Ah, the humble Beef Shank. You might not be familiar with this lowly cut of meat so I’ll save you the search and pull right from its sparse Wikipedia entry:
The beef shank is the shank (or leg) portion of a steer or heifer… Due to the constant use of this muscle by the animal it tends to be tough, dry, and sinewy… Due to its lack of sales, it is not often seen in shops. Although, if found in retail, it is very cheap and a low-cost ingredient for beef stock.
When looking for signs of moral decay in our society, many point to the productions of Hollywood and pronouncements of the New York Time’s Editorial Board as evidence that Rome is burning. Instead, I would argue that the greatest reason we might need to follow old St. Benedict and flee an empire collapsing around us is found in our collective disregard for… the Beef Shank.
It is true, the Beef Shank served a steer or heifer well during its life through faithful and constant use. Yes that means that the muscle was strong and lean. But the “lack of sales” and “low-cost” are not because the Shank has little value. It is because we don’t have the patience to understand that its difference from other cuts of meat is not a liability, but an opportunity.
The Shank, and other “discount” cuts of meat cast off by society, are the ones we are called to embrace. It is in them that are found the greatest of riches. It is here, my friends, we find the culinary world’s Pearl of Great Price.
The Shank’s humility is its crown.
A true lover of food will see its light marbled fat, dense marrow and solid bone, and instead of wishing for a filet mignon, they will envision a feast only 10 hours away.
“What should we do with all (26.4 ounces to be precise) this liver?” my mother asked in what I hoped might be a rhetorical question.
“We?” I responded foolishly as if thirty years of experience had taught me nothing about where this conversation was headed.
“Well I” my mother emphasized, “am going to make some pâté.”
“And by ‘I’ do you mean that you want me to make you some pâté?”
“No, no, no. I’m going to make you some pâté because you are B12 deficient and probably have BerryBerry disease.”
Like any good story teller and… some… medical professionals, my mom likes to add a bit of spice to her health pronouncements, just to make sure you are listening. The B12 deficiency is something I actually have and liver is actually high in B12. That part made sense. But BerryBerry (or Beriberi if you want to be medically accurate) is another thing entirely.
Whenever I cook mashed potatoes I make sure there are leftovers. This is not an easy task. One could be forgiven for assuming that the equation to determine the amount of mashed potatoes that should be prepared for any given meal would include the simple factors of the number of eaters (X) at your table multiplied by an estimated amount of potatoes to be consumed per person (Y). The equation to determine Potatoes to be Mashed (or PTBM) would look like this:
PTBM = X · Y
This equation of course begs the question, “what is Y?” Any cook worth their Mrs. Dash Classic Table Blend can tell you that Y is going to be very different if you are cooking Thanksgiving dinner where mashed potatoes might be one of eight different dishes served onto any given plate, you are cooking a Sunday chicken with green beans and potatoes as the only sides or if you are having your last meal before heading out to have a few Close Encounters of the Third Kind. In this case I would introduce 3 as a constant with the variable Y moving between 0 and 2 depending on the role your mashed potatoes are playing in the meal. Plug in a 0 if the potatoes are the star of the show, a 1 for a major side and a 2 if they are functioning as just a side among many. The equation now looks like this:
PTBM = X · (3-Y)
It is important to note that Y should NEVER be more than 2. If there is ever a time when you think mashing one potato per person is too much for your guests, there really is only one solution. Get new guests.
Upon my arrival home, my mother took me shopping at her favorite store, her own freezer. I have to hope that she had at least half of the joy in her eyes when she held me for the first time as when she explores that frozen box and finds a new cut of meat, a forgotten bag of vegetables from the summer’s garden or even the occasional animal organ (even though she’s not sure what to do with it.) If a stray lamb heart or beef liver can bring her this much happiness, I think I can rest assured that I too, am loved.
She brought me out to the garage and explained that Tank’s (our former ram) life of domestic bliss with four ewes all to himself had ended suddenly when he had strangled one of them with his own tether. This, my mother explained, was why she wanted me to use up the rest of the lamb sausage in the freezer. You see, she said, we need room for Tank.
Justice is swift here on the farm. It had only been a month since my last visit but there was clearly a lot of family news to catch up on.
My mother handed me about 2 and a half pounds of Greek style lamb sausage, told me to take a look at what we had in the kitchen and here is the result.