Making braised dishes is a favorite cooking method for Michael McDowell. “After sautéing or searing the meat at a high temperature to brown it, then adding the meat to your vegetables and broth, finishing it off in a covered pan on low heat blends all the flavors nicely. There’s no limit to what you can add to it,” says McDowell, chef at The Social Bar + Kitchen in New London. “Braised pork shank is a savory dish you can change with the seasons and still enjoy. It can also be done with a tomato broth and spices or flavors you and your family prefer.”
Although the recipe is a bit time-intensive, the result is a tender cut of meat that’s juicy, flavorful and satisfying. “The end product falls off the bone and cuts with a fork, no knife needed. Anything that takes time to cook should melt in your mouth,” says McDowell, adding that the ingredients are everyday items found in most home pantries. “Plus it can easily be served with just about anything as a side dish, such as rice, mashed potatoes, pasta and any root vegetable.”
McDowell grew up on Southern-style dishes — ham hocks, collard greens, fried cabbage, spicy barbecue sauces, and smoked briskets. “In my cooking, I use flavors I grew up with, comfort foods that can be made simply or recreated with a twist,” he says. “As soon as I could see over the stove I started cooking. I love to eat and learned a lot of different ways from my mother and her mother, who are from Puerto Rico, and my father and his mother, who are from the South. There are times I go into the kitchen with an idea and just start playing.”
Michael McDowell’s Braised pork shanks
Servings: 5-6 Prep time: 25 minutes • Cooking time: 2 hours, 30 minutes
5 to 6 pork shanks
¼ cup olive oil
1 cup red wine (chef suggests a zinfandel or grenache)
2 cups diced carrots
½ cup green olives, halved or sliced
2 fennel bulbs (sliced crosswise)
2 cups diced medium white onions
8 cloves small garlic, chopped
1½ cups tomatoes, chopped
1 quart chicken broth
¼ cup cilantro (about 1 bunch)
1 teaspoon red pepper flakes
- Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
- Trim excess skin and fat from pork shanks.
- In a Dutch oven or a medium-size sauté pan, heat the oil over medium heat until hot. If you don’t have a Dutch oven, a roasting pan with a cover will work fine.
- Add the shanks and brown on all four sides, a few minutes on each side.
- Remove shanks from pan and set aside.
- Add red wine to deglaze pan. Small parts of meat will have stuck to the pan; the wine will loosen them up and add flavor to the liquid as you stir it in.
- Return pork shanks to the pan and add all other ingredients, except for cilantro. Cover, and put in a preheated oven and cook for 1 hour.
- Uncover and rotate shanks, moving them around in the pan.
- Cook 1 more hour, checking on them periodically. For the last 30 minutes, cook uncovered.
- Shanks are done when the meat pulls away from the bone.
- To serve, place mashed potatoes or starch of your choice to the center of a bowl. Put the pork shank in the center of the starch. Add a little bit of the juice over the top, cilantro for garnish and serve.