Easy Veal Osso Buco

Veal osso buco, is an all time classic dish, and one of my favorites and the recipe couldn’t be simpler. The completed dish contains so many different flavors and textures within the meat, that you’d think you were eating three different meals all at once. In what other preparation do you get a wonderfully flavored piece of mouth watering veal, a delicate and complex sauce and the pièce de résistance- a scoop of heavenly marrow. Osso bucco literally means “hollow bone,” and our slow-cooking technique will reward each diner with a quarter sized piece of perfectly cooked marrow with their dish. Is it expensive? Absolutely. It does however, make a lavish, restaurant quality dinner with very little effort.

How do you make osso buco? Well, it’s quite simple. First, go to your butcher and get some beautiful veal shanks like these:

How many will you need? 1 large piece of shank per person plus one shank will do the trick nicely. Ask your butcher to leave the outside skin on, if that’s an option. The skin cooks down nicely, and it will help to hold our shanks naturally together.

As for the rest of the ingredients, you will need:

2 onions, halved
2 carrots, roughly chopped
2 leeks, cleaned and quartered
10 (or so) cloves of garlic
1-2 bottles red wine (I used a bottle of beaujolais)
Arrange your veg on a sheet pan and drizzle with basil and garlic olive oil

Roast in the oven at 375 F for 30 minutes until brown.

While the vegetables are roasting, it’s time to turn your attention to the veal. In a large cooking vessel (large enough to cook the entire meal, here I am using a 12 qt Le Creuset cast iron dutch oven) add a a bit of oil to coat the bottom and heat over medium heat until the oil shimmers. When the oil starts shimmering, add your veal shanks to brown. Even though I could’ve fit all five of my shanks in, I worked in batches. Overcrowding in the pan will lead to too sharp a temperature drop, and instead of becoming wonderfully crisp and brown on the outside, our veal will develop a soft mealy crust. Definitely not what we are looking for.

How long does the browning process take? Well, that’s going to depend on your veal and the heat of the pan you are working with. Usually 4 minutes per side does the trick, but your results will vary. You want the pieces of shank to look something like the top left piece in this picture:

Now that the veal has been browned on both sides, it is time to begin building the flavor base for our cooking liquid. The process of browning our veal left a present for us in the form of fond. Fond is quite simply the delicious brown bits left at the bottom of the pan after you have cooked something. The fond contains high concentrations of closely bunched flavor compounds, that when properly released will provide a wonderfully rich meaty flavor to whatever sauce you are making. For this preparation, we will use our fond as the beginning of a cooking liquid to braise our veal. We will need to dissolve the fond in a liquid to fully release the flavor trapped therein. To make the base for our osso buco, I’m using a beaujolais- which isn’t necessarily a wine type that I’d drink, but it is a new grape wine with a relatively subtle flavor profile that works really well in cooking applications like this.

De-glaze the pan with a quarter cup of the wine. Scrape the bottom of the pan with a wooden spoon after you’ve introduced the wine to dissolve the fond.

Let this initial quarter cup of liquid reduce down until it is a very thick syrup. It will look something like this. It is very important that you don’t take the liquid too much past this point. Over-reducing any sauce will create some ugly flavors. Just be diligent during this process and don’t stray too far from the stove. It only takes a minute or two for the wine to reduce down to this level.

When the first bit of wine has reduced, add another quarter cup and repeat the process- again stirring with a wooden spoon to dissolve the fond.

You may ask why am I going through this overly time-consuming process of reducing small amounts of the wine, rather than adding the whole bottle to de-glaze the fond. The reason I’m working in small batches (I ended up doing four small additions of wine) is that the repeated reduction of small amounts of the de-glazing liquid works to add a tremendous amount of flavor and complexity in the cooking liquid that is really going to shine through in the final sauce. Once you’ve completed the reducing process, you can add in the additional wine- I do like to cook the wine separately for a minute or two prior to adding in all of our goodies.

OK, now that we’ve got the base for our cooking liquid, grab your veal- which should look something like this:

Add the veal and roasted vegetables to the wine and top off with additional wine so that everything is mostly covered. The vegetables will help hold the veal down. Don’t worry if the veggies are poking out the top. We are going to be cooking this low and slow and they will yield all their flavors to our dish regardless. Yum.

Cover and cook on low heat (or toss in your oven at as low a temperature as it will allow) for about three hours. You’ll want to check in every 30 minutes or so and move the vegetables around, but this is pretty much as low a maintenance dish as you can have at this point. If you were so inclined, after 2.5 hours you could begin to prepare a risotto by browning some onion and garlic in a sauce pot and adding some arborio rice to the mix, toasting the rice over medium low heat for just a couple of minutes.

When this is complete, you can begin to add your warm stock to the rice in small batches, just as you would to make any risotto. With the risotto off and running, it is time to finish up our veal. Remove the veal from the pot and set aside. Strain the vegetables out of the sauce and discard (at this point, they’ve done all the work they are going to do.) Add the now-strained sauce back to the pot and heat over medium-high heat to reduce. You can reduce this sauce as much or as little as you want, but I would caution against reducing it too much. There is a ton of flavor in this liquid and the tighter you make it, the more those flavors are going to become muddled. I will reduce the final liquid by about half, which still leaves a pretty thin, but extremely flavorful sauce.

Here’s the final sauce reducing away:

Finish off your risotto in any way you’d like. I went basic and added some excellent fresh parmigianno reggiano cheese to the rice and that was pretty much it. The risotto is accompanying the veal for this preparation, and shouldn’t have any flavors in it that are going to detract from our veal.

For the final plating, serve each person a piece of shank over the risotto. Spoon the reduced cooking liquid over the whole plate and shave a touch of fresh parmesan over the whole creation. Now, give each person a fork and a little spoon and step back. The little spoon is for the marrow of course, which has now cooked into this unbelievably flavorful mass. Everyone in our house digs right into that first!

This is really an excellent dish and it is quite easy. It’s great for a weekend day where you have a little extra time, but it also doesn’t kill your whole day because there is 3 hours there where you can almost disregard it completely (gives you time to perhaps clean up the house before company arrives!) The details like buying amazing veal, roasting the vegetables and de-glazing the pan in steps really make this dish special, and none of them really take all that much effort! I hope this inspires you to go out and try your own osso buco soon. Your dinner guests will thank you!

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