This is a post that’s been a long time coming. Months ago, back in the dreaded polar vortex of winter, I made up a recipe for braised beef shanks that was a total home run. Unbelievably tender, falling-off-the-bone meat stewed in a spicy broth redolent of molé was, at the time, a seasonally appropriate alternative to my weekly batches of chili. The recipe was so good it caught me off guard, prompting me to send shamelessly bragging photos to my family back in Texas. When those photos went viral within our small text-message clan, I knew I had a winner on my hands.
Both my father and my younger sister’s boyfriend begged me for the recipe. I managed to walk my Dad through the process over the phone, and his version – substituting short ribs for the shanks – just about knocked his loafers off. As for my sister’s boyfriend, well, I promised I would get him the recipe, swore I would put it up on the blog. But then winter turned to spring, and soon enough braised beef shanks just seemed to be a bit much for the evenings following short-sleeved afternoons.
Last week I finally decided that it was about time I got this recipe up on the blog – it would be unfair to continue to keep it to myself. Excited though I was to share it, I was sort of dreading the process of making the dish. Somehow, with several months’ passing since the last time I’d created the dish, I arranged the idea of the recipe to be quite complicated in my head. When I got to work making the dish for dinner on Saturday, though, I found myself caught off guard again. The recipe, to my delight, was so much simpler than I had recalled, requiring only 10 minutes by the oven and an absolute minimum of chopping up front, followed by several hours of deep involvement with my latest novel as the beef simmered and stewed away.
As easy and tasty as this dinner was, I have to admit that dinner the following night was even easier, and just as good – these braised beef shanks are so genius when it comes to leftovers. Sunday night I reheated the beef and shredded it to serve inside little lettuce-cup tacos. Alongside some pico de gallo, guacamole, and sour cream, this made for an amazing dinner that required very little work. As an alternative, you could further reduce the braising liquid to a rich and sticky sauce, coat the shredded beef shanks in it, and serve the messy concoction on top of some potato buns. Actually, I think I might make this dish again next week so I can do just that.
Coffee-Chipotle Braised Beef Shanks
If you like to make use of a slow cooker to prepare simple dinners during the day, consider this recipe your new best friend. After broiling the beef shanks, combine all the ingredients in your slow cooker and set on low to cook while you are gone for the day.
Oh, and if you liked this recipe for beef shanks, you might want to check out my recipe for lamb shanks as well!
4 lbs. beef shanks
1 yellow onion, sliced into half-moons
1/2 cup water
1/2 pot (about 1 cup) strongly-brewed coffee
3-4 garlic cloves, chopped
3 dried chipotles, soaked in warm water for 30 minutes and chopped
1 tbsp lime juice
2 tbsp fish sauce (substitute Worcestershire sauce)
2 tbsp soy sauce
2 tbsp olive oil
2 tbsp butter
Broil the beef shanks: Arrange beef shanks on a foil-lined baking sheet and season liberally with salt. Place sheet on the highest rack in your oven and broil for 7 minutes. Remove the baking sheet, carefully flip the shanks, and season the fresh side. Return to oven and broil for another 5 minutes. Scatter the onions across the bottom of a dutch oven (or other large oven-safe dish with a lid/foil) and add the 1/2 cup water.
Make the braising liquid: In a blender, combine the coffee, garlic, chipotles, lime juice, fish sauce, soy sauce, and olive oil. Blend until smooth.
Braise: Preheat the oven to 300ºF. Place the beef shanks over-top the onions in the dutch oven. Don’t worry if they will not fit perfectly – as the dish cooks they will break down and all find a place eventually. Pour the sauce over the shanks, and place the dish in the oven. Cook for 2 hours, turning the beef shanks every half hour or so. After the two hours have passed, turn the oven down to 200ºF and continue to braise for about another 1.5 hours, until the beef is very tender and easily falls away from the bone. (Note: If you are cooking early in the day, you can instead turn your oven down to its lowest heat setting and let the beef shanks hang out there all day.)
Reduce the sauce: Remove the shanks and place on a baking sheet in the oven to keep warm. Place the dutch oven over high heat on the stove and bring to a boil. Continue to boil until the braising liquid has reduced to a thicker sauce, adding the butter at the end to finish. Strain the sauce (optional) and serve over the shanks.