The hind shank is typically one of the most inexpensive cuts of beef. It's usually sold in rounds, cut 1 to 2 inches thick, with a section of marrowbone left in place. Shanks are among the richest-flavored of all beef cuts, but there's a catch. They're exceptionally tough, and only suitable for long, slow cooking. Countertop slow-cookers provide a convenient way to cook your shanks unattended while you go about your day.
Wipe the cut surfaces of the shank pieces with a clean paper towel to remove any bone fragments or other debris from the butcher's saw.
Heat a heavy skillet over medium-high heat. Add a spoonful of oil and sear your shank pieces thoroughly on each side. Sear just one or two pieces at a time, until they're all well browned. Searing is optional but adds a great deal of flavor.
Season the shank pieces liberally with salt and pepper, and transfer them to the preheated crock of your slow cooker. Add onions, garlic, celery, spices or other flavorings as desired, then pour in a cup or two of beef broth.
Slow-cook the shanks for six to eight hours on your cooker's "Low" setting, or three to four hours on "High." The "Low" setting gives a richer, more flavorful final result and is usually preferable.
Test the shanks at the end of their cooking time to ensure they're fork-tender. If not, let them cook for another hour. Remove the shanks from the slow cooker with a slotted spoon, and transfer them to a serving tray.
- After browning the shank pieces in your skillet, you can pour in part of your broth and swirl it to dissolve the cooked-on juices from the browning step. Add them to the crock pot, along with the rest of your broth. These browned juices hold a lot of concentrated beef flavor, and will enhance your sauce measurably.
- Adding liquid to the slow cooker is optional, though it helps your shanks cook more evenly. A small amount of water will serve the purpose, if you don't have beef broth. Red wine or dark ale can also be used, though it's best if they're a complement to the beef broth rather than the main cooking liquid.
- Shanks are very good if cooked ahead for use the next day. Cooling the cooking liquid makes it easy to remove any excess fat, and the cooked shank can easily be shredded or cut from the bones for use in soup, stews, tacos or ravioli.
- If you're cooking vegetables with your shank to make a complete meal, place them in your slow-cooker first and layer the beef on top. The vegetables will cook more reliably if they're at the bottom with the cooking juices. Put dense vegetables such as carrots underneath, with quicker-cooking potatoes above them.
Fred Decker is a trained chef and prolific freelance writer. In previous careers, he sold insurance and mutual funds, and was a longtime retailer. He was educated at Memorial University of Newfoundland and the Northern Alberta Institute of Technology. His articles have appeared on numerous home and garden sites including GoneOutdoors, TheNest and eHow.