The weather here in Northern Virginia has finally begun to cool off, which means that I finally get to dust off my cast iron pots and get to braising. A short while back The Roasterie out of Kansas City sent me a bottle of an intriguing new ingredient (which I was under no obligation to write about), Coffee Balsamic Vinegar, made with their Super Tuscan Blend coffee. I was both intrigued and skeptical by this combination, and like a jittery squirrel I sniffed at the intensely fragranced liquid trying to discover what I could possibly use it for.
The scent of most balsamic vinegars put to mind images of slabs of fresh pecorino, or lovely plates of grilled vegetables with a drizzle of thick, sweet vinegar. This, with its rich, warm scent of vinegar and coffee however, put to mind chilly fall evenings and beef slowly braising away. So, that is what I used it for. I found some nice thick beef shanks with lots of lovely marrow at my local market and set myself to braise. The recipe is fairly traditional until you get to the braising liquid, where I opted for brewed coffee to compliment the Coffee Balsamic Vinegar.
After smelling the beef, onions and Coffee Balsamic Vinegar in the air for a few hours, I was delighted to find that the resulting dish was as just delicious as it smelled. The vinegar and coffee melded with the onions and marrow to create a delicious, velvety liquor.
Coffee Braised Beef Shanks
2 onions, sliced
3 TBS. butter
2-3 lbs. beef shanks, at room temperature
1 to 1 ½ tsp. sea salt for the beef (plus a bit more to season the dish)
¾ c. The Roasterie’s Coffee Balsamic Vinegar
½ c. brewed coffee
1 TBS. tomato paste
4 garlic cloves, minced
1 bay leaf
2 carrots, diced
Freshly ground pepper, to taste
¼ c. Italian parsley, chopped
Cooked pappardelle or polenta to serve.
Preheat the oven to 275F.
Salt the beef shanks and set aside. Melt 1 TBS. butter in an oven safe (preferably cast iron) pot over medium-low heat and add in the onions, seasoning with salt. Stir the onions every once in a while, and cook until they are rich brown in color and evenly cooked.
In a frying pan, melt the 2 remaining TBS. of butter over medium-high heat and sear the shanks on each side for 3-5 minutes. Remove the shanks from the pan and add to the onions. Add in the vinegar, coffee, tomato paste, garlic, pepper, and bay leaf. Place the lid on the pot and place it in the oven for about 3 hours. After the first hour add in the diced carrots.
When the beef shanks are falling apart the meat is done. Serve with pappardelle pasta, or polenta and topped with a garnish of Italian parsley and plenty of bread to soak up all of those lovely juices.