Beef shank recipes are few and far between. It seems like a lot of work, and it is definitely not a 30-minute meal. But don't freak out, it is not as bad as it seems. And the effort you put in will be so very worth it. For this recipe,a luxurious braised beef shank ragu sits largely untouched in a low oven for hours, and the result is a gorgeous, richly flavored, thick and meaty sauce.
Beef shank recipes are often overshadowed by the similar short rib or chuck roast cuts of beef. All are delicious, but when making a ragu, I go for the beef shanks rather than the short rib or other braising beef cut, because of the marrow.
Beef marrow bones have a soft, super rich and fatty center of the animal bone. It is actually super good for you (when properly sourced). Packed full of collagen, the marrow of the beef shank bones acts as a natural thickener to this ragu, and adds an incomparable richness to the whole dish.
Ragu is what Italians call their meat-based sauces. Basically ragu is meat and vegetables in a thick sauce, with a lot of wine. I mean, I don't think it needs much more of an explanation to sound exactly like something you want to eat.
What is beef shank?
Also called beef shin, the shank is the leg portion from the cow. And like humans, this muscle gets a ton of movement and use making it a tough cut of meat, which means it needs a long and slow cooking process to break down the sinewy tissue. It is pretty lean too, so it can be dry if you don't cook it right with some moisture.
What is it good for?
Beef shanks really shine in recipes where you braise them. They give an incredible rich and beefy flavor to the braising liquid making an ideal sauce. They perfect braise results in a tender cut of beef that fall apart easily to make your sauce a chunky, meaty ragu.
And the best part is the big round marrow bone you get with a shank. Braising softens the marrow and releases it from the bones. The collagen in the marrow develops into gelatin when cooked in the oven, making it an ideal thickener for your sauce without having to use flour or other thickeners. Read all about bone marrow here, if you are curious and want other great ideas.
Braising is one of the easiest cooking methods out there that gives an incredible result. Basically it is a combined cooking method involving first browning the meat, dry over high heat in a little fat. Liquid, be it wine, stock, water or a combination is then added to the pot and it is covered and slowly cooked in the oven until tender the rest of the way.
Most braises have the addition of vegetables and herbs to the pot as well for additional flavor. And some, have cream for added richness.
Braising works best on tough and faty cuts of meat. Chuck roasts, stew meat, shoulders, shanks and ribs are all cuts of meat that reach their maximum potential from being braised.
Making braised beef shanks is one of my many easily adaptable recipes. While there are staple ingredients, some special ingredients that I believe really put this over teh top, much of this is adaptable to what you have on hand. Here's what you need:
- Beef shank (or shin). Make sure to get bone-in. It will have a large round bone in the middle.
- Vegetables. I like to use celery, carrots and onions. All of them diced.
- Whole garlic cloves. And leave them whole. They will cook in our sauce to add flavor and we will pull them out when we are finished.
- Tomato paste. This adds a nice layer of flavor and a bit of sweetness.
- Herbs. I like to use thyme.
- Red wine. Two whole bottles. Doesn't have to be expensive or fancy, but should be something at least drinkable. One will go directly into the pot for oven braising, and the second will be reduced by ⅔ in a saucepan to a thick almost syrupy consistency and be added to the finished sauce.
- Olive oil.
Totally optional ingredient, but absolutely worth it to me:
- Demi glace. It is my secret ingredient in so many savory dishes. It is kind of expensive, but I think it is worth the investment. A little goes a long way, it lasts a really long time, it elevates every sauce, ragu, braise and soup.
Now that I have tried my hardest to sell you on demiglace, here are two options, one is more expensive than the other, but also a bit better (less salty), but I have bought both and use both interchangeably. Buy what works best for your budget. And one last note on this - they also make chicken and veal, which are both great in lighter chicken and fish dishes, in case you were wondering.
How to thicken the ragu
I have a genius method to thicken this recipe and it doesn't require flour or cornstarch. When the beef shank is comes out of the oven, I strain it, and pull of most of the fat. Pour all that liquid gold back into the pot, add roughly ¾ the vegetables and the marrow from the shank and puree with an immersion blender (or you can put into a blender).
Shred the beef shank and stir it along with the vegetables back into the thickened ragu.
Then add the reduced second bottle of wine and stir together while gently warming back up.
How to serve ragu
My go-to for serving braised beef shanks is right over a gorgeous bed of pasta. Most often I use pappardelle because it is wide and flat for the pieces of shank to cling to, but you can use another pasta shape if you like.
Gnocchi would be my second best option for serving. They are thick and pillowy and perfect for heariter sauce recipes like this one.
Polenta. I feel like polenta gets so overlooked, especially here in the states and it is really delicious and easy to make. The beef shank gives the ragu enough texture that polenta is a great compliment.
Throw in a simple and acidic vegetable on the side, like roasted broccoli with lemon, and you've got a gorgeous and delicious, well deserved dinner.
Other beef recipes you'll love
Making beef shank ragu is one of my all time favorite beef recipes. Fancy enough for a holiday for sure, but it certainly isn't the only one. Here are a few other great beef recipes to try:
Ingredient swaps and variations
- Use broth or stock. If you don't cook with wine or don't have two bottles handy no problem. Use some stock to braise the shanks instead of all wine. If using no wine at all, I recommend a splash of vinegar (red wine, white wine, sherry vinegar, whatever you have) for a little acidity.
- Use a different cut of beef. If you can't find beef shanks or shin, you can totally use one of the other braising beef cuts I have mentioned. If you can, buy marrow bones and braise in the pot with the meat. Scoop the marrow out after braising and puree with the vegetables into the sauce.
- If serving this with pasta, reserve a little of the pasta cooking water, and add to the sauce at the end, this will help create more sauce while still keeping it thicker.
Tips for success
- Dry the beef well before searing. Pat with a paper towel on both side until really good and dry.
- Make sure to give the beef shanks a good sear before braising. You want some good color on them, and you also want the browned bits on the bottom of the pan from searing to add flavor the sauce.
- Roast the last 20 minutes with the lid off the dutch oven. This will reduce the sauce and not only thicken it, but concentrate the flavors.
Dinner recipe ideas
A few other great dinner recipe ideas you'll love.
- Dutch oven
- ¼ cup onion diced
- 4 carrots diced
- 4 celery stalks diced
- 3 garlic cloves left whole
- 3 tablespoon tomato paste
- 1 bottle red wine I used a cabernet
- 1 bottle port wine
- 1 tablespoon beef demiglace optional
- 2 teaspoon thyme
- 2-3 beef shanks
- 2 tablespoon olive oil
- salt and pepper to taste
- Preheat the oven to 325 and place a rack in the center of the oven. Season your shanks with salt and pepper. Heat a dutch oven over medium high heat and add a little olive oil. Brown the shanks on both sides in the dutch oven. About four minutes on each side. Remove from pan, and drain off all but about two tablespoons of oil.
- To the dutch oven, add the onion, carrots and celery. Lightly season with salt and pepper and cook about four minutes. Add your tomato paste, demi glace (if using), garlic cloves and thyme, and cook for an additional three minutes. Add the red wine (not the port) and the shanks back to the dutch oven and bring to a simmer. Once simmering, cover and put in the oven. Braise for about 3 hours.
- Meanwhile, pour all of the port in a saucepan and boil until it is reduced by ¾. You're looking for a thick, almost syrupy consistency.
- When the the shank is finished, strain the sauce from the vegetables and shank. Pull the shanks out and set on a cutting board. When they have cooled slightly, shred the beef, it will be so tender that this will take almost no effort.
- Pour the sauce back into the dutch oven and add the vegetables and any marrow out of the bone back to the pot. Using an immersion blend, puree the vegetable with the cooking liquid - this is what will thicken the sauce.Alternatively you can put the strained cooking liquid, the vegetables and marrow in a blender and puree, then add this back to the dutch oven.Gently rewarm on low heat on the stove top.
- Add the reduced port wine syrup and stir in the shredded/pulled beef shank meat. heat all the way through.
- Toss with pappardelle, gnocchi or pasta of choice, or spoon on top of polenta.