Frugal homemakers and professional chefs are equally attached to the tough, chewy unloved cuts of beef. These are the muscles that are worked the hardest during an animal's life, and they're filled with tough, dense muscle tissues and a high percentage of stringy connective tissues. Yet, when lovingly slow cooked for hours, these same tough, inedible cuts of beef become soft, tender and remarkably rich in flavor. The beef chuck is relatively mainstream, but other tough cuts such as oxtail and shank are little used by most home cooks. Of the two, shank is easier to work with.
Unwrap your slices of shank and wipe them with a small wad of paper towel, drying the surface and wiping away any bone fragments that might have been left by the butcher's saw.
Heat a large, heavy skillet to medium-high temperature with 1 tbsp. of vegetable oil. Sear each piece of beef shank until well browned on both sides. This step is optional, but gives the shanks a richer flavor.
Season the shank pieces with salt and pepper. Add any other flavoring ingredients you wish, such as onions, garlic or tomatoes.
Cover the shanks halfway with your cooking liquid of choice, whether it be beef broth, wine, beer or simply water. Cover your skillet and reduce the heat, until the liquid is barely simmering.
Simmer the shanks until fork-tender, usually 2 1/2 to 3 hours depending on their thickness. Remove the shanks from the skillet, and wrap them loosely in aluminum foil to keep warm.
Strain the cooking juices and return them to the skillet. Turn up the heat and cook them down until they're reduced by about half, and thick enough to coat the back of a spoon.
Divide the shanks into serving portions, and spoon the thickened cooking juices over them as your sauce.