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Braised veal shanks with white beans

Elements of two classic comfort foods combine in satisfying braised veal shanks with white beans.

By Blue Kitchen / February 27, 2013

A French take on veal shanks calls for braising the shanks for 2 hours. The meat will be aromatic, smokey, and fork tender.

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Don’t get me wrong. I love osso buco. I’ve even made the time-honored Italian dish. But when I recently got my hands on some nice looking veal shanks, I wanted to try something different. Apparently, I’m not alone in that. Nestled among a bazillion osso buco recipes that a quick search for veal shanks recipes brought up was this plaintive cry on Chowhound: “Need veal shank recipe – Not Osso Buco.”

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Blue Kitchen

Terry Boyd is the author of Blue Kitchen, a Chicago-based food blog for home cooks. His simple, eclectic cooking focuses on fresh ingredients, big flavors and a cheerful willingness to borrow ideas and techniques from all over the world. A frequent contributor to the Chicago Sun-Times, his recipes have also appeared on the Bon Appétit and Saveur websites.

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In my head, I traveled the culinary globe off and on for a couple of days. I spent a lot of virtual time in Mexico and Latin America, conjuring up tangy, spicy, chipotle-smoky dishes. Morocco called to me, with cumin, paprika, cinnamon, and golden raisins. In the end, though, I landed right next door to Italy, in France. And the resulting recipe borrowed from classic dishes of both.

For osso buco, veal shanks are braised for a couple of hours, often on the stovetop (for my version, I oven-braised them). This slow cooking makes the mild-flavored meat fork tender and infuses it with the flavors of the braising liquid – aromatics, herbs, wine, and stock. Small wonder this rustic dish is a favorite in Italian restaurants and home kitchens alike.

Cassoulet, comfort food as only the French can do it, blows right past two hours for cooking time. Not only do you cook everything for hours – one of the ingredients, duck confit, is duck that’s already been cooked for hours. And you are further encouraged to cook the whole thing a day ahead and then cook it some more before serving.

For this braised veal shanks with white beans recipe, I took advantage of some of the overlap in these two timeless dishes. Then I skewed the whole thing in a cassoulet direction. Traditional cassoulet is a real meat festival. In addition to the aforementioned duck, it usually contains lamb and/or various cuts of pork, and it always includes sausage. The shanks are plenty meaty, so I just used a little bacon to achieve some of the smoky flavor sausage adds. And of course, white beans and bread crumbs are key cassoulet ingredients. They help anchor this dish, too.

Braised veal shanks with white beans
Serves 4

4 cross-cut veal shanks (osso buco cut, 1/2- to 3/4-pound each)

salt and freshly ground black pepper

flour (about 1/4 cup or so)

3 slices bacon

canola oil

1 tablespoon unsalted butter

2 shallots, sliced (or 1 medium yellow onion)

3 carrots, sliced on an angle

3 cloves garlic, minced

1 tablespoon fresh thyme leaves (or 1 teaspoon dry)

1 tablespoon fresh rosemary needles (or 1 teaspoon dry)

2 plum tomatoes, chopped

1 cup dry white wine (I used a muscadet) [optional, may substitute cooking wine]

2 cups reduced-sodium chicken broth (plus more, if needed)

2 small bay leaves (or 1 large)

1/2 cup bread crumbs

2 15-ounce cans white beans, such as cannellini

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