When it comes to winter comfort food, nothing beats something braised. During cooking, the heat from the stove warms the house, while the aromas tantalize the appetite. At the table, the unctuousness of the meat and the sensuousness of the sauce caress the palate. And if you’re lucky enough, or had the foresight to double the recipe, you have the leftovers, which more often than not are even better than when you first enjoyed the dish.
Last weekend, I found some great looking locally sourced, farm-raised pork shanks, each about a pound, at my butcher in Chelsea Market, Dickson’s.
When I got back home, I looked through my files and found a recipe from Williams-Sonoma for a classic braise with broth, wine, and aromatics complemented by cooked white beans.
The success of this dish depends a lot on thoroughly browning the shanks to develop deep meaty flavors. Finely dicing the onions, carrots, and celery makes for a richly textured sauce. My only variation from the recipe was using whole, rather than chopped, fresh thyme and removing the springs before finishing the sauce. I also used a smaller quantity of beans than called for.
Braised Pork Shanks with White Beans Adapted from Williams-Sonoma
4 fresh pork shanks, well-tied, each 1 1/2 to 2 lb.
Salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 cup olive oil
2 yellow onions, cut into 1/4-inch dice
2 celery stalks, cut into 1/4-inch dice
2 carrots, peeled and cut into 1/4-inch dice
4 garlic cloves, minced
2 Tbs. tomato paste (I recommend the imported concentrated tomato paste from a tube.)
1/4 cup chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley, plus more for garnish
2 Tbs. chopped fresh thyme (I prefer to use the whole springs and remove then after cooking.)
3 cups low-sodium chicken broth
1 cup dry white wine
4 cups cooked cannellini beans (I recommend starting with 2 cups, and adding more to your taste.)
Preheat an oven to 375°F.
Season the pork shanks with salt and pepper. Dredge the shanks in the flour, shaking off the excess. (I’m rather liberal with my salt and pepper.)
In a large braiser (enameled cast iron works best) over medium-high heat, warm the olive oil until just smoking. Add the shanks and brown on all sides, 10 to 12 minutes total. Transfer to a plate. (Take the time to brown the shanks well.)
Add the onions, celery and carrots to the pan and cook, stirring occasionally, until tender, 8 to 10 minutes.
Add the tomato paste and allow to toast for about a minute. (The original recipe adds the tomato paste along with he garlic and thyme and does not call for toasting.)
Add the garlic, the 1/4 cup parsley and the thyme and cook for 1 minute. Stir in the broth and wine and bring the mixture to a boil.
Return the shanks to the pan, cover and transfer to the oven. Cook, turning the shanks once about half way through, until the meat is fork-tender and almost falls off the bone, 2 1/2 to 3 hours. Transfer the shanks to a platter and cover loosely with aluminum foil. (The original recipe says to turn the shanks occasionally; I think once is enough.)
Skim the fat off the braising liquid, set the pan over medium-high heat and bring to a boil. Simmer until the liquid is thickened, 15 to 20 minutes. Stir in the cooked beans, mashing some of them into the sauce.
Garnish the shanks with parsley and serve immediately with the beans and braising juices. Serves 4.
Wine Pairing: Cotes du Rhone, Syrah