Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Shank of the Season: Braised Osso Buco

I view snow on April Fool's Day as Mother Nature's way of reminding us New Englanders not to get too caught up in some romantic vision of spring. But instead of becoming dispirited, I say, salute this mercurial season with a dish that tastes a little lighter than the stews and braises of winter, but still has enough  flavor to be savored in front of a roaring fire with a nice bottle of red wine.

To me, that means veal shanks. I actually have a lovely, light almost Easter-dinner worthy recipe of shanks with pea tendrils and a lemon risotto, but  a cool, blustery Spring day demands something a little more substantial, with a sauce that's redolent of mushrooms, root vegetables, and tomato.

Some people who eagerly tuck into other meat feel guilty about eating veal, but those of us who live in the Seacoast have access to local veal that is humanely raised. Mind you, this is not the pale white stuff you'd find in a supermarket. No, this veal is deep pink, with a real meaty flavor; that's because the little critters actually get to spend some time outdoors. We usually get our veal from Kellie Brook Farm, but there are other local farmers who also offer delicious, guilt-free veal.  

From what I've read, traditional osso bucco, which is Italian for bone with a hole, was made with white wine, flavored with cinnamon, bay leaf, and a gremolata of finely chopped lemon zest, garlic, and parsley. This version, an invention of my brother-in-law Dave, was inspired by a couple of recipes in  Molly Steven's cookbook, All About Braising: the Art of Uncomplicated Cooking, though I must admit the delicious fennel/coriander coating for the shanks was all his idea.

While risotto is the classic accompaniment for osso bucco, we served it with farro (which is Italian after all), and some braised local chard. Add in some candlelight and you have a perfect fireside meal for a cold spring night.

Braised Veal Shanks ala Dave
1 T fennel seeds, toasted
1 T coriander seeds, toasted
Dash of salt
Couple grind of pepper
Handful of dried porcini mushrooms, soaked until soft in hot water to cover, then coarsely chopped
6 veal shanks, 2” thick
2 T olive oil
1 onion, coarsely chopped
3 small carrots, coarsely chopped
4 garlic cloves, coarsely chopped
1 cup chopped, peeled tomatoes (We used 1/3 cup of our own roasted San Marzano tomatoes)
1 cup Madeira wine
Parchment paper to fit casserole

1. Toast fennel and coriander seeds until fragrant. Grind with mortar and pestle or in spice grinder.
2. Rub the shanks with the spice mixture, salt, and pepper.
3. Preheat oven to 325 degrees.
4. In an oven-proof casserole large enough to hold all meat and vegetables, heat 2T olive oil until it shimmers.
5. Brown shanks carefully on all sides, about 15 or 20 minutes, taking care not to burn seeds. Add more oil if the pan is going dry. Remove shanks to platter.
6. Add onions and carrots to pan, scrape up browned bits from bottom of pan as vegetables release their moisture. When vegetables have softened, add garlic and stir, taking care not to let it burn.
7. Strain mushroom soaking liquid and add to pan along with the Madeira. Bring to a boil and reduce by half. Add tomatoes and mushrooms and stir.
8. Nestle shanks into braising pan amongst the vegetables, and add any juices that have accumulated on platter. Liquid should come up about half way around the meat. If needed, add water.
9. Cover pan with parchment paper, add lid and cook in oven for about 2 hours, until meat is very tender and almost falling off the bones.
10. Remove shanks to platter and cover with foil. Skim off fat from the sauce in the pan and taste for flavor. If it tastes weak, bring to a boil over high heat to reduce volume and concentrate the flavor. Taste for salt and pepper.
11. Spoon sauce over the shanks and serve.

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