Ossobucco is a hearty dish that hails from Northern Italy, specifically Milan in the Lombardy region. It consists of veal shanks crosscut to about 3 inches thick and slowly braised in wine, meat stock, vegetables and various herbs until the meat is fork tender. Translated to English, Ossobuco means “bone hole” and refers to the hole in bone of the shank.
In traditional versions of ossobuco the vegetables were usually limited to carrots, celery, onion and perhaps some tomato paste; but more modern versions often include crushed or chopped tomatoes. Ossobuco is customarily served with Risotto alla Milanese or with polenta both of which are also staples of the Lombardy region. The risotto or polenta is ladled onto a plate and the ossobuco is placed on top in the center. Then the wonderfully rich gravy that develops from the slow braising is spooned over the ossobuco. Some recipe call for straining the chopped vegetable out of the gravy and some leave them in. I prefer to leave them as they add some additional texture and eye appeal; and, to my thinking, it’s a bit wasteful to discard them. Finally, the ossobuco is traditionally garnished with Gremolata, a chopped herb condiment classically made of finely chopped parsley, garlic and lemon zest.
The following recipe is my wife Judy’s adaptation that has been refined to suit our taste. It’s naturally a more modern interpretation as it includes crushed tomatoes. Give it a try and let me know how you like it; and if you make any adaptations, share them with us also.
Ossobuco alla Milanese
- 6 veal shanks cut about 3-inches thick
- 1 or 2 bay leaves
- 1 sprig of fresh rosemary
- 1 lemon
- 1 orange
- 1 cup all-purpose flour for dredging
- ½ cup vegetable or canola oil
- ¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil
- 2 medium onions finely chopped, or more to taste
- ¾ cup carrot finely chopped, or more to taste
- ¾ cup celery finely chopped, or more to taste
- 2 teaspoons tomato paste
- 1 cup canned tomatoes crushed
- 2 cups white wine
- 6 cups hot chicken stock more if needed
- Salt to taste as needed
- Freshly ground pepper
- Shave off the zest of the orange and lemon in wide strips using a paring knife or vegetable peeler. Be careful to remove only the zest, not the bitter white pith.
- Squeeze and strain the juice from the orange.
- Lightly salt the veal shanks to taste then dredge the shanks in the flour to coat both sides and around the edges, shaking off the excess flour.
- Add the vegetable or canaola oil into a deep 5 or 6-quart saucepot and set over medium-high heat. Add the shanks flat side down and sear for 3 or 4 minutes until the bottoms are nicely browned; then flip to brown the other cut side. Turn the shanks onto their edges, and rotate so the fat crisps all around. Remove them to a platter when all nicely browned, about 10 minutes or more.
- Carefully pour the hot vegetable oil from the saucepot leaving the crusty bits on the bottom. Set the saucepot over medium-high heat and add the olive oil and chopped onions. Sauté the onions for a minute or two while scrapping the crusty bits from the bottom; then add the carrot and celery. Continue to sauté for a few more minutes until the vegetables begin to soften. Add the tomato paste, stir it into the vegetables and cook for another minute. Add the crushed tomatoes, bay leaves and rosemary; stir well.
- Raise the heat to high to bring to a boil. Add the wine, and cook for a couple of minutes to evaporate the alcohol. Add in the orange juice and hot chicken stock along with the orange and lemon zests. Add salt to taste.
- Return the shanks to the saucepot so they’re evenly immersed in the braising liquid. Add more hot chicken stock if necessary, enough to cover the tops of the shanks. Cover the pan, and lower the heat to a low simmer. Cook covered for about an hour, checking that the liquid still covers the shanks adding more hot chicken stock if needed. Occasionally turn the shanks over so they cook evenly.
- Remove the cover and continue to cook for another hour or more adjusting the simmer as necessary to allow a slow, steady concentration of the braising liquid into a thick savory sauce. Continue to turn the shanks occasionally to prevent them from drying out.
- Cook for 2 to 3 hours in all until the shanks are fork tender and falling apart; and the sauce is thick and reduced about half way down the shanks shanks. Remove the saucepot from the heat. Remove the bay leaves, rosemary sprig and zests.
- While in the ossobuco is in the final stage of cooking, the last 30 minutes or so, prepare the Risotto alla Milanese or, if you prefer, polenta.
- To serve, ladle the risotto or polenta onto a plate. Gently lift a shank from the saucepot and center it on top. Spoon some of the gravy with chopped vegetables over the shank. If desired, garnish each shank with ½ tbsp. of gremolata.
The image Osso Buco by PhonoPhoto is used under the Creative Commons NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0) License