Those familiar with classic Italian dishes will recognize the famous osso buco, often served with saffron infused rice or risotto Milanese. These slow-simmered veal shanks can often be found as a high-priced dinner item in upscale restaurants.
But when I was growing up, osso buco made regular appearances at our weekday dinners. I remember my mother’s instructions not to forget the marrow found within each small, round veal bone, telling us it was “the best part.”
Many years ago, I cooked osso buco fairly often, too, serving the dish on cold winter nights with lots of crusty bread to soak up the juices. Despite the classic pairing of rice, I always liked to serve creamy mashed potatoes alongside. But then, for me, mashed potatoes go with almost everything!
For many years, finding veal shanks, along with many other cuts of veal, became very difficult. When I did find them, they weren’t worth buying—little rounds of meat that were mostly grizzle and bone.
While shopping at one of my favorite butchers at the West Shore Farmers Market, there they were! Beautiful, pale pink and perfect veal shanks are being sold by L.D. Weaver, a long-time meat vendor there. They explained to me that, because of increased space, they were expanding their meat offerings and would try to have veal shanks as often as possible. I was thrilled.
I turned to my favorite recipe for osso buco from “Savoring Italy,” an old Williams and Sonoma classic cookbook of mine. It’s a rather simple version of the classic that doesn’t include tomatoes (some recipes do). The topping mixture of parsley, garlic and lemon zest found at the end of the recipe is known as “gremolada.” A lot of osso buco recipes will list it as optional, but it really is the final touch that distinguishes the dish.
- ½ cup flour (I like Wondra for its lightness.)
- 6 pieces of veal shank, about 1½ inches thick (always choose meaty ones.)
- 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 small onion, chopped
- 1 cup dry white wine
- 2 cups beef broth (unsalted)
- Salt and pepper to taste
Ingredients for gremolada
- ¼ cup chopped Italian parsley
- 1 small garlic clove
- ½ teaspoon grated lemon zest
- Spread the flour on a plate and dust the veal shanks, tapping off the excess.
- In a large, heavy pot, melt the butter and olive oil over medium heat.
- Add the veal and cook on the first side until golden brown, about 4 minutes.
- Turn the veal shanks and add the sliced onion to the pan, scattering it around the pieces of veal. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Cook until brown on the second side, about 4 minutes longer.
- Add the wine, bring to a simmer, and cook for 1 minute.
- Add the beef broth and bring the mixture back to a simmer. Cook over low heat, covered, until the meat is very tender, about 1½ to 2 hours. Turn the shanks occasionally and add a little extra stock or wine if needed (you don’t want all the liquid to evaporate).
- Combine the parsley and garlic on a cutting board and finely chop together. Transfer to a little bowl and toss in the grated lemon zest. Scatter the mixture over the veal.
- Baste the veal shanks with the sauce and simmer for 5 minutes longer. When perfectly cooked, the meat should almost be falling off the bone.
Serve osso buco with some warm Italian bread, rice or risotto or my favorite mashed potatoes. It is wonderful, too, with a mix of butter-tossed vegetables like peas, baby carrots and asparagus tips. And although you might at first think “white” with this dish, a good fruity red wine works well—perhaps a beaujolais nouveau or a floral dolcetto d’Alba.
Light a fire one cold January night and try your hand at making osso buco. You could even try finishing the dish in a crockpot after the browning step. But try to find those baby spoons you put away so long ago. They are wonderful for scooping out the bone marrow. Remember: It’s the best part!