Ossobuco alla Milanese
Making fall-off-the-bone Ossobuco
Ossobuco (or Osso Buco) is Italian for “bone hole”, which is a reference to the exposed marrow bone at the center of the cross-cut veal shanks. The shanks are seared, then braised low-and-slow in a broth of stock, wine, and soffritto (onion, carrots, celery). This recipe adds leeks and root vegetables (celeriac, turnips, parsnips) to the braising liquid because they add depth of flavor and are a nice accompaniment to the soffritto in the end.
Traditionally, Ossobuco alla Milanese is served with saffron risotto (recipe found here). Alternatively, you may choose to pair the ossobuco with risotto ai funghi misti (recipe found here). The earthiness of wild mushrooms pairs nicely with the subtle qualities of veal and the flavors imparted by the leeks and root vegetables. Topping off the dish is a classic gremolata, which is the perfect complement to the unctuous, buttery bone marrow.
This is a fairly simple dish to execute. The long, slow braise handles the heavy lifting, freeing you up to do other things. Open a bottle of Soave or Vermentino and contemplate how fortunate you are — after all, you are preparing a delicacy.
Want outstanding results? Here are a few tips.
- Find a local butcher you trust — one who has access to specialty meats and will trim them to your liking. If no local butcher is available, you could speak with the butcher at the local supermarket. A third option is a specialty food purveyor, such as D’Artagnan, or one of the other boutique shops listed in the footer.
- Try supporting a local Farmers Market or joining a Co-Op because the benefits are plentiful. The produce is fresher because it is often from local farms. It is also far less costly. Items like Celery Root easily cost 2-3 times more at the grocery store. You can walk home from the Farmers Market with all the produce required for this meal — plus enough for the week — for a fraction of what you would spend at the supermarket.
- Invest in a good quality Dutch Oven, Cocotte, or Braiser for this dish. Primarily, because it is the only dish you will need from start to finish. Secondly, because they last a lifetime. Finally, because you will wonder how you made it so long without one as it becomes your go-to vessel for sauces, soups, stews, roasts, and more.
- Take the time to get a good sear on each side of the shanks. A beautiful brown crust is essential to realizing the veal’s amazing flavor potential.
- Make the most of the deglazing process by scraping all the fond (those delicious little brown bits) off the bottom of the pan.
- Use a dry, crisp white wine from the region that will not overwhelm the subtle, smooth flavor of the veal.
- If you have ethical concerns about veal, substitute pork, lamb, or venison shanks for your Ossobuco. In any case, only buy meat humanely raised in a stress-free environment with a diet free of antibiotics and hormones.
- Preheat the oven to 325ºF.
- Heat the olive oil in a large enameled cast iron pot, such as a Dutch oven or braiser, over medium-high heat.
- Pat the shanks dry with paper towels to remove their moisture.
- Truss each of the shanks with butcher's twine, then season aggressively with salt and pepper.
- Sear the shanks in batches for 3-4 minutes on each side until a nice brown crust forms. When all the shanks appear well caramelized, set them aside.
- Add the soffritto, leeks, and root vegetables to the oil. Season them lightly with salt and pepper. Cook them for 6-8 minutes, stirring occasionally with a wooden spoon, until translucent.
- Add the garlic and cook about 2 minutes until it is fragrant.
- Add the tomato paste and incorporate it well. Cook about 2 minutes until its color deepens and consistency thickens slightly.
- Turn the heat to high and add 1 cup of the wine. As the wine comes to a boil, begin scraping the fond (little brown bits) from the bottom of the pan.
- When all the fond has been scraped up and the wine has reduced to a thick syrup, nestle the shanks into the vegetables, positioning them so they are not crowding each other.
- Add the remaining wine and enough chicken stock to cover the shanks about ¾ of the way. Add the rosemary, thyme, and bay leaves.
- As soon as the braising liquid comes to a boil, cover the pot and place it in the oven. After 1 hour, remove the lid and turn the shanks, then recover and braise for another hour. By the end of the second hour, the meat should be fork tender and ready to fall off the bone. If not, turn the shanks once more and braise an additional 15-30 minutes.
- Remove the pot from the oven and let stand covered for 10 minutes. Meanwhile, combine the finely chopped parsley, minced garlic, and lemon zest to create the gremolata and set aside.
- Remove the shanks from the pot, cut off the butcher's twine, and place them in serving dishes, either atop or alongside the risotto.
- Discard the rosemary, thyme, and bay leaves.
- Using a slotted spoon, collect half of the soffritto/vegetable mixture and distribute evenly around each of the four shanks.
- Using an immersion blender, pureé the remaining half of the soffritto/vegetable mixture in the broth, then ladle the sauce over each of the shanks.
- Top the shanks with gremolata and serve with a marrow scoop.
- It is essential that the shanks are as dry as possible prior to searing them to achieve beautiful browning.
- Do not forget to truss the shanks with butcher's twine or they will likely fall apart during the braise.
- Serving Ossobuco without a tool to extract the bone marrow is analogous to serving soup without a spoon. It is arguably the best part of the dish.
- Using a crisp, dry white wine like a Soave will not overpower veal's delicate flavor.
- Traditional gremolata is parsley, garlic, and lemon zest — and arguably, anchovy depending on who you talk to — but don't let that stifle your creativity. Food, like language, is always evolving. If you want to add olive oil, rosemary, thyme, charred scallions, diced bacon, toasted pine nuts, dried cranberries, orange zest, finely grated horseradish, or [insert ingredient here] to your gremolata, have at it. If you want to use a red wine in your braising liquid, go for it. There are no rules. Food is a personal journey.