A Savory Braise


I remember when I was a child my dad would make this scrumptious soup with beef shanks. The meat of the shanks was of no interest to me but the delicate marrow nestled in the hollow of the bone was a different matter. Fishing the shanks out from the soup, I would quite ungracefully blow the marrow out from the other end of the hole (this is when the shank has two holes on each end). I would then watch with glee as the marrow shoots out from the bone and lands quivering yet intact on my plate of steaming white rice. The next process was to season it lightly with soy sauce before spooning it into my lips with a little rice to savor its rich remarkable flavor. Now there are occasions when the other end of the bone is sealed and these are the times when they really get messy. I would use a fork to coax out the marrow; when that fails I would  shake the bone , much like you would  ketchup that refuses to release from its bottle, and watch the marrow fly off somewhere else other than my plate.

It was with this memory that I eagerly searched for a worthy recipe for my recently procured lamb shanks. I was thinking of making a curry dish but then we just attended a cooking demo by the chef of our favorite Italian restaurant. He had shown us how to make Osso Buco, and who better to teach this staple of Italian cuisine than a chef from Northern Italy. Osso buco literally translates to "bone with a hole" and is a Milanese dish. Often served with “Risotto Milanese” it is traditionally made with veal shanks but it is fine to use lamb; although with this substitution the meat may not be falling off the bone at the end of the long cooking process. Osso Buco is frequently topped with Gremolata, a lemon zest and parsley mixture. Aside from adding color to the dish it is an important flavor finisher to the overall taste of the Osso Buco.

The recipe below is loosely adapted from my class. I did not really measure out my ingredients but approximations worked out pretty well. It is fine to use red or white wine.

Osso Buco

            6 lamb shanks, 2 inches thick

            Flour for dredging

            2 cups carrots, coarsely chopped

            2 cups celery, coarsely chopped

            2 cups onions, coarsely chopped

            ½ cup olive oil

            4 bay leaves

            1 stem fresh rosemary

            ½ liter red wine

            1 ½ liter cold stock

            ½ cup of flour

            6 tbs. tomato paste

            salt and pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 300 °F

Pat the lamb shanks dry. Season lamb with salt and pepper and dredge in flour. Heat olive oil in an oven proof dutch oven. Sear the lamb on both sides until golden brown. Set aside. In the same pan over high heat sauté carrots, celery, onions, bay leaf and rosemary until translucent. Add the lamb shanks back to the pan. Dust with a ½ cup of flour and add wine. Stir until flour and wine are incorporated. Add stock, tomato paste and season with salt and pepper. Bring everything to a boil and set inside preheated oven.

            Braise the Osso Buco in oven for approximately 2 hours or until tender.

            When cooked, strain liquids. Place liquids in sauce pan and reduce until it has a consistency of a creamy sauce. Place Osso Buco on a platter. Garnish with sauce and sprinkle with gremolata

For the Gremolata

            Finely chopped parsley and fresh lemon zest

Cooking Notes:

            The original recipe called for veal shanks and the oven was preheated to 400 °F. I have had much success braising meat at 300 °F so I decided to keep this temperature. Because of the long cooking time the vegetables would be severely mushy and unattractive. If you are concerned about presentation you can probably remove the first batch of carrots and celery by straining and adding another batch 30 minutes before the cooking time ends. There are a lot of different Osso Buco recipes and I think I would like to use garlic next time. The gremolata is an important part of this dish so I strongly advice not to skip this. The lamb turned out amazingly tender and came easily off the bone. The essence of the Osso Buco springs from the layer of flavors derived from the meat, the wine, and the nuances of taste from the vegetables, herbs and seasoning. Of course as a grand finale I had to repeat what I did as a child; blow the marrow from the bone and relish this delicate element of an infinitely savory braise.

10 thoughts on “A Savory Braise

  1. Osso Bucco reminds me of 2 things: A fish called Wanda, where Kevin Kline spoke of Italian food to seduce his lady and 2nd, how much I did not care for it when I was working as a waiter in an Italian restaurant! Now, I have a 3rd; how much I like what my wife cooks in our own kitchen! It is absolutely fantastic!! It is perfect for fall-winter time where it's cold outside.

  2. Osso buco is one of the dishes my mom makes and now me too 🙂 This is definitely a favorite in our family. And I feel your bone marrow love…my dad and I used to fight over it! I also did the "blowing the hole" bit to get the marrow out 🙂 Bone marrow is one of life's great pleasures!

    I do use garlic in my osso buco. I also add lemon and orange zest, as well as fresh orange juice…it really adds a great dimension that the gremolata picks up perfectly 🙂 If you want to see the recipe it's here: http://80breakfasts.blogspot.com/2005/09/osso-buco.html

  3. It's such a comforting dish this. I love using osso bucco and lamb shanks in the cooler months. And the gremolata adds another dimension to the dish.

  4. When you get around to making osso bucco with veal shanks, try including both garlic and anchovie in your gremolata. That is the traditional composition in the Milanese tradition and imparts a much (struggling for words here) deeper tone to the overall composition. It's the juxtaposition of the brightness of lemon and parsley with the deep foundation of garlic, salt, and sea that make the whole thing. If you want a good basic recipe for this, take a look at Ada Boni's classic Italian Regional Cooking (pg 47). A great resource for your library in any case.

    I also think you'll find you don't need all that extra flour to achieve the desired weight and consistency in your sauce. The dredging flour and gelatin in the bones (especially if you're doing the lamb shanks with joints in tact) provide adequate heft.

    For a lamb-optimized variation, you can consider substituting cilantro for the parsley.

  5. This is a signatue dish in our family, and my son & I have the exclusive licence to prepare it. We use veal shanks and white wine and we add lemon zest to the pot, as well as to the gremolata. We also put in a few anchovies and a touch of balsamic, for added richness.
    The recipe works well too for braised ox tail, but then we use red wine as the only liquid (no stock)

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