Originating in the Lombardy region of Italy, this hearty peasant dish is more revered in restaurants abroad than at home. It's often referred to in English as braised veal shanks, a bare bones description that doesn't begin to capture the essence of this rich unctuous stew.
The veal shank in question is a long thick bone ringed by meat and tendons; for osso buco the shank is cut across, yielding large discs of bone surrounded by thin layer of fatty meat. (The rear shank is preferred because it's meatier than the front shank.) The key to the dish is long slow cooking, which makes the meat meltingly tender and renders the tough tendons into soft gelatinous knobs. The name translates as "bone with a hole", a reference to the fact that the centre of each disc of bone contains rich and delicious marrow which should be dug out with a small spoon and savoured.
Osso buco is slow braised in a sauce consisting of white wine, veal stock, and herbs and vegetables. Regional variations include the addition of tomatoes, lemon or orange rind, olives, and/or anchovies to the sauce, delicious variants all.
A good butcher will prepare the veal shanks for you, cutting them into rounds; make sure the rounds are no more than 1-1/2 inches (4cm) thick, or the meat will be tough and stringy. If you can get them, lamb or even venison shanks make a nice variation.
The list of ingredients is long, but this is an easy dish to make and quite impressive to serve. It's traditionally served sprinkled with gremolata - a garnish of parsley, lemon zest, garlic, and salt and pepper - and served alongside Milanese risotto - arborio rice cooked in saffron-infused chicken stock. Substitute orange zest for lemon zest in the gremolata for a different flavour, and use any type of grain as an alternate accompaniment - couscous or long-grain rice are both very good. Add a green salad and a hearty bottle or two of red wine and you've got a wonderful dinner worthy of a restaurant.
What you need to serve 4:
What to do:
Preheat oven to 325°F/160°C.
Heat the oil in a Dutch oven or deep frying pan, ideally one that's oven-proof, has a lid, and is big enough to hold all the veal shanks in a single layer. (If you don't have one you'll need to braise the osso bucco in a baking pan.) Dredge the shanks in seasoned flour, shaking well to remove any excess. Brown well, about 5 minutes per side, then remove from the pan and set aside.
Melt the butter in the same pan and saute the onion, carrot, celery, and garlic till onion is soft, about 5 minutes. Add remaining ingredients, bring to boil, then cover and place in oven. Bake for about 2-1/2 hours, till meat is very tender. Discard the thyme, parsley, bay leaf, and lemon peel.
If you prefer a thicker sauce, remove the meat and bones and cook over medium heat for about 5 minutes to reduce the sauce.
To serve, sprinkle the osso buco with gremolata and serve with risotto or other grain. Enjoy!