A friend came over one day last week with a frozen pork shank from Flying Pigs Farm and dropped it on the butcher block with a thud.
"What do I do with this?" she asked, "it's been in the freezer for months." I had never cooked a pork shank before but knew it was definitely the kind of cut that begged for a braise.
On hand, I had some fresh fennel and garlic from our trip to the farm, and from the cupboards I pulled some olive oil, a can of crushed plum tomatoes, and some red chile flakes. On the counter I noticed the dregs of a bottle of red wine from a few days prior. That seemed like it belonged, too.
While this may seem like a cold-weather creation, it actually hit the spot one warm evening last week served tepid with brown rice and a dollop of crème fraîche. For the leftovers, we made what amounted to a summer pulled pork sandwich on a baguette with crisp green lettuce, and packed them for the beach.
When the weather cools, use what you can find. You should always have the canned tomatoes on hand. No fennel? Try using mild onions and caramelize the heck out of them on the stovetop before adding the meat and moving it to the oven. Meat is also great braised in beer, so experiment with the final addition of alcohol.
Braised Summer Pork Shank
serves 4, lightly
1.5 pound pork shank (fresh ham)
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 fennel bulb, ferny tops and root end removed, sliced cross-wise
5-7 cloves garlic, chopped
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 (28-ounce) can crushed tomatoes
1/3 cup red wine
1/4 teaspoon red chile flakes
1/4 cup loosely packed freshly chopped Italian parsley, basil, or a combination, divided
sea salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste
Preheat oven to 300° F.
With a very sharp knife, make cross-hatch cuts, only deep enough to split the skin, across the pads of fat on the pork, in a grid-like design.
Heat the oil over high heat in a 4-quart casserole or a Dutch oven. Add the pork a cook a minute or two on each side, turning carefully with tongs. Remove and set aside.
Lower the heat to medium, add a splash more oil if necessary, then sauté garlic and fennel with salt until garlic begins to show color. Add seared pork back to the pot, pour over tomatoes, wine and chile flakes. Cover tightly with corresponding lid or a layer of foil.
Cook for 1 - 1 1/2 hours, turning over 20-30 minutes. It is done with the meat pulls easily away from the bone. Serve with a sprinkling chopped fresh herbs, salt, and pepper.