I am an unapologetic omnivore.

I am also aware of the statistically fueled arguments that say not eating meat – specifically factory-farmed meat – is a step any carnivore can take to combat global warming. Doing so would reduce greenhouse gas emissions, rededicate land now used to grow animal feed for human food production, and reduce the amount of water needed to feed the world. I fully agree with these points, but I am just not ready to go whole hog on the no-meat thing.

I eat animal flesh because, generally, I feel more sated after a meal that includes it on the plate. And I won’t lie. I like the taste of beef, chicken, duck, fish, lamb, pork, quail, rabbit, turkey, veal (the rose kind, not the cruel kind) and wild boar. I’m on the fence about goose and venison. I find the former greasy and gray and can’t stomach the later since 10 pounds of it accidentally thawed and rotted in my secondary freezer a few years back. I’ve never eaten bear, moose or pheasant, but I’d be game to try.

Tofu and tempeh appear sparingly in my monthly rotation as I learn to use the products made by local producers who use soybeans grown regionally. But I don’t see the point of spending the time, money or energy fabricating fake meat products when I have easy access to real meat reared by local farmers using practices both humane to the animals and sustainable for the earth.

I’m not giving it up, but I am cutting back on the amount of meat I serve to my family. To be clear, it’s still an everyday thing. Ounce for ounce, there is just less of it. I’m shooting for half, to be exact. In my slow but steady progression to present meat as a flavorful condiment to vegetable-forward entrees, I am always on the lookout for cuts of meat flavorful enough and cooking techniques simple enough to easily push my reducetarian agenda forward.

This week I’m working on shanks.

Brown the turkey leg on all sides to add some color before braising. Staff photo by Brianna Soukup

Any animal that has a leg, technically has a shank. But in practical butchery terms, it’s the bigger animals that have the most accessible ones. A meat shank is the portion of meat around the tibia, the leg bone beneath the knee. The part closer to the knee is the meatier bit.

It’s one the most used muscles on any animal, so it’s also the toughest. Shanks are best braised because the low, wet heat helps break down the collagen in the meat so that it becomes fall-off-the-bone tender. The collagen and the marrow sitting inside the shank bone add a richness to the braising liquid that can rarely be replicated in vegetarian dishes. Just a single 1-pound shank in the pot – shredded and served atop the mostly vegetable and whole-grain stew after it’s cooked – can satisfy four to six hungry omnivores. Taking the weight of the bone out of the equation and factoring in the weight loss due to cooking, we’re talking about a 2-ounce serving of meat per person.

Beef shanks are rarely sold whole because they are so big. They are almost always crosscut into 11/2- to 2-inch thick slices and sold as “beef shins.” Veal shanks, the main ingredient in the famous northern Italian dish osso bucco, are also cut crosswise – if you can find them at all since veal has become protein-non-grata due to the inhumane way factory veal calves were raised in the United States and abroad. If the beef is destined to end up as ground meat (a typical scenario since beef shank is not a widely popular cut), the naked bones can be cut to expose the marrow, that when slowly roasted is a delicacy, spread on bread like butter.

Christine Burns Rudalevige pulls apart meat from a turkey leg after braising it. Staff photo by Brianna Soukup

Pork shanks, typically taken from the hind legs of the hog, differ from ham hocks in that they are skinless and not smoked. You may have to ask the butcher for pork shanks as they are rarely sitting in the display case. Use them in any slow-cooker recipe you’d use a pork butt or shoulder. Just increase the amount of vegetables you use from the get-go and stir in some whole grains during the last hour of cooking to help fill the pot and the eventual bellies.

Lamb shanks, taken from both the fore and hind legs of the animal, are a more common cut, which can be found in butchers’ cases and farmers’ coolers at the market. Since lamb is more widely eaten in other countries than in the United States, look to highly flavored Middle Eastern and Northern African recipes as good guides on how to stretch a single shank to feed a family.

Poultry shanks are better known as drumsticks. I routinely indulge in a pound of ground turkey from Apple Creek Farm in Bowdoinham to pull off the 30-minute chili my daughter loves. I also recently started buying sinewy turkey shanks for long-simmer stews to balance out my use of the local birds.

Christine Burns Rudalevige is a food writer, a recipe developer and tester and a cooking teacher in Brunswick, and the author of “Green Plate Special,” a new cookbook from Islandport based on these columns. She can be contacted at [email protected]

 

After braising, remove the meat from the leg and portion into bowls with the vegetables. Staff photo by Brianna Soukup

MUSTARD-BRAISED TURKEY SHANKS WITH ROOT VEGETABLES, RYE BERRIES AND GREENS

I like the mustard and rye combination in this dish as I am a huge fan of turkey on rye sandwiches with mustard. But you can use any whole grain berries (farro, Emmer, barley, to name a few) in this recipe to bulk it up so that the meat in the mix is kept at a minimum, but still a satisfying minimum.
Serves 4 to 6

1 cup rye berries
1 large or 2 small turkey drumsticks (about 1 pound)
Kosher salt and black pepper
4 tablespoons butter
1 cup peeled and 1/2-inch diced onions
1 cup peeled and 1/2-inch diced carrots
1 cup peeled and 1/2-inch diced turnip or rutabaga
1 cup peeled and 1/2-inch diced winter squash
2 teaspoons brown mustard seeds
2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
1 cup white wine
3-4 cups chicken or turkey stock
3 cups chopped hearty greens (such as kale, collards, turnip or mustard greens or Swiss chard)

Place the rye berries in a bowl and cover with warm water. Set aside.
Season the drumstick(s) with salt and pepper.
Melt 2 tablespoons butter over medium high heat in a Dutch oven large enough so that drumstick(s) can lie flat. Brown the drumstick(s) on all sides and set them aside on a plate.
Melt the remaining 2 tablespoons butter in the same pan. Add the onions, carrots, turnips or rutabaga, and squash to the pot. Add 1/2 teaspoon salt and 1/4 teaspoon pepper. Cook for 5 minutes until the onions start to become translucent. Stir in the mustard seeds and cook for 2 minutes. Add the Dijon mustard. Stir to combine. Add the wine and bring to a boil while stirring constantly. Simmer until the wine is reduced by half. Nestle the drumstick(s) back into the pot among the vegetables. Add enough broth to cover the vegetables, but leave the top third of the drumstick(s) exposed. Bring the stew to a boil, reduce heat to low, cover and simmer for 2 hours, turning the drumstick occasionally.
Drain the soaked rye berries. Sprinkle them and the chopped greens into the liquid surrounding the drumsticks. If necessary, add more broth so the rye berries are covered with liquid. Cover the pot once again and simmer until the turkey is falling off the bone, the rye berries are tender and the greens cooked, about 45-60 minutes more.
Before serving, remove the drumstick(s) from the pot, separate the meat from the bones, and shred the meat. Divide the stew equally among warm bowls and top each with shredded turkey. Serve warm.