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Dec 7, 2006 08:11 AM

Beef shank vs. oxtail?

I love oxtail for the gelatinous goodness and little bits of tasty meat when it's been properly cooked, but it is always a little disappointing that there isn't very much meat in general.

I noticed beef shank slices (bone-in) at the meat counter for the first time the other day, and was surprised at how much they looked like oxtail, but with a lot more meat on them. I know nothing about beef cuts, so can anyone tell me the difference? Less so about the anatomy of a cow but moreso about whether they are pretty much interchangeable in a basic (e.g. red wine) braising recipe? Is there a real, qualitative difference in taste or texture, or could beef shanks serve as a meatier stand-in for oxtail?

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  1. Beef shanks have much less cartilage and tendon than oxtail so you won't get as much gelatin. The shanks come from the lower leg (calf) of the cow. If you get pieces that are lower down the leg, you'll get more tendon but less meat. But a better amount of meat than oxtail. It's a great cut for braising and it has the additional benefit of having marrow (yum!).

    1. Have the butcher saw the shin into 3" pieces, to get the marrow into the mix.

      For me, using wine makes the finished dish more about wine than meat. Try using just beef stock. Use only 1/2" of stock, heat it to boiling and braise slowly, at 300.

      Frankly, I don't like shin as much as oxtail. There's less meat on it than it looks like, and even with long braising it's always stayed tough for me. Also, there's less gelatin since it has few tendons or cartalige. Get two oxtails, trim as much fat as possible, let it cool after braising and pull the meat and fat off the bones. Discard the fat and bones, strain the liquid, refrigerate overnight and lift the fat off the liquid.

      A cinnamon stick and a small handful of star anise work wonders.

      1. On the other hand, beef shanks make a better soup that do oxtails. Put the shanks in a crock pot for six hours in a crock pot with root vegetables for the beginning of a fine soup.

        1. Hm, maybe I'll have to experiment and do a taste test of sorts.

          For braising, I usually do a red wine + beef stock combination, and definitely some star anise. I haven't tried cinnamon yet but I have heard that suggestion before.

          1. For eating, nothing beat oxtail as far as I am concerned. For a soup, a beef shank is just fine. Try and braise the oxtail with beer next time, Guinness works particularly well, especially if there's juicy little roots in there. Finish with some dark chocolate for a spectacular meal. Serve with mustard mash potatoes.