Ossobuco alla Milanese
Ossobuco (Italian for 'holed bone'), in English often spelled osso buco or osso bucco, is a Milanese speciality of veal shanks cooked in meat broth and flavoured with white wine. Slowly braised, this relatively tough, yet flavourful cut of meat becomes meltingly tender, and the connective tissues and marrow dissolve into the sauce, making it rich and creamy.
The shank is a relatively cheap cut of veal which is readily available in most good supermarkets and butcher shops. Look for meaty hind-shanks cut from the top of the thigh with a high proportion of meat-to-bone; each piece should be about 5" across and 1" to 1½" thick.
Traditionally, ossobuco is made without tomatoes (these being unknown in Milan until the late 19th century). However, the traditional version, prepared with cinnamon, allspice, bay leaf and gremolata called in bianco, has by and large been replaced with the newer version which includes tomatoes and the 'holy trinity' of Italian cooking: carrot, celery and onion, flavoured with a bouquet garni and without gremolata (although 'hybrid' versions exist which include both tomato and gremolata). It should be noted that while the traditional combination with risotto alla milanese is perfect for the former version (for which is was intended), the modern-day version with tomato, which is both moister and bolder in flavour and does not combine well with saffron, is better served with polenta. The following recipe is for a 'modern' version.
- 4 slices veal hind shank, about 1" to 1½" (2.5cm to 4cm) thick
- 1 medium onion, chopped finely
- 3 ribs celery with leaves, chopped finely
- 1 medium carrot, chopped finely
- 2 cloves garlic, crushed
- 3 tablespoons butter
- 4 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 cup (240ml) dry white wine or white vermouth
- 2 cups (about 480ml) beef stock
- 3 tablespoons tomato puree
- 6 anchovy fillets, mashed
- ½ teaspoon dried thyme
- 2-3 bay leaves
- 2 strips lemon peel
- Sea salt
- Freshly ground black pepper
- Plain flour
- Preheat oven to 175°C (350°F - gas 4).
- If the butcher has not done so, tie the veal shanks around the middle with kitchen twine; this will keep them from falling apart during cooking.
- Choose a heavy, covered roasting pan or Dutch oven which will just accommodate the veal shanks in one layer. Put the butter, 2 tablespoons of the oil, the onions, celery and carrots in the pan and sauté over medium heat until the vegetables have wilted, about 8 minutes. Add the garlic and lemon peel and sauté until they're fragrant, about 2 minutes more. Remove from the heat.
- Meanwhile, heat the remaining oil in a skillet until it is near the smoking point. Lightly flour the veal shanks and slip them into the oil. Richly brown the veal shanks on both of the cut sides, then place them in the roasting pan on top of the vegetables.
- Place the wine in the skillet and boil until reduced by one-half, deglaze the pan, scraping up any brown residue. Pour this over the veal shanks.
- Heat the beef stock to a boil in the skillet, whisking in the tomato puree and anchovies. Add this to the veal shanks, along with the herbs, several grindings of pepper, and a large pinch of salt. The liquid should cover ¾ of the shanks. If not, add extra water.
- Bring the pot to a simmer, cover, and place in the oven. Cook for approximately 2 hours, turning and basting the shanks every ½ hour. If you notice that the cooking liquids have nearly evaporated, add hot water, about ½ cup at a time. The veal is done when it is fork tender and falling from the bone.
- Transfer the shanks to a platter, remove the strings, and cover to keep warm. If the sauce seems watery, as is probable, place the pan on the stove top over high heat and reduce the cooking liquid until the sauce has a thick, creamy consistency. Pour the sauce over the shanks and serve.
- The recipe calls for anchovies, which enrich the finished sauce without adding a "fishy" flavour: don't omit them, even should you not be fond of anchovies.
- Traditionally, the cooking sauce is finished with a mixture of garlic, lemon zest and parsley called Gremolata. It adds a burst of freshness to the finished dish and is highly recommended. Gremolata consists of the grated zest of one lemon, one finely minced clove of garlic, and one tablespoon of finely chopped parsley. Add this mixture to the sauce at the end of the cooking, as it's being reduced.
- Osso buco is almost always served with risotto–indeed; it's one of the few examples in Italian cooking where a starch is served with the main course and is a marriage that no man should put asunder. One may, for a change, substitute orzo or acini de pepe cooked in meat stock and finished with butter and Parmesan cheese.
This was a complete success, though a few notes are in order:
As always, the recipe was made with what we had 'in stock'.
- 1 very thick steak was easily sufficient for 2
- 1 big leek instead of the onions
- 4 lovely thin carrots (two sliced, two left as-is)
- 2 teaspoons of Marigold vegetable stock in two coffee mugs boiling water
- 3 tablespoons of cornmeal, I prefer it to flour
This went wonderfully with fresh crusty bread.