This dish also illustrates my philosophy on slow cookers: The slow cooker is not always there to save you work. If you threw the meat into the slow cooker with these ingredients, without building some flavor in the skillet first, you would miss out on a lot of flavor and depth. It's important to do a little up-front work, but then of course you can walk away from it all day (or all night), let the slow cooker do the hard work of melting the meat into something delicious, and come back to a meal all ready to be devoured.
Slow Cooker Peppered Beef Shank in Red Wine serves 4 to 6 as a main course 2 to 2 1/2 pounds beef crosscut shank, fat trimmed away Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper Vegetable or peanut oil 10 to 12 cloves garlic, peeled and roughly chopped 2 medium yellow onions, peeled and roughly chopped 1 large stalk celery, roughly chopped 1 bay leaf 1 rosemary sprig 750 ml bottle inexpensive red wine, such as Charles Shaw Cabernet Sauvignon 4 cups beef broth 2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar Heat a wide, deep skillet over medium high heat. Pat the beef shanks dry and season generously with salt and pepper. Add a drizzle of oil to the pan, and when it hot, add the beef shank. Sear the meat for at least 7 minutes on each side, creating a dark brown crust. When the meat has been thoroughly browned, remove from the pan and place in a slow cooker insert. Turn the heat down to medium and add the garlic, onion, and celery. Cook for about 15 minutes, stirring occasionally, letting the onion acquire some browning and color. Add the bay leaf and the rosemary sprig, and pour in the red wine and broth. Add 1/2 tablespoon ground black pepper. Bring to a boil, then lower the heat and simmer for about 20 minutes. The liquid should reduce by about 1/3. (Check out this brilliant tip for checking to see how far a sauce has reduced.) Pour the sauce and vegetables over the meat in the slow cooker. Stir in the balsamic vinegar. Cover and cook for 6 to 8 hours on LOW. You will know the meat is done when it is extremely tender and has fallen away from the bone and into small pieces. If you do not wish to serve it right away, refrigerate. This also makes it easier to remove the excess fat. Spoon out any chilled shards of fat after the shanks have been refrigerated for several hours. To serve, heat gently in its sauce in a Dutch oven or saucepan on the stovetop. Taste and if necessary add additional salt. Serve over polenta or pasta.
Related: Friday Night Slow-Cooked Brisket and Onions (Image: Faith Durand)