by Ed Halmagyi


I’m a messy eater. Ask anyone who knows me.

I think it all stems back to my 20 years working in restaurant kitchens. Every day a meal is downed in stolen moments between the tail end of lunch service and the arrival of the next horde. So I became very efficient at moving food from plate to gullet.

Most of my friends say I don’t eat food, I inhale and wear it. Hmmmmm ……

Fortunately for me, braised meats come with a little spillage entitlement. All that gooey sauce, tender chunks of meat, and delicate vegetables on the verge of collapse. This way, I get to blame the dish!

No cut of meat is better suited to slow cooking than beef shin. Served as shanks in France and osso bucco in Italy, shin is one of the most flavoursome treats your butcher can offer. And choose beef, not veal. Veal shanks simply do not have the rich depth of flavour that beef can offer. What’s more, you’ll save a couple of bucks.

So as winter’s cold fug embraces us this week like a frigid doona, and our culinary minds turn to hearty food, bring out the crock-pot and get braising.

During winter cattle put on a little more fat (I know how they feel!) even in their legs. But remember what the great French chef Paul Bocuse said, “Eh, Fat eeez flavour!”. Hence this month is perfect for getting stuck into some hearty beef stew.

Shin’s open structure means it marinades magnificently. Think red wine and garlic, or olive oil and herbs. It is a tough secondary cut and will need to be cooked very slowly for several hours to soften (never above a bare simmer). Yet it’s worth this extra effort and pays handsome dividends. You may even be lucky enough to get a nice treat of marrow to finish with.

Shin is rich in gelatine and thickens its sauce naturally. If you are cooking Italian-style in a tomato-based liquid, the shin will provide all the thickening you need. If, however, you are braising French-style in stock, consider adding a split pork trotter or calf trotter to the pan. Trotters provide an intense gelatine burst that yields perfectly sticky, unctuous sauce. This is the secret French chefs have closely guarded for generations: the da Vinci code of cooking! Some recipes call for dusting the meat with a little flour before frying, or adding flour to the pan. This is an excellent alternate method suitable for those who cannot come at tossing a foot in their pot.

Ask your butcher for fresh shin, and get him to cut it at least 4cm thick for best results.
Braised beef shin in tomato and rosemary

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