Vietnamese Inspired Braised Pork Shanks

Pork shanks, which come from the front leg of the pig, become succulent and flavorful when prepared in a long, slow braise. Available from specialty purveyors like The Rock Barn or ask your local butcher. Serve with bamboo rice (sometimes called Jade rice) or coconut rice and a crisp cooked vegetable medley.

Serves 2

2-3 pork shanks (depending on size, generally 1 ¼-1 ½ pounds each)
2-3 Tablespoons coconut oil
1 large shallot or small onion, thinly sliced
3 small chilies, seeded and minced (Fresnos, which look like red jalapenos or other chili or hot sauce of choice)
3 large cloves garlic, peeled and crushed or minced
3 tablespoons brown sugar or palm sugar
¼ cup fish sauce
¼ cup tamari
5 cups coconut water* (or mixture of filtered water and coconut water)
2 fresh lemongrass stalks, tender inner white bulbs only, minced
1 Tablespoon fresh minced ginger
5 star anise
½ teaspoon five spice powder
1-2 scallions, thinly sliced for garnish

1. In a deep skillet,** heat 1 tablespoons of the coconut oil until shimmering. Add pork shanks and cook over moderately high heat until browned all over, about 10-15 minutes. Transfer the browned shanks to a deep, heavy casserole dish. Lower the heat and add the onion, chilies, garlic and sugar to the skillet, adding more coconut oil as necessary and cooking over medium heat until softened, about 3 minutes. Add the fish sauce and tamari to de-glaze the pan and pour all of this over the pork shanks. Add the coconut water, lemongrass, star anise and five spice to the casserole dish.

2. Cover with lid or tightly with foil and braise @ 300o for 3-3 ½ hours, or until the meat is very tender. Transfer the braised shanks to a large, deep platter, cover and keep warm.

3. Strain the liquid, pressing hard on the solids before discarding them. Skim or spoon off as much fat as desired*** (use a gravy separator if you have one,) return the liquid to skillet and boil on high until reduced to 1 cup. Pour braising liquid over the shanks, sprinkle with scallions and serve.

*Recipe can be doubled or tripled, always adjusting coconut water/water so that shanks are mostly submerged.

**If you have a “brown and braise” dish use it for one pot cooking! Most importantly, choose a pan that the shanks fit somewhat snugly in, so they will be mostly submerged in braising liquid but such that braising liquid is not filled too closely to the top, to prevent spillovers and smoking in the oven.

***Can be made 1-2 days ahead. Chill braising liquid in a bowl to make fat removal even easier. Pluck off hard fat and then reduce braising liquid as described above, reducing to more than one cup if you’ve doubled the recipe. Reheat pork with liquid in a 325o oven for 30-35 minutes, uncovered so skin can re-crisp. Broil as desired for even crispier skin!