Five reasons that Osso bucco is better than beef stew:
1. You get to eat bone marrow.
2. You spend less time browning each side of dozens of chunks of meat.
3. You spend less time cleaning your stovetop (see #2).
4. It’s more fun to say Osso bucco.
5. Seriously, the marrow is really good.
Osso bucco, as you may know, means “bone with a hole.” That sort of misses the point, which is that the bone is surrounded on both sides by delicious, melty richness.
Start by procuring excellent quality veal: humanely raised, pastured, free of antibiotics and other garbage, and respectfully butchered… by which I mean, 1.5″ to 2″ thick. Thin-sliced veal shank tends to buckle when it hits hot oil, which defeats browning. It can also easily disintegrate in the braising.
We had two chunks of veal shank, which weighed in at about 1.25 lbs. The amounts of the other ingredients referred to below are scaled for this amount.
Get yourself a heavy sauté pan or dutch oven, and heat a few tablespoons of olive oil over medium-high heat. Pat the pieces of veal dry with paper towels, season both sides with salt and pepper, and dredge them in all-purpose flour, shaking off the excess. Brown them until they look like the first picture above.
Dice (1/2 inch) a large spanish or yellow onion, a large stalk of celery, and a large carrot. Add those to the pan and brown them lightly over medium heat. Halfway through, add a couple of cloves of minced garlic. We use a Microplane to grate garlic instead of mincing it.
We also threw in a sliced garlic clove for some textural interest (and because we had one lonely clove left on the counter).
Once the veggies are browned, start building your sauce by deglazing the pan with 1/2 cup of white wine. Bring it to a good boil to get rid of the raw alcohol aroma.
This next tip is important: for braising, select a vessel that – in addition to meeting the usual requirements of being heavy and non-reactive – is only slightly larger than the dry ingredients you’re putting into it. This will ensure that your sauce has the right concentration of meaty flavour and gelatin, rather than being sad and thin. If we had 4 pieces of veal, we would have used the casserole in which we had browned the meat and vegetables.
Secret flavour enhancers: lemon zest and a rosemary sprig, ensconced in cheesecloth for easy removal.
Tuck these in with the meat, surround it with your vegetables, and add 4 or 5 crushed canned tomatoes (San Marzano if possible). Finally, add enough liquid – a 50% mix of white wine and either veal or chicken stock – to cover the dry ingredients by maybe 1/4 inch. Again, bring this to the boil prior to adding it to the mix.
Bring everything to a simmer on the stovetop, cover the pot, and place it in a 325′ oven for 1.5 to 2 hours. The meat should be tender (duh) but not falling apart. The band of connective tissue on the outside of the shank should have just enough integrity to hold the piece together.
Check the consistency of your sauce. It should be fairly viscous. If it’s runny, boil it down a bit. Too thick? Add some stock or demi-glace. Taste for seasoning, and plate it up.
Serve with mashed potatoes or the traditional risotto milanese: saffron-scented risotto. You can also sprinkle the equally traditional garnish of gremolata on top. (That’s very finely minced parsley, lemon zest and garlic, mixed with a little olive oil.)
Osso bucco is a great dish as winter yields to spring: it’s warm and comforting, but light on the palate at the same time. It’s also a great one for your repertoire because it’s elegant enough for a dinner party, and simple enough for a make-ahead weeknight dinner.