I love veal, and if I could eat veal all the time, I would. Unfortunately, its one of those foods that caught something of a reputation that it doesn’t entirely deserve. This makes enjoying it all the more difficult though since not everybody you’re cooking for will approach or even consider veal quite the same way as you (a veal lover, of course). I however, couldn’t hold back the craving any longer and I went right for the veal dish that is one of my all-time favorites: osso bucco.
If you’ve never had osso bucco before, you really have to try it. This is one of those dishes that, I think, always leads to full bellies, happy guests, and clean plates. Why? Osso bucco is a beautiful, Italian preparation of veal that really shows off the unique flavor and tender qualities of the meat with the culinary sensibilities of Italian cuisine.
You start with a thick, tough cut of meat (the shank) with a cross-wise cut of bone running through the center. This is then braised in a delicious sauce that breaks down that shank until it is literally falling off of the bone. The end result is awesome: succulent and incredibly tender meat, a rich, full-flavored sauce enhanced by the veal, and layers of delicate flavors and hidden treats (like marrow! Don’t make that face–just try it! You’ll be very glad you did–its rich like delicious butter). The original version of the dish used no tomatoes, and was instead a white wine-based sauce, and I strongly considered going this route as it would present the veal flavor even more dramatically than the more common tomato-based preparation, but I simply couldn’t help myself since really, there is no going wrong with osso bucco. Next time!
- 4 veal shanks, cut three inches (or so) thick (this was a bit over 5 lbs, but mine were thicker than the norm)
- 1 carrot
- 1 celery stalk
- 2 shallots
- 2 cloves garlic
- 2 cups chicken stock (veal stock is ideal if you have it)
- 1 cup dry white wine
- 2 cups tomato sauce
- 1 can (~14 oz) whole tomatoes + juice
- 6 Tbsp olive oil
- 2 sprigs thyme
- 1 bay leaf
- 1 sprig rosemary
- salt and freshly ground black pepper
- olive oil
- 1 clove garlic
- lemon zest
- handful of parsely
Unpackage the veal shanks and take a moment to admire that beautiful meat. You paid good money for it (such a premium for such a tough cut of meat! Don’t ask what this cost me…most typical cuts of veal shank are a bit smaller than these, but I was in veal withdrawal 😮 ), so you need to do these things to psychologically make that unpleasantness go away. 😉 Beautiful marbling, rich color, plenty of marrow in those bones, and as far as meat goes, very sexy stuff. Also take this time to gently pat the veal dry with some paper towels as you snap out of it (dry meat browns better).
Some people like to wrap twine around each veal shank at this point to ensure that it stays well formed during the cooking process. I didn’t bother and things worked out just fine, but just thought I’d let you know.
Veal shank is something that requires slow cooking, but as with most braises, the first step is to put some complex flavor and color on the outside of the meat by browning it. So coat the shanks with salt, pepper, and flour, and rub this all over, shaking off any excess.
Meanwhile, get some oil warmed up in a large pan (I used a Dutch oven–just the right size for this!), just until smoking on medium-high heat. Then, add in the veal, working in batches if necessary so as not to crowd the meat (you want to brown it, not steam it. I did two pieces at a time). Figure about three minutes per side, rotating the shanks so as to brown all sides. Set these aside and continue to admire that beautiful meat. Can you tell I like veal? 😉
So now that the meat is ready for the next step, we need to get going on the sauce. Peel and finely dice the carrot, celery, and shallot. Sauté these (called the soffrito) for about 10 minutes or so in the pan, tossing in a bit of salt to help get the moisture out of them. While you wait on them to soften up, finely mince the garlic and add that to the pan towards the last 2 minutes or so of sautéing time.
Once time is up, add the tomatoes and sauce to the pan, squishing the tomatoes in your hands before putting them in. Give things a stir and let this simmer on medium heat for a few minutes. Also, scrape the bottom of the pan, deglazing with the tomato sauce to get any delicious browned bits off of the bottom and mobilized into the sauce. Take this time to preheat the oven to 325?F.
After a few minutes of simmering, return the browned veal shanks to the pan, standing each one so that the side with the larger bone opening is facing up (this is so that the marrow doesn’t all just leak out quickly from the start. You want that treat on your plate later!). Now pour in the wine and let this reduce for about 5 minutes.
You’re almost done…with the active part of cooking. Ideally, you’d have veal stock on hand and you’d use that, but if not, chicken stock will do just fine (it’s what I did). Whatever stock you use, pour it in and add in the herbs. Give things a gentle stir and raise the heat to get the sauce up to a boil and then turn the heat off, put on the cover, and transfer the Dutch oven into the real oven for a minimum of 1.5 hours.
Check on the meat every 15-30 minutes just to see how things are going in there. Ideally, the liquid should remain about 3/4 of the way up each piece of veal, and if it seems to go significantly below that, top it off with some more stock so as not to scorch the veal in the open air. It is unlikely that you’ll need to worry about this, but better safe than sorry. Braising needs liquid and veal shank needs braising, so by the transitive property, Stewart made Huckabee. 😉
After about an hour of oven time, turn each piece of veal over so that both sides of meat get their time swimming in the sauce. The veal is done cooking when the meat is falling off of the bone and fork tender, so allow for extra time past the 1.5 hour mark. For me, it was somewhere between 2 and 2.5 hours, but it depends on the amount and cut of meat you get. Good things come to those who wait.
While you’re waiting on things to finish in the oven, you can prepare the garnish/topping: gremolata. This is a very simple mixture that brings a nice balance to the final dish, despite how unbalanced it may sound. Very finely mince a clove of garlic, the zest of a lemon, and the parsley, and mix all of this together. Yup, that’s it. I know that the idea of uncooked garlic (and lemon zest) sounds like something that would not improve any dish, but I promise you, this actually works really well and provides a subtle flavor that rounds things out. You might be skeptical, but give it a try (not on its own, but on the veal!).
So once the meat is done cooking, get it out of the oven and remove the meat from the sauce, setting it aside. In a small glass, make a cornstarch slurry, mixing the cornstarch and a little bit of warm water. Heat the sauce up on medium-high heat to get it to a steady simmer and slowly mix in the cornstarch slurry until fully incorporated. This will help to thicken the sauce up as it currently is a bit too liquidy. Let this go for 5-10 minutes (or until you’re happy with the consistency, but really, don’t go too long. You don’t want the meat to go cold!).
So now that everything is done, time to dig in. You’ll want to pair this with a simple side dish that isn’t too loud flavor-wise and is good at sopping up any delicious juices running on your plate (and for osso bucco, there will be plenty). There are two typical side dishes that pair beautifully with osso bucco: Risotto alla Milanese, or, the one I chose: mascarpone polenta. I plated by smearing a round of polenta on a plate, standing a shank in the middle with the bone pointed upwards (so you can get at the rich, gelatinous marrow!). I then ladled some sauce atop the shank, so it could drip down and make a nice pool, and then, of course, sprinkled on a bit of gremolata.
If it seems like you have way more sauce than you could possibly use with the meat, have no fear–just bottle it up and save it in the fridge for another day. I’ll put it to use in another dish that I’ll post next week…
But anyways, enough reading–your osso bucco is getting cold. Enjoy!