blissful eats with tina jeffers: Braised beef shanks with cheesy polenta

I was never a big fan of my slow cooker.  It seems like such a great idea, throw a bunch of ingredients in a container hit a button and 6 to 8 hours later dinner is served.  What I failed to understand for a very long time was that slow cookers while wonderful timesavers do need a little help to develop flavors.  Browning meats and sautéing onions and other aromatics will give make all the difference in the world to the taste of your finished dish.   

This is perfect dish for a long slow cook.  Rich cheesy polenta, luscious tender beef shanks, and a hearty red wine reduction makes this the perfect dish for a cold winters night.  The gremolata topping of parsley, garlic and lemon zest helps to add a little brightness and cuts through some of the richness of the dish.  If you are pressed for time you could easily serve the beef over mashed potatoes or pasta but the polenta is pretty hands off once you put it into the oven to finish.  Until next week!  Visit me at, I’d love the company!

Braised beef shanks with cheesy polenta


For the beef:

2 to 2 ½ pounds beef shank, fat trimmed off

kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

vegetable oil

12 cloves garlic, peeled and roughly chopped

2 medium yellow onions, peeled and roughly chopped

1 red bell pepper sliced into 1/2 inch thick strips

1 bay leaf

1 rosemary sprig

1 bottle red wine

4 cups beef broth

2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar

1/2 white onion sliced into 


For the polenta:

2 tablespoons olive oil

½ medium red onion, finely chopped

2 cloves garlic, finely minced

4 cups chicken stock

4 cups milk

2 cups polenta

3 tablespoons unsalted butter

1 ½ teaspoons kosher salt

¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

½ cup grated gouda or parmesan cheese

For the gremolata:

¼ cup chopped flat leaf parsley

1 lemon zested

2 garlic cloves minced

pinch of salt and pepper

1 teaspoon olive oil

Optional: Thinly sliced asiago cheese for serving


For the beef:

Heat a wide, deep skillet over medium high heat.  Pat the beef dry and season generously with salt and pepper.  Add a tablespoon of oil to the pan until hot and then add the shanks to the pan.  Sear the meat until a dark brown crust develops 7-10 minutes on each side.  Remove the meat from the pan and place the meat in a slow cooker.

Turn the heat down to medium and add the garlic, onions and red bell pepper to the pan and cook for 15 minutes, stirring occasionally until the onions are tender and start to brown.  Add the bay leaf and rosemary along with the wine and beef broth.  Add ½ tablespoon of black pepper.  Bring the mixture to a boil, lower the heat and cook for 20 minutes until the mixture is reduced by a 1/3.

Pour the sauce over the beef into the slow cooker.  Stir in the balsamic vinegar.  Cook on low for 6 to 8 hours until the meat is tender and falls away from the bone.  


For the cheesy polenta: 

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.  

In a oven-safe dutch oven heat the olive oil over medium heat.  Add the red onion and ¼ teaspoon salt and cook for 5 minutes until the onions are translucent.  Reduce the heat to low, add the garlic, and sauté for 1 to 2 minutes, making sure the garlic does not burn. 

Turn the heat up to high, add the chicken stock, milk, remaining salt and pepper and bring to a boil.   Gradually add the cornmeal while continually whisking.  Once all the cornmeal is incorporated, cover the pot and place it in the oven.  Cook for 40 to 45 minutes, stirring every 10 minutes to prevent lumps.  Once the mixture is creamy, remove from the oven, add the butter and once it is incorporated slowly add the cheese. 


For the gremolata: 

Combine all the ingredients in a small bowl, taste for seasoning and adjust as needed.  


To serve:

Spoon a generous serving of polenta into a oven safe dish, top with some of the beef.  Place a slice of cheese on top and place under a broiler for a few seconds until the cheese is melted and then top with a spoonful of the gremolata.

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