Virginia in winter is subtly beautiful. Delicate, blackened bone trees. Raw, sweeping curves of hills. A colorbox of strange halftones: olive green, bleached orange, gray-brown, salt white. Sometimes hard to perceive, the beauty is always there if you look for it: the eerie, lonely noise of geese ringing through cold, bell-clear air; the hazy bluish-purple of a certain kind of shrub; a splendid sunset.
Coming back, stocked with a meaty pair of beef shanks and some other odds and ends (The Whole Ox is a lot like a treasure cave; I can never leave with just what's on the list), I passed a pair of foxes in a field. Their red bodies echoed the reddish-orange grasses that stuck up through the snow. Robin's egg sky and tumbledown wooden fence framed the scene. The foxes ignored me as I slowed to watch them--a pair of teenagers getting into trouble: one the instigator and the other slightly hesitant, hanging back. I longed to take a picture of them, but the stretch of road was too dangerous to stop for long. And so I've turned the image over and over in mind like a smooth stone, polishing and holding on to it. Maybe it was just as well I didn't get the picture. It wouldn't have been as good as the one in my mind.
Once home with my goodies, I quickly started the braise. After three hours of slow cooking in the oven, we had a gorgeous meal of braised beef shanks (so tender the meat fell off the bones), mashed potatoes, and Brussels sprouts slaw. A wonderful meal that made a cold and ordinary Saturday into a special occasion.
- 3 lbs (or thereabouts) beef shanks (preferably big meaty ones with big bones)
- 1-1 1/2 cups orange juice
- 1/2-1 cup soy sauce
- 3 Tbsps vegetable oil (for searing)
- 3-4 Tbsps flour (for dredging)
- salt, pepper
- smoked paprika (optional but oh so nice)
- 1 tsp ground cumin
- 1 tsp ground coriander
- 1 whole head of garlic, individual cloves peeled
- 5-6 whole medium carrots, peeled and ends trimmed
- Preheat the oven to 350 F.
- Pat the beef shanks dry with paper towels and very liberally sprinkle salt, pepper, and smoked paprika all over them. Rub the seasonings into the meat. Then dredge the meat with flour.
- Heat the vegetable oil to medium-high heat in a frying pan. Sear the meat on all sides, for about 1-2 minutes per side. (You should have a nice golden brown crust on the meat.)
- Transfer the meat to a Dutch oven. Arrange the garlic cloves and carrots around the meat.
- Add the orange juice, soy sauce, cumin, and coriander to the hot frying pan. Scrape at the browned bits that are stuck to the bottom of the pan. Let the mixture cook for a minute or two, just enough to bring all the ingredients together. Taste the braising liquid. It should be quite strong. Make any tweaks you like at this point (such as add a touch of honey, a splash of vinegar, more spice) and then pour the braising liquid over the meat and vegetables. Then slide it into the oven for about 3 hours.
- Take the meat out of the oven about 20-30 minutes before serving to let it cool down a little before eating. Use the braising liquid as a sauce over mashed potatoes or something that will soak up the juices. And do not forget to suck the marrow out of the bones, for that is truly one of life's pleasures (if you're an omnivore, at least).
Brussels Sprouts Slaw
- Rinse and grate 1 to 1 1/2 lbs Brussels sprouts that are brilliant green without brown blemishes on a coarse grater. Use the hard whitish ends to hold onto the sprout and then discard that part. I highly recommend getting a protective glove for doing this job. Alternatively, you could shred the sprouts in a food processor. If you do it this way, trim the hard white stem ends first. Add the shredded Brussels sprouts to a medium salad bowl.
- Coarsely grate about 1/2 cup of Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese. Mix with the shredded sprouts.
- In another bowl, whisk together
- 6 Tbsps good quality oil (I used avocado oil, but a good quality extra virgin olive oil or walnut oil would be wonderful too)
- 4 Tbsps red wine vinegar
- 1 tsp honey (ish, more or less to taste)
- 1/4 tsp (or so) salt
- pinch of pepper
- 2 cloves garlic, crushed
- Taste the vinaigrette for seasoning and adjust according to your taste.
- Pour the vinaigrette over the sprouts and cheese and mix it all together. Eat!