brown the shanks 1-2 at a time for about 1-2 minutes per side, adding more oil as necessary until all of the meat is thoroughly browned.

Set the shanks aside.  If your shanks are tied that’s fine, but if they aren’t, don’t worry about it.  The meat will be pulled anyway, so if the shape shifts that’s no great loss.

Turn the heat under the Dutch oven down to medium.  Coarsely dice the onion, celery and carrots.  There is no need to peel the carrots because they won’t be part of the finished dish, and also…well, I like shortcuts.  Peel the garlic cloves but leave them whole.  Add the onion to the residual oil in the pan and saute until the onion is translucent.  Add the celery, carrot and whole garlic, and cook until the vegetables are softened.

Add the tomato paste and let this melt into the vegetables, stirring regularly and cooking for about 2-3 minutes until the color starts to darken and you lose the raw tomato taste.

Pour the sherry into the pan and stir vigorously with a wooden spoon to scrape up all the browned bits that are stuck to the bottom of the pan.  Remember, browned bits mean flavor, and you want that richness incorporated into the sauce.

Nestle the beef shanks into the Dutch oven amongst the vegetables and add in the bay leaf, allspice berries and star anise.  Pour in just enough beef stock to cover the shanks.  Arrange the thyme sprigs on top.

Put a tight fitting lid onto the pot and put everything into the oven to braise slowly for 2-4 hours.

Since the oven is on, it’s a great opportunity to roast the garlic and tomatoes.  Slice the tomatoes in half and toss them with the olive oil.  Sprinkle with salt, pepper, and the smidgen of sugar.  Arrange the tomatoes cut side up on a baking sheet.  For the roasted garlic which is used in our polenta, slice the top end off a bulb of garlic to just expose the tops of the cloves.  Drizzle with a meager amount of oil and wrap tightly in tin foil.  Place the tin foil package on the baking sheet with your tomatoes and let this slow cook in the oven for 40- 60 minutes (depending on the size of tomato).

When the tomatoes are shrunken and starting to get leathery but still have juice and moisture inside, lift them off the pan and set them aside at room temperature.  The garlic should be very fragrant and the cloves a rich golden brown.  If the garlic needs more time to cook, as it may, simply wrap it back up and tuck it in the oven for another 10-15 minutes.

Now let’s start on the polenta!  Heat the chicken stock up in a medium sized pot until it comes to a simmer.  Slooooowly sprinkle in the cornmeal, whisking the mixture constantly.

When all of the cornmeal has been added, reduce the heat to medium low and let this cook, stirring fairly regularly (tradition says to do this always in the same direction, although I think that’s a load of malarkey) so that it doesn’t burn or stick to the pan.  The polenta will start to thicken up very quickly, which is why you want to reduce the heat and let it continue to cook slowly.

Squeeze the cloves of roasted garlic into the polenta, mashing them slightly with your fingers before they enter the pot.  Season to taste with salt and pepper (note: polenta likes a fair bit of both).

Coarsely chop the thyme and stir it in along with the knob of butter.  While you’re there, might as well chop the parsley but keep it reserved for the time being.

After 5-10 minutes of cooking, cube the cheese and stir it in until it is fully melted and the polenta is smooth.

Stir in the finely chopped parsley only when you’re ready to take the polenta off the heat.

Pour the polenta into a well buttered 8×8″ square baking pan with straight sides and smooth out the top.  Rap the pan on your counter several times to eliminate any possible bubbles.  Cover the pan with plastic wrap and set it in the fridge to chill for at least 1 hour.  You can also make the polenta up to 2 days in advance if you feel the yen.

The very last component of this dish is mascarpone cream, which takes the richness of mascarpone and lightens it up until it’s perfect for dolloping on top of the meaty pulled shanks.  Simply put the mascarpone and whipping cream into a medium bowl and beat it until the cream holds stiff peaks.  I strongly suggest using an electric beater to do this in 2 minutes, versus struggling by hand for 15 minutes and walking the thin line between sanity and carpal tunnel syndrome.

Check the meat after 2.5 hours. It should be incredibly tender and pull apart effortlessly with a slight pressure from your fork.  If you’re not at this point yet, leave the shanks in the oven for another 30-45 minutes until you are.  Remove the meat from the stock and set it aside to cool.  Strain the liquids through a mesh sieve, pressing down on the solids with a wooden spoon to extract as much flavor as possible.

Discard the mushy vegetables and spices that remain.  Put the liquid back into the Dutch oven set over medium heat and bring it to a simmer or low boil.  Let this cook down, stirring occasionally so that it doesn’t burn, until the sauce has reduced to a scant 1 – 1.5 cups.

When the meat is cool enough to handle, start separating the meat from the sinew and bone, but if there is any marrow left in those shank bones, be sure to add it to the sauce and press it against the side of the pot with your spoon until it has incorporated in smoothly.  Shred the meat into plump mouth-sized shredded morsels, and put them back in the sauce over low heat until the meat is warmed through.  Check the seasoning and add more salt and pepper if you feel that it is necessary, but if you seasoned the beef shanks well before they were seared you might not need any more now.

To plate this dish, start by running a thin, sharp knife around the outside rim of the polenta to loosen it.  Cover the polenta pan with a cutting board and quickly invert the mass onto the board.  If the polenta does not immediately release, rap the bottom of the pan sharply a few times.  Use a tall round cookie cutter to make polenta medallions, or if you like a more rustic look you can just slice the polenta into squares.

The polenta can be served at room temperature, or you can warm it in the oven for a few minutes (or the microwave for 30 seconds, just until it is warmed through).  Spoon the decadent pulled beef shanks over the polenta and dollop a generous spoonfull of the mascarpone cream on top.  Lay a roasted tomato on like a smart little angled cap, and garnish with parsley or a thyme sprig if you’re feeling fancy (and I hope you are).

A long, slow, savory and spiced braised brings out the best from these shanks, and I hope that you’ll enjoy this recipe as much as we have.  If you do give it a shot, why not do so in the month of February when you’ll have a chance to win $100 from Kitchen Play?

Thanks again to our good friends at Canadian Beef for sponsoring this opportunity – we had a blast!

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  • Hellcat13

    Hee, did you get the lovely red enamel KitchenAid dutch oven from Canadian Tire when it was on sale for 35$ too? Love mine 🙂

  • http://linzersinlondon.blogspot.com/ Anne

    oh my god. i am seriously drooling all over my computer right now! if only i weren’t working on v-day i’d definitely be at home making this for the bf. alas, i’ll have to make it on a weekend instead!

  • http://www.tobiascooks.com tobias cooks!

    reminds me a bit of osso buco. I love the way you serve the polenta.

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  • Amanda

    Can I replace the beef using pork or lamb? This is a marvelleous recipe indeed. 🙂 🙂