A recent Kim Severson story about a New Mexican steer-share identified the beef shank as among the animal’s more challenging parts to cook. Which was good to hear. Our shanks always seem to sit in the freezer while we eat our way through the steaks and roasts and more recognizable parts. It’s probably because these things are really tough mothers, dense with fibrous connective tissue and sinew, that makes them such a test of kitchen skill.

Bill Buford cooks down shanks with a bottle of red wine and a few generous tablespoons of ground black pepper, and he claims that after a day’s braise few things are more tender or flavorful. But we’re talking beef stew here; how different can it be? Braise your beef in wine plus or minus tomatoes, and I’m not convinced it matters overly whether you layer in bacon, onions, garlic, mushrooms, herbs, pepper, or other flavorings, or whether you choose beer as your flavor base, because the beef taste is often totally overpowering in long-cooked food.

So I was pleased to find that red curry stands up to beef in much the way that red wine does, while also lending spice and complexity. You can add ginger, turmeric, cumin, kaffir lime — even cinnamon and cardamom —  to the mix, and you’ll get a beef braise that’s decidedly different than the usual Euro fare, especially when served over steamed rice or seasoned rice noodles.

Consider this recipe a starting point. Play around with the flavors, and if you like add sliced mushrooms and red bell pepper about 30 minutes before finishing; I think the vegetables add nice balance to this meaty dish.

Beef Shanks Braised in Red Curry

3 lbs cross-cut beef shanks / ½ cup flour / s & p / 1 onion, minced / 2 small carrots, minced / 1 clove garlic, minced / 1 tbls red curry paste, or to taste / 1 tsp cumin / 2 tsp coriander / ½ tsp turmeric / 1 cup coconut milk / 2 cups beef stock or water / 3 kaffir lime leaves, sliced thinly or 2 bay leaves / optional garnishes: chopped cilantro, lime wedges

Rinse and dry beef shanks. In a shallow dish, mix flour with ½ tsp salt and several grindings of pepper. Coat shanks with mixture.

Heat a heavy stewpot over medium-high heat. Swirl in 1 tbls vegetable oil, coating bottom of pot. When hot, brown shanks on each side, about 6 minutes per side. Remove and set aside. Add another splash of vegetable oil if pot is dry and swirl to coat. Add onion, carrots, and garlic and cook, stirring, until vegetables are softened, about 5 minutes. Stir in curry paste, cumin, coriander, and turmeric. When spices have released their aromas, about 1 minute, add coconut milk and stock or water and stir, scraping up and incorporating browned bits into the liquid. Stir in kaffir lime or bay leaves and return shanks to pot.

Add additional water to cover the shanks if needed, bring contents to a boil, then turn heat down to a bare simmer. Cook three to four hours or until meat is very tender. Remove bay leaves if you used them and coax meat away from bone. Serve over rice or seasoned rice noodles, with optional garnishes, and toss bones to the dogs. It’s equally good / perhaps better the next day. Feeds 6-8. Serve fresh Thai cucumber pickle alongside.

Advertisements