I gained a new perspective on shank possibilities on a recent trip to Colonial Williamsburg, one of my favorite places on the face of the planet. I ordered Braised Pork Shanks off a restaurant menu because, to my knowledge, I had never eaten pork shanks and love to try new foods. While the food was being prepared, a Google search on the ol’ Blackberry taught me that smoked pork shanks are commonly called ham hocks when they’re smoked. Ham hocks! I had stars in my eyes, instantly. Maybe the stars were actually tears. I felt like I needed to dance. My husband didn’t agree. Bless his heart. He’s not a foodie. Don’t get me wrong. When he likes food he really likes it. However, he doesn’t get excited about food. He’s never had the wonderful experience of swooning over good food. That enthusiasm can’t be taught. It’s coded in your DNA. I’m sorry he missed out on that coding. Who knows what he was doing the day it got passed out. I, on the other hand, was the first person in line. Food thrills me. Everything about it thrills me. I can truthfully say, “I’m in love with food.”
While service was wonderful at our restaurant, my excitement and anticipation made it seem like it took forever to get my pork shank meal. I felt as though I would burst wide open trying to be patient. The wait was well worth it. The pork shanks were butter tender and flavorful. I promised myself to diligently search for fresh pork shanks as soon as we got back home. To my surprise, the butcher at my local grocery was more than willing to accommodate my request. He explained to me that they only received one fresh ham per day and cut the shanks from that. The daily yield is but two. He went on to say he’d be happy to save them up for me. After expressing my sincere gratitude , I asked him to call me when he had six. That’s exactly what he did. Customer service is still alive and well at Publix grocery stores. At least in the meat department. At least in the meat department of the store where I shop.
This inexpensive cut of meat has all but been forgotten except for being used to cure for ham hocks. The toughness requires a long cooking time which suits me just fine. I love nothing better than meat dishes that can be put together rather quickly and then popped in the oven for a long cook time requiring no attention.
In preparation for this meal, I set out in my yard to gather what I thought would add flavor. I believe if it grows together, it goes together, so I’m comfortable experimenting with different combinations of what ever happens to be in season. I wound up with oranges, rosemary and parsley. That combination isn’t written in stone and can easily be changed season to season. If those items aren’t available to you, substitute anything you can get your hands on. In slow cooking dishes, the flavors blend together and nothing stands out. They’re complementary and kind to each other. Try apples, thyme and sage. Or peaches, rosemary and parsley. The sky’s the limit.
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Orange and Rosemary Braised Pork Shanks
4 to 5 pounds fresh pork shanks (skin on)
1/4 cup flour
1 tablespoon homemade taco seasoning and meat rub (or use your favorite seasoning or meat rub)
1/4 to 1/2 cup olive oil, divided
3 cups good quality stock (homemade or commercial)
2 cups white wine
2 large onions, peeled and sliced
4 to 5 cloves garlic, minced
2 celery stalks, including leaves
2 oranges, sliced
2 bay leaves
1 spring fresh rosemary
1 bunch fresh parsley
salt and pepper to taste
cornstarch, optional (for thickening the braising liquid)
Mix together flour and seasoning. Lightly coat pork shanks. Heat 1/4 cup olive oil in a heavy skillet, preferably cast iron, and sear shanks on all sides.
Remove from skillet when browned. Add onions and more olive oil if necessary. Cook onions until they begin to brown slightly. Add garlic and cook for an additional 2 minutes. Pour stock in skillet and scrape all the pieces from the bottom. Add wine and put shanks back in the pot. They need to be mostly covered with liquid.
Place carrots, celery, oranges, rosemary, parsley and bay leaves on top. Cover well.
Cover tightly. Cook at 300 degrees for 3 to 4 hours or until the pork shanks are tender and falling off the bone.
Remove meat. Strain liquid. Cook on medium-high until reduced by half. If the gravy is not thickened to your liking at the end of the cooking time, dissolve about one teaspoon of cornstarch in some water and add it back to the gravy while it’s boiling. It will thicken almost immediately. Remove skin and bones from the pork shanks and add them back to the gravy. Taste for seasoning and adjust. Serve over cooked rice.
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