Osso buco is an Italian dish which is made with braised veal shanks, cooked bone-in with the marrow intact. The result is a rich, flavorful dish with tender meat and well seasoned bone marrow, a meat product which is regarded as a special treat in many regions of the world. Osso buco can be eaten alone like a stew, or served with rice or risotto. It is especially popular in Northern Italy, and it is often sold as ossobuco alla Milanese, in a reference to a city where it is commonly served.
The shank is an interesting cut of meat because it has a great deal of flavor, but it is also very chewy and stringy, because it comes from the upper portion of the leg, a part of a cow which sees a great deal of work during the cow's lifetime. Shanks tend to do best when they are cooked slowly at low heat, gently dissolving the connective tissue of the meat to make it extremely tender. The slow cooking also allows the beef to develop layers of flavor, and when lots of liquid is used, the osso buco will be very moist and tender when it is finished.
To make osso buco, cooks brown veal shanks in a large pot before setting them aside and sauteeing onions, along with other vegetables of choice such as carrots, celery, and tomatoes. A few fresh herbs such as thyme and oregano are mixed in and then the pot is deglazed with dry white wine to remove the flavorful crust from the bottom. The shanks are added back to the pot, more wine is added, and then the pot is allowed to slowly stew for around two hours.
Osso buco can be made on the stovetop, in which case it requires careful monitoring, or in the oven. In either case, the dish is finished when the meat is so tender that it has started to fall away from the bone, and it is traditionally served with gremolata, an Italian seasoning made with finely chopped parsley, garlic, and shredded lemon peel.
Osso buco means “bone hole” in Italian, emphasizing the role of the bone marrow in the finished dish. Bone marrow has a very distinctive, rich flavor which is enhanced by the slow stewing process. Unfortunately, it can also be a potential source of infection with Creutzfeld-Jakob Disease (CJD), known as Bovine Spongiform Encephalitis (BSE) or “mad cow” in cattle. This neurological disease is deadly and incurable, so if you live in a region with an insecure supply of beef, you may want to skip the marrow for safety reasons.