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Osso buco (veal shanks) with gremolata

There are many versions of the classic Northern Italian favorite, osso buco. This one uses slow oven braising to make the meat flavorful, fork tender, and moist.

By Blue Kitchen / January 19, 2011

Osso buco with gremolata served with short pasta tossed with some of the pan juices and vegetables.

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There’s something about using kitchen twine that makes me feel like a chef and connects me to the past. Trussing up pork tenderloins or rolled roasts with string says you’re getting serious in the kitchen, in a comfortingly old school way. It was something Julia did.

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So tying up a pair of meaty veal shanks for osso buco had me feeling cheflike. Preparing this classic Italian dish also put me in the mood for opera. I popped a mix CD of arias into the kitchen boombox (never mind that many of them were sung in French or German). Cold winds blowing outside and music playing inside made prepping in the warm kitchen especially rewarding.

We’ve been doing a lot of slow oven braising this winter and really enjoying it. It’s perfect for turning tough, but flavorful cuts of meat into amazing, fork tender meals. Osso buco (AH-so BOO-co) particularly benefits from this cooking method. The Milanese favorite is made with cross-cut veal shanks from the hardworking upper portion of the leg. If not cooked for a long time, the meat can be chewy and stringy. Many recipes call for stovetop cooking rather than oven braising, but I find this can tend to dry out the meat, even if you turn it every 15 minutes as some recipes suggest. Braising in the oven surrounds the cooking vessel with a much lower heat for even, moist cooking.

Browning the osso buco prior to braising it gave me another chef moment. I needed to turn the veal shanks as they browned, and the high-walled Staub La Cocotte didn’t give me a lot of room to maneuver with a spatula or other tool. So summoning my inner Anthony Bourdain (or April Bloomfield), I reached into the pot with my bare hands, grabbed the shanks one at a time and flipped them. I know I’m not really a chef (or even a line cook) until I burn myself with a move like this, but it still felt pretty cool.

Veal is lighter and milder in taste than most beef, so you need to use a lighter hand with flavorings. Using white wine instead of red is one example – red wine would overpower the dish. Because veal is so mild, it can also end up a little on the bland side. At least one recipe calls for browning the shanks in the fat of rendered pancetta to add extra flavor. I considered that for a while until I saw recipes that called for another secret ingredient for adding umami to a meat dish: Anchovy paste or fillets. I first discovered this trick when I made a Provençal layered pot roast. The anchovies impart no fishiness at all, but add a wonderful depth and complexity. Many recipes also call for topping osso buco with gremolata, a mix of minced parsley, garlic and lemon zest. Make sure to do this – it adds a nice bright finish to the dish and balances its richness.

Osso buco is often served with risotto. I served it with short pasta tossed with some of the pan juices and vegetables. It would also be delicious with creamy mashed potatoes – not authentic, mind you, but delicious.

And finally, one of the treats of this dish is the delicious, fatty marrow in the center of the bones. In fact, the name osso buco means bone with a hole, showing how important the marrow is. There are narrow spoons designed specifically for getting at it, but I say it’s an opportunity to finally get some use from those goofy souvenir state spoons in the back of the silverware drawer.

Osso Buco with Gremolata
Serves 2 to 3

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