Top of the Food Chain: Foreshank

Foreshank

Illustration by Laura Williams

Welcome to Top Of The Food Chain, a column from Eat Me Daily's meatiest columnist, Ryan Adams. Every week we'll attempt to demystify the options available in your supermarket, breaking animals down piece by piece so that the next time you find yourself staring at endless Styrofoam containers, you'll be able to make an informed purchase. This week: Foreshank.

The front legs of the cow house some of the greatest flavor you can find on the beast thanks to their constant usage. Unfortunately, that superior taste doesn't come without more than a few catches; it can be a tough cut, but with a little TLC it can taste amazing. I point out the pitfalls, guide you to flavor nirvana, and maybe stir up a little chili-related controversy below.

Cut: Foreshank

The foreshank is cut from the front legs of the carcass, with the humerus bone exposed by a straight cut. The meat is wonderfully beefy as previously mentioned, but there are a few things you need to consider before you run out and buy a dozen pounds of the stuff. There are strong tendons running through the muscle tissue, which only add to the muscle's inherent toughness due to usage. The various small muscles tend to be rather lean, which means that dry heat methods — which rely on ribbons of fat keep the meat moist and tender — would lead to dry results.

I understand if, after the above paragraph, you begin to doubt the value of the foreshank and perhaps even the trustworthiness of your humble author. However, this is just a case of the foreshank requiring specific preparations. The connective tissue bone can be harnessed for making killer beef stock, or used to impart richness and body to soups. Braising works well too, but expect extended cooking times to turn the connective tissue into gelatin. If ground up, the shank meat can be used for things like stews, or even better, chili.

Variations

foreshank

Photograph: NAMP Meat Buyer's Guide

Foreshank is one of the few cuts without variations. It is separated from the square-cut chuck and brisket, and can also be cut into slices.

What to look for when buying

If you're looking to make a rich beef stock, try to buy crosscut beef shanks. For chili and stews, choose center-cut shank rounds with as small of a round bone in the middle as possible, because they will have more muscle. The meat itself should have a bright, cherry-red color. Check that the muscle is firm to the touch, and that the container doesn't contain excess liquid. Not all grocery stores carry beef shank, so hit up your local Asian market as they usually carry them.

Storage

Whole beef shank can stay in your fridge for three days max, while boneless shank should be used by the second day. Ground foreshank needs to be cooked on the day it is ground. Consultant Bob del Grosso gives three reasons why it's important not to wait too long to cook shank meat:

1. There is a high bone to meat ratio, with a lot of the muscles running the length of the bone. That means that there is a lot of air spaces between the meat and bone for bacteria to grow.

2. The meat is from an area close to the hoof, which is more likely to contain bacteria due to the fact feedlot cattle have their feet in manure a lot of the time.

3. Shanks are usually marketed with a lot of "pellicle" or surface tissue relative to internal muscle tissue. The more surface tissue there is, the more likely there is to be a significant amount of bacteria on the surface that can infect the interior.

Beef can be frozen in its original packaging for up to two weeks. If you're going for longer storage, you'll want to prevent freezer burn by re-wrapping the flank steak in freezer paper, plastic freezer bags or heavy-duty aluminum foil. Try to remove as much air from the packaging as possible before sealing.

Basic Preparation: Texas Style Chili

This is a basic chili recipe done Texan style, otherwise known as chili done correctly — that is, without beans. To ensure that this recipe is fantastic, we've turned to the latest Terlingua International Chili Championship Winner, Margaret Nadeau.

  • 2 pounds of coarsely ground beef shank
  • 1 tablespoon cooking oil
  • 1 tablespoon dehydrated onion

In a heavy pot, heat the oil until it just starts to smoke, then add the ground beef shank and dehydrated onion. Lightly brown the meat.

  • 1 can(8 oz) tomato paste
  • 16 ounces of beef broth

Add the tomato paste and beef broth to the pot and stir to combine. Let cook over a low heat for 30 minutes.

  • 1 tablespoon light chili powder
  • 1 tablespoon dark chili powder
  • 1 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 tablespoon ground cumin
  • 1/2 tsp cayenne pepper
  • 1/2 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1 teaspoon Knorr chicken bullion

Add all of the above, again stirring to combine. Cover and let simmer over a low heat for one hour.

  • 1 tablespoon light chili powder
  • 1 tablespoon dark chili powder
  • 1/2 tablespoon ground cumin
  • 1 tsp paprika

Add the above spices and some water if the chili is looking dry. Cover and let cook for another 30 minutes. Top with cheese and green onions if desired. Crackers are an excellent option, too.

Additional Recipes

Special thanks to Bob del Grosso, Chef and Charcutiere of Hendricks Farms and Dairy in Telford, Pennsylvania, for consulting on this post.

Ryan Adams

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