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Bill Buford's "Peposo notturno" beef shank recipe

Has anyone tried making Bill Buford's "Peposo notturno" beef shank recipe from Heat? It's just beef shank, pepper, garlic, salt, and a bottle of Chianti, slow cooked for about 8 hours. He says, "The taste is a revelation: it seems impossible that something so deeply flavored can be made with so little."

Here's the recipe, as best I can tell (it's embedded in the prose):

Peposo notturno (= pepperiness by night)

2 beef shanks
4 heaping tablespoons of black pepper (his butcher added even more!)
1 tablespoon of sea salt
A bulb of garlic (I'm guessing peeled cloves, but he doesn't say)
1 bottle of Chianti

Put everything in a pot (covered? I'd assume so). Start oven hot then turn down to 200 degrees. Cook overnight (8 hours? 12 hours? He says "after four," then "over the course of the next eight hours" so that might be in addition to the four hours already mentioned.)

"...finally, as a point between a solid and a liquid, it is peposo. It smells of wine and lean meat and pepper. You serve it with a rustic white bread and a glass of simple red"

I think I'll have to get me a beef shank....

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  1. This sounds a lot like a crock pot meal.

    1 Reply
    1. re: yayadave

      If you are making it in a crockpot, halve the wine - hey, makes more to drink! I'm thinking that it is a thing I'd do on low in my crockpot overnight (a big energy bill saving) and then reduce everything on stovetop or in a slow oven afterwards.

      There are some small butchers and grocery stores of various ethnic origins, here in Montréal, that often have good buys on beef shank. I watch for the sales at (Greek) Supermarché PA.

      I'm not a big red-meat eater, but make this dish as a treat for a friend who is (she is from Argentina).

      Why no onions? I'd definitely add onions to this dish.

    2. Nope, but I just finished the book on a flight today and my husband and I were talking about trying that recipe. I'm certainly guessing you peel the cloves as it sounds like you eat the meat still in the sauce as opposed to removing it from the sauce.

      12 Replies
      1. re: Nehna

        helpful clarification from him in an interview:

        Q: Do you have a favorite recipe?

        A: I usually have food obsessions that coincide directly with the seasons. I’m answering these questions on a warm spring morning, so my current food is ramps, the wild leeks that come from the wild areas of upstate New York, but, in a week or so, the ramps will start getting woody, and I’ll be on to the next thing: peas, probably, which offer twenty-five different possibilities (with mint and lemon zest and olive oil, pureed into a summery soup, or served with pea shoots and guanciale and home-made pasta). My favorite meat thing continues to be peposo, the peppery beef dish I learned when I worked in the butcher shop in Tuscany, just because it’s so simple and so surprising and so resoundingly healthy-seeming every time I prepare it. I get two shanks (pretty cheap—they’re not a trendy cut), bone them (or, better, have the butcher butcher bone them), trim off as much connective tissue as I can, cutting the meat into bite size chunks, plop it into a pot, add a whole garlic (chopped up), about three tablespoons of coarsely ground pepper, one tablespoon of salt, a bottle of good chianti, and put it into the oven at low-to-medium temperature (about 225°F), and don’t take it out until the next morning. At home, we eat it while drinking a bottle of the same wine we cooked the meat in. It’s transporting.

          1. re: Karen_Schaffer

            My peposo is simmering away in my oven as we speak. I started it about a half hour ago and plan to let it cook the day/evening away, and have it tonight around 8:30. I figure 9 hours is a good solid imitation of it cooking over night :)

            1. re: Nehna

              Do report back on how it does!

              I find the cooking overnight instruction confusing. I mean, when does he expect we're going to eat it the next day? For breakfast? Lunch? Dinner? There's several hours difference there. Do you take it out in the morning and reheat it when you're ready for it? And just when do you start it for the overnight cooking? Dinnertime the day before? Just before going to bed?

              I wish recipe writers would just give the range of hours they actually mean: 8-12 or 20-24, whatever!

              1. re: Karen_Schaffer

                As with any braised meat dish, timing depends on the cut of meat, and temperature of the oven (or flame). Apparently the original was cooked in a covered pot in a tile-firing kiln, in the after-work hours, as the oven cooled down. In a well sealed pot, timing is not critical. For a start, I would suggest the same time that you use for pot roast. If your meat has more gristle than your typical chuck roast, you might want to cook it longer.

                Dishes like this also improve in flavor as they sit. So it is perfectly reasonable to cook it in the evening, then put it away in the fridge, and rewarm it for the next day's dinner.

                I'm thinking of trying a quick version of this in the pressure cooker. L Sass recommends 15 minutes for cubed stew meat, 60 for oxtails and whole chuck roast.

                paulj

                1. re: paulj

                  I just made a modest batch of this soup/stew, roughly following the recipe at
                  http://italianfood.about.com/od/beefv...

                  I had two 1" slices of beef shank, a bit under 2 lbs, which I cut into several large pieces. I briefly browned these with a diced carrot, a diced celery rib, 1 shallot, and 4 or so cloves of garlic. Then I added about 1T of coarsely ground black pepper, some salt, a cup of left over pork stock, a generous splash of wine (white from the fridge), and some crushed tomatoes (1/2c or so).

                  I cooked this in the pressure cooker for 10 minutes at pressure, followed by natural cooling. The meat was tender, though the connective tissue was still a bit chewy. Since it was still a hour to dinner I let it continue to simmer, adjusting seasonings - another 1/2T of crushed pepper corns, salt to taste, and thickened with a flour slurry. Toward the end I also skimmed some of the fat off the top.

                  I served it with thick slices of toasted crusty rosemary bread, and a chickpea salad. The stew was very good, well flavored with a modest peppery bite. The connective tissue was tender enough to fall off the bone.

                  And yes, I reserved the marrow bones for the cook. This stew makes me think of a rustic version of osso buco. I bet it would also be good way of fixing ox tail.

                  paulj

                  1. re: paulj

                    That's a rather different dish from Buford's, esp in the amount of pepper involved as well as the variety of flavors.

                    That said, in my opinion, you made the right decision. I pretty much followed Buford's recipe to the letter other than cooking it over the course of the day instead of overnight. We wanted to like it, but found the pepper incredibly overpowering even 8 hours in, and I can't see how that would change with a few more hours of cooking. It overwhelms the sauce and the flavor of the meat with his recipe. I mean it's really absolutely all you taste.

                    We ended up throwing it in the fridge to be doctored up the next time with some more cooking with the addition of some tomato, etc, to see if it becomes more palatable.

                    I'm surprised and disappointed...felt like a waste of a day of cooking, something which I love to do more than most things, but sucks when there's no reward ;)

                    1. re: Nehna

                      OK I checked out Heat from the library. It looks like the version I worked from (but did not follow exactly) is the boeuf bourguignon-like one, from the northern Tuscan coast. The other one on about.com (with photos) is close to the Impruneta version that Buford describes.

                      Given the very long cooking time, I am a bit surprised that Buford (and his mentor) makes a big deal about cutting up the shin. With that time I think it would fall apart on its own. However I don't think I've ever seen a whole beef shank - I'm imaging a much larger version of a lamb shank.

                      The 4 T of pepper that Buford uses is about half of what the about.com version describes (1/4+ cup v 1/2+ cup).

                      The long low cooking probably darkens the sauce more than my shorter pressure cooking. It also must reduce it more. It might also be better at developing flavor, but so far I've been happy with the results of these fast PC 'braises'. With care the meat texture seems to be just as good.

                      paulj

                      1. re: paulj

                        paulj: Finally somebody mentions the weirdness of getting so finicky about the prep of the beef. I mean, if they're cooking for hours and hours, they'll be pretty tender and falling apart anyway.

                        This recipe reminds me of Paula Wolfert's Slow Med. cookbook.

                      2. re: Nehna

                        I just finished off the left overs. The pepperiness was stronger, in part due to the resting time, but also because I was eating more of sauce and pepper from the bottom of the pot.

                        In sum I think 1T of coarse ground pepper per pound of meat is about right. It makes a dish that is peppery without being overwhelming.

                        It occurred to me that this dish is like an Italian chili. It's a rustic, working man's dish (in origin), can be made with varying degrees of heat, and can range from the simple to the elaborate.

                        paulj

                  2. re: Karen_Schaffer

                    Well I had a peak at 5 hours and its very very very peppery indeed. I did some reading online and some who have tried his recipe have decided to remove the meat at the end and then reduce down the sauce way down before putting the meat back in to serve.

                    As Paul said below, I think it's really just a matter of patience. Anything cooked over 5 hrs in my opinion is going to be very melting...beyond that, the difference will probably be more subtle. That said, I have a friend who cooked lamb shanks for 3 days and they were amazing.

            2. re: Nehna

              About.com has this recipe
              http://italianfood.about.com/od/beefv...
              Improneta's Peposo
              The garlic is peeled.
              The meat is cut up, but not necessarily lean
              The pepper can be ground or whole - ground produces a more peppery flavor
              This version uses tomato sauce, and adds the wine for the last half of cooking.

              paulj

            3. I think I will transport myself this weekend

              1 Reply
              1. re: frankiii

                Lidia just made this on her show about the Maremma..look for the repeat if you did not see it...the episode is called Galloping Figs, or something similar. She serves the peposo with cannellini beans. The garlic is chopped and put on top of the meat in the pot, without browning first.

              2. So is this supposed to be 4 heaping Tablespoons of cracked Black Pepper or is it whole peppercorns?

                4 Replies
                1. re: Homero

                  "about three tablespoons of coarsely ground pepper" per my quote from Buford above.

                  That's what I used, and as I said, to my taste it was crazy overpowering.

                  I did read somewhere that some prepare it with whole peppercorns and that it makes the pepper taste more subtle. I'm not to sure what that means for serving...i.e. if you end up with a dish littered with peppercorns that may or may not be nice to eat at that stage.

                  1. re: Nehna

                    The other variable in this is the amount of meat. I have found shank 'steaks' (1" thick slices), and shank 'banana' pieces (deboned 'fillets'), but not whole shanks - this is in an Asian market. The 'about.com' recipes that I found use 1T ground pepper for 1 lb of beef (plus a pig foot), or 1/2c for 5 lb of meat (the simpler, more authentic recipe). On option is to start with half the quantity, then taste and add more as needed at a later point.

                    http://italianfood.about.com/od/beefv...
                    "Next, add the pepper. Chef Cristoforo went by eye, and I'd say he added a bit more than a half cup of ground pepper.

                    This brings up a point: If you make Peposo with ground black pepper it will pack a considerable fiery zing. If you instead use whole peppercorns (increase the volume by about a third to compensate for the air between the peppercorns) the Peposo will be more delicate, with rich peppery aromas, but pack less punch. The choice is up to you."

                    paulj

                    1. re: paulj

                      Does anyone happen to have the Lidia Italy book on hand? I am curious as to how her recipe differs from the Buford recipe..

                      1. re: paulj

                        That's a good point, Paul. That said, the other ingredients, particularly the amount of wine, is still a constant...so even though you'd have more meat in the liquid, I wouldnt think it would change the flavor of the sauce so much that I would have been happy with the result? The sauce itself was still just way overboard on pepper. Heck, maybe it's a personal taste thing, but my husband agreed with me. And we both love spicy food, so it wasnt that it was too spicy. Just too overwhelming peppery....and pepper flavor is something I adore... in carbonara for instance.

                  2. I made this yesterday but used Rioja and only about 1 and 1/2T of pepper. It was great. I served it over polenta with some grated cheese. Delicious. Though, I wish the sauce had been a bit thicker.