When I cook something like beef stew or braised shanks, I think of those Sunday afternoons and ritual.
Today I performed it in my kitchen. I put on my apron, gathered the few, delicious and perfect ingredients--garlic, fresh thyme picked on our walks through the Garrigue and organic beef stock--and let the meat rest outside the refrigerator to allow it to come to room temperature before salting and peppering each thick, meaty side. Clementine stayed close by, watching and waiting, hoping for a bit of goodness to come her way. 'Not now, sweet girl.' I said. 'Later, after the kids have spooned the rich marrow from the bone, you can have the rest.'
I browned the beautiful meaty rounds, marbled with slivers of white fat, on the stove in olive oil, two minutes on each side and then I removed them, crusted and darkened from the pan to wait while I sauteed wafers of garlic and tiny petals of thyme. Then I added the beef stock and scraped up all the goodness that was stuck on the bottom of the pan from the browning of the meat. P-Daddy came upstairs about then, drawn by the smell of beef, garlic and thyme from his home office and joined Clementine. 'That smells so good! What is it? What are you doing now?!'
I shooed him away, along with the gurley and put the browned meat back into the pot with the rest. Three simple things; garlic, thyme and stock.
Then I laid some parchment paper right on top of the meat and covered the pot with foil before putting the lid on and putting the whole thing in a warm oven to cook.
Now the house smells divine and I can enjoy the glorious smell while I sit in my little chair and type, forever trying to make the story better.
To me, the best meals evoke reverence. Eyes closed, appreciative murmurs, ritual played out again and again over dining tables of all shapes and sizes, indoors and out, season after season folding one into the next. People carry out this ritual in France every day. It’s not a stretch to say that to some, food is a religion.
I am enjoying my tiny piece of cake and cup of tea with joyful anticipation. I'm patient, knowing that a delicious dinner is in the oven, waiting.
Beef Shanks with Garlic and Fresh Thyme
2 or 3 beef shanks with bones
one head of garlic
a few sprigs of fresh thyme
Pre-heat your oven to 350F/180C.
Pat dry, salt and pepper your room temperature beef shanks.
Heat a small amount of olive oil in an oven-proof pan until quite hot.
Peel and slice half of the head of garlic.
Crush and peel the rest, leaving whole.
Remove two sprigs' worth of leaves from the thyme and leave the rest intact.
Brown the meat one piece at a time, 2-3 minutes per side in the warmed olive oil.
Remove to a plate and turn down the temperature before adding the sliced garlic and thyme leaves to the pan. You may need a tiny bit more olive oil here, you will be able to tell.
Scrape up any bits of meat stuck to the bottom and be careful not to let the garlic brown.
Pour in the beef stock, preferably warmed, over the garlic and thyme and continue to scrape the bottom of the pan. Don't let any of the good meaty bits left there go to waste.
Return the browned meat to the pan. Add the peeled and smashed remaining cloves of garlic and sprigs of thyme.
Cover all of it over, down low in the pot, with parchment or baking paper. Then add a layer of foil at the top of the pan before putting on the lid if you have one.
Put it in the oven and leave to cook for at least two hours. After that time, lower the temperature a bit more and leave it for even longer if you like.The longer it stays there, the more tender it will become.
Serve with mashed potatoes or potato gratin and green beans.