It seems like Boston butts and pork shoulders get all the slow-cooking love these days, but there's another kid in town that gets dinner on the table in much less time, and still has all that budget-conscious, fall-off-the bone goodness. A pork shank begs for a braise, too, but unlike the larger cuts of pork we usually talk about, this one won't take all day to cook and can be done in a smaller pot.
This recipe originally came about when a friend brought over a frozen shank she didn't know how to cook. I pulled what I had from the kitchen: garlic and fennel, a can of crushed plum tomatoes, and some red chili flakes. On the counter I found a rare, unfinished bottle of open red wine. Years later this is still the combo I use when I make this in the summer.
I'll never forget that first time I made this dish. With the leftovers, we made what amounted to a summer pulled pork sandwich on a baguette with crisp Little Gem lettuce, and packed them for the beach.
Of course this is perfect for other seasons, you can adapt with what's available in the market: leeks, carrots, even turnips. Meat is also great braised in beer, so experiment with the final addition of alcohol.
Braised Summer Pork Shank
pork shanks (about 3 pounds total)
fennel bulb, ferny tops and root end removed, sliced crosswise
(28-ounce) can crushed tomatoes
red chili flakes
loosely packed freshly chopped Italian parsley, basil, or a combination, divided
Salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste
Preheat the oven to 300°F.
If the pork has a thick layer of fat, make cross-hatch cuts with a very sharp knife, deep enough to just split the skin.
Warm the oil over high heat in a 4-quart Dutch oven. Add the pork and cook a minute or two on each side until browned, turning carefully with tongs. Remove and set aside.
Lower the heat to medium, then sauté the garlic and fennel with a pinch of salt until garlic begins to show color. Add the pork back to the pot, pour over the tomatoes, wine and chili flakes. Cover tightly with a lid or a layer of foil, and transfer to the oven.
Cook for 1 1/2 to 2 hours, turning the meat after 30 minutes. In the last 20 minutes of cooking, uncover the meat, turn it again, and raise the oven temperature to 450°F. The pork is done when the meat pulls easily away from the bone. Divide each shank and its sauce between two large shallow bowls and top with chopped fresh herbs, salt, and pepper. Serve with rice or big hunks of crusty bread and butter.
This recipe has been updated. Originally published August 2008.