Friday, 10 December 2010

Pork shanks, prunes and apple in cider

Lamb shanks have been something of a staple of mine, which I’m slightly surprised not to have covered on this blog yet*, which is perhaps as well because lamb shanks would mark me out as being stuck in the 90s.  Being stuck in a gastro pub in the nineties, apparently, whereas the pork belly I roasted a couple of weeks ago puts me in a gastro pub in the noughties.  What will be the defining gastro pub cut of meat for the present decade has yet to be decided (presumably we need to agree on what we’re going to call the decade itself first.  Teenies?  Sheesh.  Noughties was bad enough), but my current bet, for what that’s worth, would be on veal osso buco, which all of a sudden seems to be ubiquitous on any butcher’s slab with any pretence to either quality or fashionability.  Or, if not osso buco, then maybe, in a mash up of the best bits of the previous two decades, pork shanks, which have also apparently appeared out of nowhere in the past couple of months.

Now I have to admit I don’t know precisely what a pork shank is.  Or rather, I know what a pork shank is, I just don’t know precisely what distinguishes one from a ham hock, which is undoubtedly cut from the same part of the pig (the lower leg).  Google suggests variously that shank and hock are entirely synonymous; that a hock is a cured shank; or that the shank is the whole lower part of the leg (called, excitingly, stinco, in Italian), of which the hock is itself the lower part.  Even Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall, and his essential Meat book – generally my bible in all things carnal (not THAT kind of carnal…) – lets me down by referring only to hocks.  From my own hands on experience I would suggest that the items I was sold as pork shanks were in fact the same as uncured ham hocks stripped of their blanket of skin and fat.

Whatever the precise definition and/or distinction, a hock or a shank, be it from a pig or a lamb (or veal osso buco for that matter) is a knobbly lump of meat on the bone of the lower leg, fatty and gelatinous but also formed of well exercised muscle so fibrous and sinewy too.  That makes it sound unappealing, but cooked long and slow till it falls softly off the bone, it’s full of sweet flavour and meltingly tender.  On this occasion I combined my shanks with two classically bistro-y companions to pork – prunes and apples – and braised it gently in good cider (Weston’s organic in this case, from Sainsburys so widely available).

2 pork shanks
10-12 dried prunes
2 apples
1 onion
500ml good dry cider
1 clove garlic, a little fresh chilli
6 - 8 sage leaves

First you’ll need to soak your prunes by covering them with boiling water in a bowl or pan, and leaving to stand for at least a couple of hours.
When the prunes are soaked and ready, brown the shanks in a big casserole.
Finely chop the garlic and chilli, peel and slice the onion into chunky wedges, throw them in the pot with the meat.

Peel and core the apples, cut them into quarter wedges, then 1/8s .  Once the onions are soft and starting to colour, throw the apples in the pot, let them cook for a couple of minutes, then add the prunes and pour over the cider.
Bring to a simmer, cover the casserole and put it in the oven at around 150 for about three hours.
Serve with mash.

* I will, I promise, cover lamb shanks sooner or later, either slow braised in beer or wine, which follows the same basic method as above (except without the prunes and apples and with wine or beer instead of cider, obviously) or my previously posted recipes for oxtail or cheeks; or pot roasted in my own approximation of kleftiko, next time I’m feeling exercised about the notion of ‘authenticity’ I dare say…

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