Cold weather and roasts or stews were made for each other. Pot roasts, boiled dinners, beef stew and chowders warm from the inside out and are relatively easy to make, since the ingredients slow cook together. But what if you’re tired of the same old one-pot, slow-cooked fare? There are options, like Fuel’s Braised Pork Shank.

Justin Oliver, chef at the Lewiston downtown restaurant, calls the entrée a perfect winter dish. Hearty and filling, this pork offering cooks for three hours: a half-hour searing all sides, then two-and-a-half hours at 300 degrees in the oven. A relatively inexpensive cut of meat, pork shank might not be tender enough if it isn’t cooked correctly, Oliver said.

“This is a tough piece of meat — not something that you can just cook or grill off,” said Oliver. “It requires a couple hours cooking at a low temp in liquid. You’re looking to have it fall right off the bone when it’s done.”

Oliver said good quality wine and balsamic vinegar are essential to the flavor of this dish. And fresh herbs and spices are always best, but if some are difficult to find, Oliver said dried will do. Veal and lamb shank will work if pork shank is not available.

“It’s definitely a winter dish; it’s rib-sticking,” said Oliver.

In a heavy cast iron braising pan over medium-high heat, Oliver added oil and placed the shank in to sear all sides.

“You want to get a good crust on the outside, because that is going to seal in all the juices,” said Oliver. “Make sure that they are well seasoned.”

Next he added chopped celery, leek, onion, carrot and a little bit of garlic to the pot. A piece of smoked bacon was also added, to round out the flavor, Oliver said, while the pork is seared. Red wine and balsamic vinegar are added, then cooked for a few minutes to let the alcohol burn off before the pot is placed in a 300-degree oven for two-and-a-half hours. Those who are more adept at cooking can choose to burn off the alcohol flavor by lighting briefly with a match, Oliver said. This requires care and attention, however, so just allowing the dish to simmer a few minutes will do the same thing.

Don’t have a cast iron braising pan, which can be transferred to the oven? Oliver said that after the searing process, the shank can be placed in a slow cooker and cooked on low all day.

When cooking is complete, remove the pork and vegetables from the oven. The braising liquid should have thickened a bit. Add butter to give the sauce a shine and flatten any tanginess from the vinegar. Add salt and pepper and baste the pork shank. Serve over mashed sweet potatoes, spooning sauce over the top. Oliver says this dish is great paired with a light side salad and a big, hearty glass of red wine.

If a slow cooker is used, like a Crock-Pot, remove the pork and vegetables, then strain off the liquid to reduce for the sauce.

Next week: Parsley, sage, rosemary and time? Are you wondering if some of your dried herbs and spices are past their prime? Next week we peek inside the spice cabinet and examine the shelf life and best applications for those flavor enhancers we love.

Tips

• Trim excess fat and skin, because it will not break down in the braising process.
• A crock pot can be used instead of the oven, just set it to low and let it go all day.
• Ask your local butcher ahead of time, to make sure they have pork shank available.
• Make sure the pork is cooked thoroughly; it should feel soft and appear ready to fall off the bone.

Fuel’s Balsamic Braised Pork Shank over Sweet Potato Mash

Ingredients

4 pork shanks (ask your butcher to order them for you)
¼ cup leeks (diced)
¼ cup carrots (diced)
¼ cup onion (diced)
6 cloves garlic (whole)
3 sprigs of fresh thyme
1 bay leaf
4 slices of bacon
2 cups balsamic vinegar
1 bottle of red wine
4 tablespoons butter

Oil for braising

Sweet Potato Mash

4 to 5 sweet potatoes, peeled and cut into cubes
3 tablespoons butter
½ cup heavy cream

Procedure:

Place a large Dutch oven or similar pot over medium heat. Add about 3 tablespoons of oil to the pan. Pat the pork shanks dry, and season with salt and pepper. Place shanks in the pan, and brown on all sides, about 4 minutes a side.

Remove the shanks and set on a plate. Add the bacon to the pot and cook for about 5 minutes. Add the leeks, carrots, onion, garlic, thyme and bay leaf. Cook for another 5 to 7 minutes, or until vegetables are soft and translucent.

Turn the heat up to high, and pour in the bottle of red wine. Ideally, you want to burn off the alcohol in the wine at this point, or it will impart the flavors of the dish later on. You can either bring the wine to a boil and let it cook for 3 to 4 minutes, or you can ignite the wine with a match and burn off the alcohol that way. CAREFULLY!

After the alcohol is burned off, add the balsamic vinegar. Add the pork shanks to the pot. They should be mostly covered with the liquid.

Cover the pot and place in a 300-degree oven. They should cook in the oven for about 2 ½ hours, depending on their size. Check them after two hours. They are done when the meat is falling off the bone.

Carefully remove the shanks from the pot to a plate and cover with foil.

Move the pot to a burner over high heat. Once boiling, reduce heat enough to produce a strong simmer and reduce the cooking liquid by about 50 percent, or until the sauce thickly coats the back of a spoon.

Using a chinois or other strainer, strain the aromatics out of the sauce. Return the sauce to the pot and keep warm. Adjust seasoning with salt and pepper if necessary.

To make mashed sweet potatoes, add the sweet potatoes to a pot of boiling water. Cook until soft. Drain. In a bowl, mash the sweet potatoes with the butter and cream. Season with salt and pepper.

To finish the sauce:

Ladle about 2 cups of the sauce into a new, smaller saucepan over low heat. Add 4 tablespoons of butter (in a small dice) to the sauce, stirring constantly, until totally incorporated.

To plate:

Place a mound of the sweet potatoes in the middle of a plate or bowl. Carefully place the pork shank on top of the sweet potatoes. Ladle the sauce over the shank. Garnish with a sprig of thyme or other attractive greens. Serve.

Serves 4 as a hearty entrée.


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