Osso Buco

Osso Buco Closeup - COne of the more popular hands-on classes that I’ve taught both here in Savannah as well as other places around the country, has involved the cuisine of northern Italy.   Just like the United States, regional cuisines of other countries vary with the climate and geography.   In the U.S. the concept of “Italian Food” is born from the eating styles of southern Italy due to the large wave of immigration in the late 1800’s that came out of southern Italy, specifically the area around Naples.

Northern Italy is a cooler climate due to its position near the base of the Alps which provides the grasslands needed for grazing cattle.  Northern Italian cuisine features much more meat, often in the form of veal.

Italian for “Hollow Bone”, Osso Buco is a traditional northern Italian preparation of braised veal shanks.  A cross-cut section of the veal shank is first browned to develop flavor, and then simmered in a mixture of browned vegetables (carrots, onions, celery), herbs, and liquid (wine and beef or veal stock).

Veal Shank & Mirepoix - CCaramelized Mirepoix - C

The resulting thick unctuous sauce is served alongside the shank which is traditionally garnished with a mixture called “Gremolata”, a simple combination of freshly chopped parsley, garlic, and lemon zest.

Gremolata - C

The color of the gremolata not only perks up the appearance of the dish but also provides additional notes of flavor to the dish.  The rich sauce can easily become monotone but when the flavor notes of the citric lemon zest, pungent garlic, and bright herbal flavor of parsley mix with the bass notes of the sauce, you have a symphony of flavor!

For a complete overview of the technique of braising and what you need to know to be successful, see my post on “Braising Basics”.

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Osso Buco

If veal shank is unavailable or out of your budget, substitute short ribs or nice meaty oxtails for a less expensive dish that will be every bit as delicious!   if you have a deep pan with a lid and oven-safe handle(s) you won’t have to transfer these to a casserole dish, simply remove the meat while browning the vegetables and then return everything to the pan and place in the oven to braise.  After the initial browning, this can also be done in a pressure cooker for 15 minutes under full pressure and then allow for natural pressure release.

Yield: Approximately 4 Servings

4 pieces cross-cut veal shanks, cut to approx. 1½” thick
Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
About 1/4 cup olive oil (may not use it all)
1 onion, cut into small dice
1 carrot, peeled and cut into small dice
1 celery stalk, cut into small dice
4 cloves garlic, minced
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 cup dry white wine
½ tsp. thyme leaf, dry
6-8 parsley stems
2 bay leaves
1½ cups canned diced tomatoes with juice
3 cups veal or beef stock, homemade or canned

Pre-heat oven to 350ºF. Choose a heavy shallow bottom casserole with a lid for braising the veal shanks.

Using kitchen shears, in several places snip the white connective tissue that surrounds the shank.  Don’t cut the meat but instead get the shears between the meat and the tissue and snip the tissue itself.  This will allow it to contract during braising without causing the meat to curl.  Season veal shanks on both sides with salt and black pepper.  Heat a sauté pan on the stove over medium heat until the heat can be felt radiating from the surface when your hand is held about 6 inches above the bottom.  Add enough olive oil to coat the bottom of the pan and heat to just below the smoking point. Add the seasoned veal shanks to the hot oil. Turn as needed until golden brown on both sides.

Once the veal is browned, remove the shanks to a plate and immediately add diced carrot, celery and onion to the pan. Continue to sauté until the vegetables are golden brown. Add the minced garlic and sauté briefly with vegetables until translucent.  Sprinkle the flour over the vegetables to absorb any excess oil.  Cook for about 45 seconds to help cook out the raw taste of the starch.  Add the white wine to deglaze the pan. Scrape the bottom with a wooden spoon to remove all of the flavorful bits still clinging to the pan.  Reduce the wine by two-thirds and add the tomatoes and veal stock along with all of the remaining seasonings.  Bring to a simmer.  While sauce mixture comes to a simmer, transfer the veal shanks to the casserole, including any juices that may have accumulated on the plate.  Once the sauce mixture simmers, pour it over the shanks in the casserole dish.  The liquid should cover the shanks by 3/4.  If there isn’t enough liquid, add more beef stock so that the shanks are nearly submerged.  Cover with a lid or tightly seal with foil.  Place the covered casserole into the pre-heated 350ºF. oven. Set the time for 45 minutes. When the timer goes off, check the casserole to ensure that enough stock remains to cover ½ to ¾ of the veal shank. Baste the meat with the juices; they should be simmering gently. Return pan to the oven and again re-set time for 45 minutes. Remove the casserole from the oven and check meat for doneness. The meat should fall readily from the bone.

Remove the meat from the pan to a warm plate. Taste the sauce and add more salt and pepper, if necessary. If the sauce is too thin for your taste, return the sauce to a small sauce pan and reduce to the desired consistency. Transfer the veal shanks to the serving plates and top with the sauce. The shanks may also be topped with a garnish of gremolata: a mixture of lemon zest, garlic and parsley.

Osso Buco is traditionally served atop a mound of Risotto Milanese (saffron risotto).  One of the best parts is the bone marrow!  Use a knife to scrape it out of the bone and spread on some crusty bread!

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