Saturday, 21 May 2011

At Home: Beef Shin Ragu

It pains me to start this post with a less than inspiring pic. I hope that the description will serve as the appetite whetter instead. It tastes bloody spectacular, I promise.

Thrift never translates into bounty as readily as when a cheap cut of meat becomes a tender, rich, and satisfying supper. Shin is ideal for a ragu, as the meat falls apart easily with long slow cooking, and it pairs beautifully with pasta.

Ask your butcher to leave the bone in the shin. Failing that, add a pig's trotter to the mix. A morsel of marrow is a lovely thing, but in its absence the gelatinous nature of the trotter is a more than acceptable substitute, and will improve the texture of the ragu no end.

Pavel at How Not to Do a Food Blog was the inspiration for this dish. His recipe read like food porn, and I was hooked. And, I stole Helen Graves' (find her post at Food Stories) clever idea of perking up the finished dish with a gremolata.

Be adventurous with the aromatics. I've stuck to the usual suspects here, but you could try Stevie Parle's suggestion of allspice, fennel seeds, and star anise, or a stick or two of cinnamon/cassia bark, and a dried chilli. Or, Pavel's celery seed idea.

Shove any leftover meat into a salad wrap with avocado, cucumber and sour cream (for the hot heads, add a dollop of jamaican hot sauce); mix it with mashed potato and fry (for the gluttons, put a fried egg on top); turn it into a quesadilla filling with melted cheese and pickles. Or, simply spoon it on top of a steaming baked potato.

2 tbsp light olive oil
1.5 kg (3lb 5 oz) beef shin, thickly sliced into steaks (bone-in, if possible)
2 carrots, peeled and finely chopped
2 celery sticks, finely chopped
2 onions, peeled and finely chopped
2 garlic cloves, peeled and finely chopped
5 black peppercorns
Bouquet garni (sprig of thyme, sprig of rosemary, 2 bay leaves, 2 sage leaves)
2 large glasses of medium-bodied French or Italian red wine
500ml good quality beef or chicken stock
400g tin of chopped tomatoes
½ tsp grated nutmeg, and a generous handful of grated Parmesan, to serve

For the gremolata, mix together:
a handful of flat-leaf parsley, finely chopped
grated zest of 1 unwaxed lemon, finely chopped
1 garlic clove, peeled and finely chopped
  • Pre-heat your oven to 130C (266F/Gas ½). Add the olive oil to a large heavy casserole dish and warm over a medium heat. Season the meat and fry it in batches (you want it to brown and caramelise, not steam). Remove the meat to a plate, and set aside.
  • Add the vegetables, peppercorns, and herbs to the casserole dish. Turn down the heat, and sweat them gently for 10-15 minutes until soft but not coloured.
  • Return the meat to the pan, and add the wine, stock, and tomatoes. Bring to a simmer, then cover and cook in the oven for 4-5 hours (the longer the better). Check it every hour or so, to make sure it's not drying out. If it is, add a little water.
  • Remove the meat from the sauce, and tear it apart with a fork and spoon (it should yield wilfully). If you'd like a gooier sauce, reduce it on the hob before returning the shredded meat to the dish. Remove the bouquet garni, and season to taste.
  • Serve with a robust pasta, such as rigatoni or pappardelle, or gnocchi, and sprinkle with the gremolata, some Parmesan, and a touch of grated nutmeg.


  1. This looks (and sounds) incredible. That picture sets my saliva going no problem! I completely agree, it's so good when cheaper cuts of meat taste so good. I especially love beef shin. Thanks for following - am following back.

  2. I love shin - it's one of my favourite cuts. I don't tend to add too much spicing, but I think beef particularly benefits from one lone star anise chucked in while simmering and later fished out.

  3. All That I'm Eating: welcome! Glad the lacklustre pic didn't put you off.

    Lizzie: yes, I too prefer it over oxtail (not enough meat for my liking), and most other braising cuts. I often chuck in a star anise - roasted gently beforehand - and a bit of unwaxed orange zest. But I kept it simple this time.

  4. Sounds fantastic and looks pretty good as well! Need to try out Helens Gremolata as well! Thank you for the lovely comments as well x

  5. Looks really great! I would have always thought of this as a winter dish but I love the suggestions you've given for it.

  6. Pavel: thanks - getting my camera back this week, so I hope my blog will recover some visual vibrancy before too long.

    Michelle: Hi. It is by nature a dish to warm and coddle, ideal for days like today, but not otherwise seasonal. I'll have to make up for it with something fresh and light next time!