Tuesday, March 06, 2007

It Was an Osso Buco Kind of Night

Osso buco has not always meant a rich and delicious dinner entree to me. When I was younger, I somehow got it into my head that it was a dance much like the paso doble or samba. I have no idea how the connection was made but after last night's meal, I can attest to the fact that osso buco is as flavorful and exciting as any Latin dance.

And since I'm housesitting for Frederick & Jed, making this meal was even more interesting. Do you know how difficult it is to keep a basset hound, dalmation and great dane out from underfoot when you're cooking something that smells as good as osso buco? Let me just say that I cha cha cha'd all around Logan, Roscoe and Sammy until I finally had to baby gate myself into the kitchen. I had started out with the crew in the backyard but Logan kept "knocking" at the back door until I let them in. I had to...seeing his mournful face peering at me through the glass and watching his huge paw scratching down the door was too much for me. I'm a sucker, it's true.

I pored over many recipes for slowly braised veal dish and finally compiled my own, based mostly on one by Giada De Laurentiis. I did decide to make a trip to my favorite grocery store with a bulk spices section since a few of the items called for in the recipe are not part of my normal kitchen staples. I didn't want to buy an entire jar of a spice I don't normally use.
And because I'm on a budget, I opted to substitute the key ingredient. I switched the veal shanks to oxtails. Yes, purists will argue it isn't osso buco without veal. I don't care what you want to call an oxtail version of osso buco, it was fully satisfying.

I also nixed the traditional risotto side dish and went with creamy, cheesey polenta. I bought a chub of polenta, cubed it and heated it with 1/2 cup of chicken stock and 1/2 cup of half and half. Using a potato masher, I smoothed the lumps out and threw in about a 1/4 cup of grated parmesan cheese, a pinch of sea salt, several dashes of pepper and a small bit of butter. The smooth and tasty polenta complemented rather than competed with the deeper flavor of the osso buco.

This recipe calls for a bouquet garni, a little cheesecloth packet of herbs. You can skip buying cheesecloth if you have a loose tea infuser at home. Remove the leaves from the woody stalk on the rosemary and thyme and place loose into the infuser along with the cloves and bay leaf, which you can break into large pieces. The infuser can then sit in the pot much like a cheesecloth wrapped bundle would if going with a more traditional method.

The recipe was incredibly easy. The hardest part is the wait, especially when the fragrant smell from the simmering pot is tickling your taste buds. Because I used oxtails, I had to increase the cooking time by almost another full hour. All I can say is that it's well worth the lengthy braising time.

Osso Buco

2-3lbs. veal shanks
1 small onion, diced
1 carrot, diced
1 rib celery, diced
1 Tb. lemon zest
3 Tb. flat leaf parsley, chopped
1 sprig fresh thyme
1 sprig fresh rosemary
1 dried bay leaf
2 whole cloves
sea salt
fresh ground pepper
all purpose flour
1/2 cup olive oil
1 cup dry white wine
2-3 cups chicken stock
1 Tb. tomato paste
kitchen twine

Rinse veal and pat dry before seasoning with salt and pepper. (If you prefer your meat to stay in one piece, use a piece of twine to secure each shank, tying around the cut of meat). Dredge in flour and shake off excess. Place washed bay leaf, cloves, rosemary & thyme into a square of cheesecloth and tie the top, making your bouquet garni.

In a large heavy pot, such as a dutch oven, heat oil until very hot. Brown veal on all sides, remove from pot and keep warm in covered dish. In same pot, saute the onion, carrot and celery, seasoning it with a bit of salt. When vegetables are soft and translucent, add tomato paste and stir well. Return meat to pan, add white wine and cook until the liquid is reduced by half.

Add bouquet garni and 2 cups of chicken stock. Bring to a boil, reduce heat to low and cover. Simmer for about 1.5 to 2 hours or until meat is ultra tender. Every 15 minutes during cooking time, turn meat and add more chicken stock if the liquid falls below 3/4 up the sides of the shanks.

During last half hour of cooking add the parsley and lemon zest. When meat is tender to the point of falling off the bone, remove bouquet garni and throw away. Cut off kitchen twine if veal has been tied. Serve over risotto or polenta with pan juices poured over shanks.

No comments: