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Chris Amirault

Ossobuco -- eG Cook-Off 44

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Welcome to eGullet Cook-Off XLIV! Click here for the Cook-Off index.

We've just devoted a Cook-Off to braised brisket, and we're turning again to moist, well-cooked proteins for our next adventure: ossobuco. You will see it spelled a number of different ways out there, but Marcella Hazan refers to it as one word in her definitive Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking, so I'm going with that spelling. No reason to argue with Marcella, after all.

Ossobuco is braised veal shank, named after the "bone with a hole" that used to be attached to the hind shank of a calf. (Let's all agree to stick to veal, and not have, say, halibut ossobuco. :wink:) The classic Milanese version includes vegetables, tomatoes, wine, and broth, and is served with risotto alla milanese, perfumed with saffron, and with gremolada.

Some of the versions out there are a bit wacky. In particular, The Silver Spoon Cookbook simmers the 2" thick shanks for 30 minutes atop the stove. Given that Hazan has 1 1/2" shanks in a 350F oven for two hours, I'm pretty sure the SSC is a waste of good veal. Indeed, I'd think that a much lower oven for longer would work wonders.

There are more things to talk about here than just braising temps and times! For example, many other versions of ossobuco depart from the Milanese approach. In her out-of-print More Classic Italian Cooking, Hazan provides the recipe for Ossobuchi in Bianco, the white referring to a sauce lacking tomato. In The Fine Art of Italian Cooking, Giuliano Bugialli offers ossobuco Florentine style, with peas and pancetta, and Lynne Rossetto Kasper's Italian Country Table offers a home-style version with mushrooms, favas or snap peas, and more intense flavors such as anchovy, sage, and rosemary.

We have one short discussion of ossobuco here, and an even shorter one on wine pairings here. Indeed, as is often the case with Italian food, the best discussion is the one shepherded by Kevin72, the Cooking and Cuisine of Lombardia, which muses on on the dish's origins and execution throughout.

I'm wondering a few things myself. Some folks say that braised veal cannot be reheated, unlike other dishes that benefit from a night in the fridge. I'm also wondering what other sorts of sides -- polenta, say, or the Italian mashed potatoes that Hazan suggests for the ossobuchi in bianco -- would work and/or are traditional.

So who wants to welcome the new year with some bones with holes?

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This one might be tough -- veal shanks are few and far between around here. While the back of my mind works on that problem, I can add to the references and issues.

In the excellent All About Braising, Molly Stevens writes ". . . osso bucco Milanese is probably the dish that inspired me to write an entire book on braising in the first place." Despite such praise, she can't resist fiddling with the recipe, including a bulb of fennel and a small pile of orange zest in the aromatics. She double-doses the gremolata (traditional parsley, garlic and lemon), adding half and returning the braise to the oven for a final 15 minutes. Finally, in the helpful sidebar "Shopping for Veal Shanks," she says that fore- or hind-shanks are acceptable, claiming that the former are more flavorful, if less meaty.

Mario Batali weighs in with a version he served at Po and wrote up in Simple Italian Food. It's a robust, straightforward take, including a sub-recipe for a garlic-and-thyme-heavy tomato sauce and lots of unreduced wine (Stevens starts with a cup and reduces it by half; Mario says two cups, as is). He deviates on the gremolata, using pine nuts, parsley and lemon zest.

Just to get the temperature debate going, Stevens says 300 F, warning that you might have to turn it down. Batali uses 375 F.

I'm off to do some sourcing.

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I make my osso bucco in the crock pot - a recipe from The Best of Electric Crockery Cooking by Jacqueline Heriteau. Nothing wacky about the recipe at all. A basic osso bucco with white wine, tomato and a couple of cloves of garlic. And of course the traditional gremolata.

I actually think that osso bucco benefits from a night in the fridge. Perfectly good day 1 however.

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I'd like to hear opinions on the preferred thickness of the meat. I spent a couple of weeks in Umbria this summer and was thrilled to see veal shanks were really cheap in the local market, just like they used to be in the US. The only problem was that they were selling it pre-cut, no more than 1" thick. Given my non-existent Italian skills, it took me 10 minutes and a lot of pantomime to get the butchers to cut me a half dozen pieces that were 2" thick. Between the great meat and the rosemary bush in the backyard I didn't even need my A game to make a great dinner.

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Thanks for the shoutout to our group project Chris!

As for thickness there's also traditional recipes for serving the entire shank, slow roasted or braised. I know there's a dish Mario Batali made with a whole veal shank from Rome but I believe there's recipes for it in the far northern states as well.

But Osso Bucco alla Milanese is a study in perfection. Everything works and why mess with it? The gremolata, the rich risotto milanese under it to catch juices (one of the few times you see what's traditionally a primo served with the secondo).

Last time I made this was several years ago and I keep meaning to break it out again, this sounds like a good excuse. It was also my first experience with oven braising something and hooked me on it ever since.

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As for thickness there's also traditional recipes for serving the entire shank, slow roasted or braised.

That would normally go under the appellation stinco di [animal].

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Veal shanks were looking good this evening at the grocery store and only $3.98/lb. $11.00 got me 4 nice looking pieces about 2 1/2 inches thick.

Since we are expecting snow tomorrow - seems like a good day to make osso buco!


Edited by Kerry Beal (log)

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(Let's all agree to stick to veal, and not have, say, halibut ossobuco. :wink:)

Well, you just might see a venison version in the Fahning household. Unless I am willing to take out a second mortgage, veal shanks are not in the picture, but oh my, I do have some mighty nice looking venison shanks in the freezer (thanks to my FIL, who deems it my job to get two deer for me every year).

But, I, too, am wondering about what to serve with it. Not just the starch, but a veg (or two).

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I have made Cooks Illustrated's recipe a few times. I'm not sure if they are "Milanese" style or not because, frankly, I don't really know the definition of "Milanese".

Anyway, they were tasty. CI suggested they be served with polenta. (which I did). They also call for a garnish of gremolata. (I did that too).

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Quick note on the spelling and terminology.

Osso buco and ossobuco are correct, the latter more usual. What you can't have is two c's.

Slkinsey is right (no surprise) that the whole shank is called stinco.

The marrow spoon sometimes served with ossobuco is called an esattore ("tax collector"!), but both the spoon and the term are very hard to find nowadays.

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If you do get the marrow out, Marcella Hazan recommends using it in the risotto milanese in place of pancetta.

Chris I don't have the exact temps down for oven braising that I'm sure others here do but I typically do it in the 350-325 F range for a couple hours. The sauce reduces very nicely at that rate.

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If you do get the marrow out, Marcella Hazan recommends using it in the risotto milanese in place of pancetta.

And deny the diner that lovely scoop? Heavens!

Chris I don't have the exact temps down for oven braising that I'm sure others here do but I typically do it in the 350-325 F range for a couple hours.  The sauce reduces very nicely at that rate.

I'm increasingly a convert in braising to separating the cooking from the reduction, doing the former at 200-250F and then if needed the latter stovetop.

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If you do get the marrow out, Marcella Hazan recommends using it in the risotto milanese in place of pancetta.

Sometimes Marcella amazes me. Most people I know think the marrow is the whole point of ossobuco, and risotto alla milanese requires marrow all the time, not just when you have ossobuco. Marrow was banned during the mad cow crisis, and I'm not sure whether it was ever restored. The national consternation was on a par with the reaction to the restrictions on the bistecca alla fiorentina. I'm not sure whether Padanian separatism got stronger around that time, but it wouldn't surprise me. :biggrin: Ossobuco disappeared for a while, but shanks were not in the danger zone of the animal.

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Sometimes Marcella amazes me. Most people I know think the marrow is the whole point of ossobuco, and risotto alla milanese requires marrow all the time, not just when you have ossobuco. Marrow was banned during the mad cow crisis, and I'm not sure whether it was ever restored.

Well, to be fair, this is from her first cookbook in the 70s.

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I'm confused. Is one supposed to remove the marrow prior to braising the shanks, use it in the risotto, and not have it in the braise?

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I'm confused. Is one supposed to remove the marrow prior to braising the shanks, use it in the risotto, and not have it in the braise?

No. The marrow stays in the ossobuco till the diner scoops it out and eats it, possibly spread on a piece of bread. The idea that Marcella would remove it from the ossobuco for another use is what amazed me. This is possibly because she felt Americans wouldn't eat it in the ossobuco anyway, but in that case, they are unlikely to remove it from a yucky raw bone and make risotto. So I dunno. But yes, you do keep it in the ossobuco the whole time.

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Just got two beautiful hind shanks from Whole Foods. (Waterman St. store has them, for the locals.) I think I'm going to use the Hazan recipe from Essentials, splitting it into a two-day affair this weekend.

My question involves wine. What's a good choice? Can you buy for both the braise and the meal?

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My Whole Foods had shanks at the unglorious price of $15 a pound. What did you pay?

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Just got two beautiful hind shanks from Whole Foods. (Waterman St. store has them, for the locals.) I think I'm going to use the Hazan recipe from Essentials, splitting it into a two-day affair this weekend. 

My question involves wine. What's a good choice? Can you buy for both the braise and the meal?

I'm looking to go the WF route as well when I make this. But urgh, that price!

It's a white that you braise with but I think this kind of meal screams for a nice red, and you've got a good choice between Veneto and Piemonte, on either side of Lombardia. But if you want to go the white route you've got another neighbor, Trentino-Alto Adige which has many reputable whites as well.

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I'm tempted to find one superdry white, but maybe I should stick to the precedents here. I just worry about the lemon peel and saffron getting lost with a too-big red.

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