Aigre-Doux (Agrodolce) Pork Shanks. A great Sunday project.

Thanks for the Shanks, Mr. and Mrs. Eckhouse!

Not long ago, my buddies down the street, Herb and Kathy Eckhouse from La Quercia Prosciutto, read on my Facebook page that I was looking for new things to braise in my Le Creuset Braiser. “How about pork shanks?” asked Kathy.

Right. And where do I get those?

Well….the La Quercia plant in Norwalk, Iowa, seems to have them in spades. That’s because they make their prosciutto out of the upper part of the leg, leaving lots of shanks that they end up having to sell off elsewhere.

So a few days later, I was at the Eckhouses’ picking up four behemoth shanks. Fortunately, Kathy also handed me the book “Cooking by Hand” by their friend Paul Bertolli (former Chez Panisse chef, former chef/co-owner of Oliveto, and now a salumi maker).

Kathy recommended that I try the Pork Hocks Agrodolce (with a sour-sweet sauce). It took me a few days to finally roll up my sleeves….but let me say, I was thrilled with the results. If, by chance you happen to know a prosciutto maker with some extra pork shanks lying around, this recipe is for you!*

Here we go (warning: it gets ugly before it gets pretty).

I hitch-hiked from Paul Bertolli's book to make my own version of Agrodolce pork shanks.

For some reason, I thought the shanks would be cut like Osso Bucco veal shank cuts. Not so. They looked a little like the big guy on the left. No way was I going to serve that Fred Flinstone-size cut per person. Photo by podchef via Flickr.

So I boned them and tied them up.

1. Bertolli gave instructions for boning the shanks to form one large piece that you roll up and tie together.  A fabulous idea, except that I simply could not work the meat from the bone in one piece, even with my best, sharpest knife. No matter. By cutting the meat away from the bone on two sides of the shank, I ended up with two pieces, which I tied together, as above.

2. Per his instructions, after seasoning the shanks with salt and pepper, I browned the shanks in hot olive oil, then removed the shanks from the pan and poured off all but a sheen of fat.

Braising liquid

3. Now, from here I kind of did my own thing, using Bertolli’s wonderful ideas, but making a few substitutions here and there and using different measurements (I had four shanks, he called for six). For the braising liquid, I chopped one large white onion and one medium carrot and a few generous pinches of dried Herbes de Provence and sauteed it all in the  sheen of fat in the pan. I added six cloves garlic, cut into slivers. Then I added 1/4 cup high-quality balsamic vinegar and 1/4 cup dry white wine. I boiled this mixture down by half.

4. I whisked in 2 cups beef broth and 3 tablespoons tomato paste, then returned the shanks to the pan. And I brought the liquid to a boil.

Browned shanks ready to pop into the oven. Cook uncovered.

5. AND HERE’S WHAT’S COOL! Although this was a braise, it was an “open-cooking” braise, with the lid off (which, by definition, probably isn’t really a braise). I slid the braiser into a 325°F oven and let these babies cook, uncovered, for 2 hours, turning them every half-hour to make sure they didn’t dry out, and so that they got that deep-brown caramely-looking exterior all over. At one point, the liquid got a little low, so I added more beef broth. You may need to do the same. You don’t want the meat completely submerged in the liquid, but you don’t want it to become pasty, either.

Shanks after 2 hours of cooking. My photographer had the night off tonight. Sorry. But it really did look beautiful!

6. After 2 hours, they were rather irresistible—tender, meaty, deep-brown, glazed. Yum. Of course, you can’t tell by the above photo, which simply does not do it justice….Trust me.

7. To finish the sauce, I removed the shanks from the braiser and covered them with foil to keep the warm. I ran the braising liquid and veggies through a fine-meshed sieve into a saucepan. I actually had to add about 3/4 cup more water to the thick pan liquid, which I whisked in, and cooked down until it was a sauce-like consistency.

8. I cut and removed the strings from the shanks and served each in a wide, shallow bowl with some polenta and plenty of the deeply flavored, agrodolce sauce. It was heaven.

The finished shank. Richard Swearinger, where are you when I need you? (He's my photographer, usually). But you get the idea.

I’m crazy for agrodolce….my next project will be to try this cooking method on a more easily found cut of pork. Country-style ribs (from the shoulder) might be the ticket…..I bet it’s great on chicken thighs, too….



* A slim chance, I realize….but you may be lucky enough to live somewhere where you can buy fresh pork shanks. Bereft of that possibility, you might try this recipe on country-style pork ribs, or another good-for-braising pork cut.

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2 comments to Aigre-Doux (Agrodolce) Pork Shanks. A great Sunday project.

  • Kathy

    Those look fabulous, Wini. Well done!! It would also be good with lamb shanks – perhaps with some black olives thrown in.

  • Wini

    Thanks, Kathy. They really were some kind of wonderful. I was tickled this morning when my husband asked if we could have the leftovers for dinner tonight.

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