A taste of Northern Italy … a slow, gentle, and steady braise of flavour-rich veal shanks in a subtle tomato sauce provides the prescription for comfort.
Translated, Osso Buco means ‘bone with a hole’, referring to the marrow at the shank’s centre-cut. When cooked, this marrow surrenders a unique flavour to the dish. In earlier days, Osso Buco was considered to be a peasant dish because it was an inexpensive cut of meat that could be prepared to make many servings.
Traditionally, Osso Buco is served with Risotto alla Milanese (saffron risotto) – another classic Italian dish that is pure comfort.
Osso Buco is a basic braise …therefore it could appear to be quite simple and straightforward. However, there are a few things that need specific attention in order for this dish not to end up being tough and bland.
Tips for making great Osso Buco:
- Veal shanks should be at least 1 ¼ inches thick so that the meat will retain its moisture throughout the long cooking time. In addition, the shanks should not be too large in diameter – 3 or 4 four inches maximum. If the shanks are too thin and/or too large in diameter, you will be disappointed with the results.
- Tying the shanks with a piece of butcher’s twine is essential for even cooking and to ensure that the meat stays on the bone.
- Initial browning of the shanks gets the flavour-factor started.
- The sauce’s flavour base begins with the essential soffrito (onions, carrots, and celery).
- De-glazing with a dry white wine and tomato paste adds the next layer of flavour. The remaining braising liquid is made up of veal stock and San Marzano tomatoes – don’t substitute a poor quality tomato.
- Veal stock is not essential, but it is the preferred stock. Unfortunately, it may take a bit of searching to find this product. Major makes excellent stock bases. Here in Vancouver, this product can found at the Gourmet Warehouse. Chicken or Beef stock will also work in Osso Buco.
- The brightly flavoured combination of parsley, lemon, and garlic form the gremolata, which is stirred in at the end of cooking as well as sprinkled on top at serving time.
- Osso Buco makes the perfect dish for entertaining because it is at its best on the second day. …it tastes amazing on the second day….
Prep Time: 40 minutes over 2 days
Cooking Time: 1st day: 2 ½ hours; 2nd day: 1 hour
Number of Servings: 6
6 – 1 ¼ inch thick veal shanks
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
1/3 cup (85 mL) all-purpose flour for dredging
¼ cup (60 mL) vegetable oil, divided
2 tablespoons (30 mL) unsalted butter, divided
2 large onions, small dice
2-3 celery stalks, thinly sliced
2-3 medium carrots, small dice
2 garlic cloves, chopped or minced
1 teaspoon (5 mL) dried oregano
1 teaspoon (5 mL) Kosher salt
1 cup (250 mL) dry white wine
1 small can (156 mL / 5.5 fl oz) tomato paste
1 large can (796 mL / 28 fl oz) San Marzano tomatoes, undrained
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
2 cups (500 mL) veal stock; chicken or beef stock can also be used
1 sprig of fresh rosemary
2 sprigs of fresh thyme
2-3 bay leaves
1-2 tablespoons (15-30 mL) cornstarch, or arrowroot starch (optional)
1-2 tablespoons stock or water
Gremolata (recipe follows)
The day before serving:
- Tie each shank around the middle with some butcher’s twine. Remove any moisture with a paper towel. Season with salt and pepper.
- Very lightly dredge each shank with some flour, shaking off any excess.
- Have ready a large (9 x 13) roasting pan or casserole dish – or any dish that will easily hold all of the shanks in one layer. Preheat oven to 3250F (1650C).
- In a large heavy skillet, heat 2 tablespoons of the oil over medium heat. Add 1 tablespoon of the butter. Put 3 or 4 of the shanks in the skillet and sear until browned on both sides – 4 to 5 minutes on each side. Move the browned shanks to the roasting pan while the remaining shanks are seared.
- Pour off the fat from the skillet. Return the pan to the heat and add the remaining oil and butter. When hot, add the onions, celery, and carrots. Cook vegetables until soft and fragrant – about 10 minutes.
- Add the chopped garlic, oregano, and salt.
- Increase the heat a little, and add the dry white wine. Cook for 5 minutes.
- Add the tomato paste. Stir until well combined. Reduce the heat and add the tomatoes. Season with a little salt and pepper.
- In the roasting pan where the veal shanks are resting, add the fresh herbs and pour over the stock.
- Pour the tomato mixture over the veal shanks, ensuring that all of the shanks are either totally covered by the sauce, or just about.
- Tightly cover roasting pan with foil.
- Braise, covered, for 30 minutes at 3250F (1650C); then reduce heat to 2750F (1400C) for 1 ½ – 2 hours.
- Check the shanks after an hour or so to stir up the liquid a little, and to ensure that the liquid is still sufficient.
- After 90 minutes of low steady heat, the shanks should be fork-tender. Because they will be reheated tomorrow, you don’t want to over-cook.
- With a wide spatula, carefully transfer each shank to a platter – gently brush off any vegetable bits. Strain the braising liquid through a medium-mesh sieve into a large saucepan. Press on the vegetables in the sieve to extract as much of the sauce as possible.
- Assess the thickness of the sauce – if it is very thick, you will not require any further thickening; if it is a little thin, dissolve 1 or 2 tablespoons of the cornstarch or arrowroot powder in a little stock and stir into the sauce. Gently bring the sauce to a boil to cook briefly. This is also a good time to adjust the seasonings to taste.
- Place the shanks back in the roasting pan; pour strained sauce over top; cover with foil and refrigerate overnight.
- 1 hour before serving: Preheat oven to 3250F (1650C). Place covered roasting pan in oven until the shanks are hot and the sauce is heated through – 35-40 minutes.
- Make the gremolata: Combine ¼ cup (60 mL) finely chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley, 1 tablespoon (15 mL) hard-packed, finely grated lemon zest, and 2 minced garlic cloves.
- Transfer the cooked veal shanks to a serving platter. Remove butcher’s twine.
- Stir in 2 tablespoons of the gremolata into the sauce and heat through. (reserve the remaining gremolata for garnish).
- Serve the Osso Buco topped with the sauce and a sprinkling of the gremolata.
- Osso Buco is traditionally served with Risotto Milanese; however, mashed potatoes, or fresh noodles or pasta would also complete a beautiful entrée.