serves: 6 servings
I can understand why my chefs were focused on ossobuco alla Milanese when we visited Milano in 2008, and why so many readers, viewers, and customers at my restaurants tell me it is one of their favorite dishes-in any cuisine. It is, to me, a perfect symphony of flavors and textures and colors. The luscious veal shank meat falling off the marrow bones; the marrow seeping into saffron-infused risotto; the dense sauce moistening meat and grain. And all the richness is enhanced by the counterpoint of a vibrant gremolata topping of fresh garlic, lemon, and parsley. Fortunately, a trip to Milan is not necessary to enjoy this grand meal. With this recipe, the multitude of pleasures in preparing, serving, and eating an authentic ossobuco alla Milanese will be yours at home.
6 veal shanks, cut 3-inches thick
2 bay leaves
4 whole cloves
1 sprig fresh rosemary
10 juniper berries
1 tablespoon sea salt
1 cup all-purpose flour, for dredging
½ cup vegetable oil
¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil
2 cups onions, finely chopped
½ cup carrot, peeled and shredded
½ cup celery , finely chopped
2 teaspoons tomato paste
1 cup canned San Marzano tomatoes, crushed
2 cups white wine
8 cups chicken stock, hot
freshly ground pepper
For the Gremolata
2 tablespoons Italian parsley, finely chopped
2 garlic cloves, peeled and finely chopped
Zest of 1 lemon, fine shreds
Stand the shank pieces up on a flat end. Cut six lengths of kitchen twine, each about 2 feet long, and wrap one around the outside of each ossobuco, in the middle (the meat will look as though it's wearing a very tight belt.) Tie the twine securely and trim the ends.
Cut a small square of cheesecloth and wrap up the bay leaves, cloves, rosemary sprig, and juniper berries. Tie the packet with twine. Shave off the peel of the orange and lemon in broad strips with a paring knife or vegetable peeler-remove only the colorful zest, not the bitter white pith. Squeeze and strain the juice from the orange.
Just before browning the meat, salt the ossobuco lightly, using 1/2 teaspoon in all. Dredge the shanks in the flour to coat all surfaces.
Pour the vegetable oil into the pan, and set over medium-high heat. Shake off excess flour, and set all the ossobuco in the oil, standing on a cut end. Let them sizzle for 4 to 5 minutes, until the bottoms are well browned; turn to caramelize the other cut side. Flip the pieces onto their round edges, and rotate so the fat crisps all around the shanks. Remove them to a platter when nicely colored-this will take 10 minutes or more.
When all the ossobuco are browned, carefully pour the hot vegetable oil out of the empty pan, leaving the crusted bits of meat on the bottom. Pour in the olive oil, set over medium-high heat, and dump in the onions. Stir them around for a minute or two, scraping the pan to release the caramelized bits, then stir in the carrot and celery. Drop in the cheesecloth herb sachet, sprinkle on a teaspoon of salt, and cook, stirring, until the vegetables are sizzling and wilting.
Clear a space in the pan bottom, and drop in the tomato paste. Cook the paste in the hot spot for a minute, then stir it into the vegetables. Add the crushed tomatoes, stir well, and bring to a boil.
Raise the heat to high, pour in the wine, and cook for a couple of minutes at a boil to evaporate the alcohol. Pour in the orange juice and about 6 cups of the hot stock; drop in all the strips of citrus zest and the remaining salt, and bring the liquids to a boil.
Return the ossobuco to the saucepan, standing them on end so they're evenly immersed in the sauce. Add more hot stock, if necessary, just to cover the tops of the ossobuco with liquid. Cover the pan, and lower the heat so the sauce is perking steadily but not too fast. Cook for an hour or so, covered, checking that the sauce has not reduced and is still covering the meat (add stock if needed). Turn the ossobuco over in the pan so the meat cooks evenly.
Uncover the pan, and cook for another hour or more at a bubbling simmer, adjusting the heat as necessary to maintain slow but steady concentration of the sauce. As the braising-liquid level gradually drops, carefully turn the shanks again, so no parts dry out.
Cook for 2 to 3 hours in all, until the meat at its thickest part is tender enough to pierce with a fork with only slight resistance, and the sauce is thick, reduced well below the tops of the shank pieces. Season with fresh pepper to taste and stir. Turn off the heat. Lift each ossobuco from the cooking pot with sturdy tongs, letting the sauce drain off, and place it on a large platter. Snip the knotted twine pieces with a scissors; pull off and discard. Lift out the cheesecloth sachet, press to release all the juices back into the pot, and discard.
Set a wire-mesh sieve in a bowl or saucepan. Strain all the sauce through the sieve, pressing the liquid from the strips of peel and vegetable bits. The sauce should be thick and velvety, with the consistency of molasses (if it is too thin, quickly reduce it over high heat). Taste the sauce, and adjust the seasoning for the last time.
Chop and stir together the chopped parsley, garlic, and lemon zest for the gremolata just before serving, for freshness. If servings with risotto, spoon it into the center of six wide plates, and nestle the ossobuco in the center of the risotto. Spoon over it some of the sauce, and sprinkle lightly with gremolata (about 1/2 teaspoon per serving). Serve with small spoons for scooping the delicious marrow from the bones, and pass the remaining gremolata at the table.