There’s a butcher who comes to the Farmers’ Markets only a few times a year, and he sells the most incredible beef. I try to stock up on steaks when he’s in town, and last time he came he talked me into buying a couple of kilos of veal shanks to make Osso Bucco. I’m so glad he did. I really think the success of this dish is in the quality of the meat, so find yourself a good butcher. If you’re in Canberra and you want to order some of Ian’s fantastic beef, you can get in touch with him via his website and find out when he’ll next be in town. I’ve never tasted better steak in my life, and it feels good to be buying from a farmer who has such enormous respect for his animals and for Natural Farming techniques.
Sorry if you’re a vegetarian.
The pieces are cross-sections of the shank – the lower leg – of the animal. I’ve made lamb shanks plenty of times but this is the first time I’ve cooked veal shanks. The shanks I bought at the market were really thick and meaty – I’ve seen veal shanks at the supermarket and they aren’t particularly impressive. I never buy meat at the supermarket anymore.
Here’s what I learned about veal shanks: they have a membrane around them. Each slice seems to be wrapped in a tight skin, a bit like you find on a slice of salami that hasn’t had its wrapper taken off. You need to cut through this membrane at 1-2cm intervals around the slice of salami so that, when you’re cooking it and the membrane shrinks, the slice doesn’t curl up but instead lies flat. You’ll need a sharp knife, and keep your fingers out of the way.
Once you’ve done that, you can make osso bucco like you’d make just about any casserole. The thing with osso bucco is that the marrow from inside the bone adds a level of richness to the gravy that is other-worldly. I’m not kidding, this was so delicious.
I think I had about ten pieces of veal, which was enough to feed six hungry people and have a little bit leftover for a couple of meat pies which I’m going to make for dinner tonight. There was a fair bit of gravy left over so I tipped that into a big pot of bolognese sauce that was bubbling away on the stove. Yum.
Veal shanks come in different sizes, so you might find it’s easier to buy two small pieces per person, or one large one per person.
(sorry this shot is out of focus… I hate trying to take pictures at night in my kitchen, the lighting is terrible and I don’t like to use the flash so I end up with a slow shutter speed. But – look at the marbling in that meat. And you can see the cuts I’ve made in the membrane on the piece on the right.)
This could be done in a slow-cooker (brown the meat first before adding to the pot) or you could cook the ingredients in a frying pan before transfering to an oven-proof dish (with a lid). I used Le Pot.
There are a million variations of this recipe, but this is how I did it and it was delicious.
8 Veal shanks
1 large brown onion, finely chopped
1 celery stick, finely chopped
1 carrots, finely diced
3 garlic cloves, finely chopped
1/2 cup plain flour
2 x 400g tins crushed tomatoes
1 cup chicken or veal or beef stock (I used beef, out of a packet)
200ml dry white wine
Two large pieces of lemon rind
Gremolata to serve:
1/2 cup chopped flat-leaf/continental parsley
the rest of the lemon rind from that lemon, finely grated
1 garlic clove, crushed (optional – I find it a bit strong)
Preheat oven to 160 C.
Put the flour in a large freezer bag and toss the veal pieces in it to coat. Shake off the excess flour and stack them up on a plate.
Heat a couple of tablespoons of oil in a large heavy-based pan over a medium heat . Brown the veal a few pieces at a time, get them nice and brown and then put aside and keep warm under some aluminium foil on another plate. When you have cooked all the veal, add a little more olive oil to the pot and add the chopped vegies. Stir 5-10 minutes or until soft.
Add the wine and let it bubble up for a minute and reduce. Keep stirring the pot, this will lift any bits that are stuck to the base of the pot – aka “de-glazing”.
Return the veal pieces to the pot, laying them flat in a couple of layers, squish them in if you need to. Pour over the wine, stock and the tomatoes, adding a little extra water if you need to in order to bring the liquid level up so the veal is covered. Tuck the lemon rind in amongst the veal. Put the lid on and pop it in the oven (or turn the slow cooker on LOW).
Cook in the oven for two hours. With half an hour to go steam some greens and make some mashed potato (or if like me you can’t be bothered cut thick slices of Italian bread). The meat should be falling off the bones, if not you can cook for a little longer, and add some more water if you need to.
Combine the parsley and grated lemon zest in a bowl, and sprinkle this over the veal as you dish it up.