Most folks are not aware of the incredible culinary and nutritional storehouse that is locked away within the folds of the beef shanks--horizontal cuts on the lower leg of the steer. That is because the shanks are riddled with connective tissue that dissolves into a gelatinous broth. In this recipe, there's no need to use pre-made beef stock. What's more, beef shanks are very economical.
4 pieces center-cut beef shank, about 2 inches thick
1/2 cup beef tallow or lard
2 cups peeled and cut carrots
2 cups peeled and cut onions
1 tablespoon mixed dry peppercorns
2 large bay leaves
2 quarts filtered water
1 small can tomato paste
1 cup balsamic vinegar
several sprigs fresh thyme
1 tablespoon chopped fresh garlic
sea salt to taste
Remove shanks from the refrigerator and allow to come to room temperature. Place the stockpot over high heat, add the tallow or lard and when a drop of water sizzles vigorously in the hot fat, begin searing the meat on both sides until nicely browned. Add the peppercorns while searing, since the heat will bring out a desirable nutty flavor. Place the vegetables in the pan with the meat to coat them with fat, then pull the meat away from the bottom of the pan so that the vegetables can soften and brown. To the stockpot add the balsamic vinegar and a mixture of the water and the tomato paste. Bring to a gentle boil then immediately reduce to a slow simmer. Using a ladle or spoon, skim any foam from the top of the stock and discard. Add the thyme and bay leaves.
Allow to simmer very slowly, covered, 3-4 hours until the meat is tender and almost ready to fall apart. Remove the meat to a platter or baking dish; then strain the stock through a sieve and return the stock to the pot with the garlic. Let the stock reduce for about 1/2 hour by boiling gently, uncovered. Meanwhile, gently remove unwanted tissue from between the nuggets of meat (but don't scrape off the beautiful, shiny coating of gelatin that will tend to remain on each piece).
Return the meat and bones to the baking dish, cover and keep warm. Continue to skim any foam from the top of the stock. Once the stock thickens and becomes a sauce, carefully season to taste with sea salt.
Arrange a shank bone on each plate with the nuggets of meat placed around it. The marrow will be present in the center of the bone for those who appreciate this delicacy. Pour the sauce over the meat. Serve with mashed potatoes and oven-roasted carrots and leeks. (You may also wish to serve toasted bread on the side, to spread the marrow on.)