|Ossobuco ala Milanese|
Slow oven braising is perfect for turning tough, but flavorful cuts of meat into amazing, fork tender meals. Veal shanks, in particular, are ideally suited for braising because they’re so high in collagen; the connective tissue breaks down in the moist, low heat of a braise and enriches the sauce like nothing else. Veal shanks, from the front and hind legs, work well in this recipe. There is much written on which is best. The hind shanks, which I used, can weigh a pound or more – are bigger and meatier – and more magnificent on presentation. However, the large size may be too much for one appetite. Whichever you buy, look for shanks that are no less than 1½ inches thick; 2 inches is best. If they’re too thin, they’ll braise too quickly and therefore won’t release enough collagen to make the sauce as exquisite as it should be.
To serve 4-6 people, you will need at least 4 large meaty veal shanks, about 3½ pounds total. Generously season both sides of shanks with salt and pepper. Pour ½ C all-purpose flour into a shallow dish. One at a time, roll the shanks around in the flour to coat, and shake and pat the shank to remove any excess flour. Discard remaining flour.
|After browning the veal shank|
Discard any fat from the pot. Add 1 Tb olive oil, and then add 1 medium onion, chopped, 1 medium carrot, chopped, 1 stalk celery with leaves, chopped and 1 small fennel bulb, trimmed, cored and chopped. Season with salt and pepper and cook until the vegetables begin to soften and caramelize, about 5 minutes. Be sure to scrape the brown bits from the bottom and sides of the pot with a spoon or rubber scrapper as you go, so that the stuff does not burn and flavor the mixture.
Add 3 minced garlic cloves, 2 strips of orange zest, removed with a vegetable peeler (each about 3 inches by ¾ inch), 2 Tb tomato paste, 1½ tsp fresh (or ½ tsp dried) marjoram, and 1 bay leaf and stew for another 1-2 minutes. Add 1 C dry white wine or dry white vermouth, increase the heat to high, and bring to a boil. Boil, stirring occasionally, to reduce the wine by about half, 5 minutes. Stir in a pinch of saffron (about 10 threads) and ½ C fresh orange juice (from about 2 oranges). Add ½ C veal or chicken stock and 1 C chopped peeled tomatoes, fresh or canned, with their juice. Boil again to reduce the liquid to about 1 C total, about 10 minutes.
Place the shanks in the pot so that they are sitting with the exposed bone facing up, and pour over any juices that accumulated as they sat. Cover all with parchment paper, pressing down so the parchment nearly touches the veal and the edges hang over the sides of the pot. Cover tightly with a lid, and slide into the lower part of the oven to braise at a gentle simmer. Check the pot after 15 minutes, and if liquid is simmering too aggressively, lower the oven temperature 15-25 degrees. Continue braising, turning the shanks once midway and spooning pan juices over the top. Braise until the meat is “fork-tender” and pulling away from the bone, about 2 hours.
|Braising the shanks|
If you wish to observe the Milanese ossobuco tradition strictly, you must add an aromatic mixture called gremolata to the shanks, when they are nearly done. It will add a kick of lemon, garlic and parsley. While the shanks are braising, stir together 1 tsp minced garlic, 2 Tb chopped flat-leaf parsley and 1 tsp grated lemon zest in a small bowl. Cover with plastic wrap and set aside in a cool place. This will be your gremolata.
When the veal is done remove the pot from the oven and place it on the stove. Remove and toss the orange zest and bay leaf. Gently lift the shanks with a slotted spoon onto a tray or large platter, and sprinkle with ½ of your gremolata. Then cover it to keep them warm. Turn the heat to high under the pot and cook the sauce down until it is reduced to half, about 3-4 minutes.
Next pass the sauce through a food mill into a saucepot, pushing through as much liquid as possible. Scrape anything that sticks to the underside of the strainer; discard anything bigger that collects in the top without passing through. Thickness is essential to this sauce, so I use a food mill to create a passito, or “passed sauce,” bringing together the gelatin from the meat and the vegetable puree. If you don’t have a food mill, tip the pot and use a whisk to “pound” the sauce until it is blended and chunky. Do not put the sauce in a food processor or blender as the fat will emulsify and the sauce will smooth out instead of staying chunky and meaty. Taste the sauce for seasoning. Add salt and pepper as needed.
|"Passing the sauce"|
Ossobuco can be completely cooked a day or two in advance. In fact, if made in advance, you’ll actually enhance the flavor: ossobuco, like all braised meats, tastes better when its been sitting in the sauce awhile. Cover the meat with the sauce in an ovenproof container and store in the refrigerator overnight. Heat the next day in a 350 degree F oven until it is warmed through and you’re good to go. If you are using the gremolata, add it only when reheating the meat.
Italian restaurants in America often offer pasta or risotto as a side dish. This practice is unknown in Italy – with one exception: the happy pairing of ossobuco with risotto alla Milanese in the restaurants of Lombardy.
This hearty dish is best served with classic Italian red wines such as Barola, Barbaresco or Brunello di Montalcino. If unavailable, I would substitute with full-bodied red wine such as Cabernet Sauvignon.