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Osso Buco

This slow-braised meal is a new favorite of mine.

When I decided to feature osso buco on the blog this week, I had no idea what I’d gotten myself into. Tender medallions of veal slowly braised on the bone in a sauce of white wine, homemade stocks, aromatics, and fresh herbs—I’m about to abandon this post and run to the kitchen for seconds. However, if you are as eager to try your hand at this dish as I was, there are a few things I must mention first:

  • Veal shanks aren’t cheap.

Unfortunately, I knew that this specific cut of meat wasn’t going to be particularly affordable, but I was hell-bent on using veal. (Until I actually started speaking with butchers at grocery stores around town, which brings me to number two…)

  • Give yourself plenty of advance notice to hunt down or order some shanks.

I can’t speak for all grocery stores, but after visiting and phoning a number of markets around town, it became clear to me that most of them don’t stock shanks of any kind on a regular basis. Don’t get stuck planning osso buco as the highlight of a dinner party without already securing your shanks first, or you (and your guests) will be very disappointed. (Take it from me: It isn’t cute to start desperately begging butchers for “any kind of shank you’ve got in the walk-in.”)

  • There are alternatives to veal.

Just plain can’t locate some veal? Feeling guilty about consuming delicious baby cows? Want to avoid taking out a loan to buy such a glorious cut of meat? I totally understand. Fortunately, there are other options! Beef, lamb, and pork shanks can all be used, but remember that the flavor of your end result will be different from the traditional veal, and these cuts will vary in size as well, possibly warranting a bit more cooking time.

“I WILL FIND YOU, VEAL SHANKS.”

Those are the main lessons I learned in my first experience with veal shanks. Hopefully these tips save you the hassle of running from store to store interrogating butchers about shanks like you’re Liam Neeson searching for his daughter in Taken.

Now that you’ve been briefed on my veal woes, we can get to some of the more interesting history behind osso buco:

In Italian, osso bucco means “bone with a hole” and refers to the decadent, marrow-filled shin bone that is a defining characteristic of this dish.1 I had never tried roasted marrow until I cooked this recipe, and I must admit that I have been missing out. I have heard chef and Bizarre Foods host Andrew Zimmern refer to bone marrow as “meat butter” before, but I didn’t fully understand his description until now. The idea of eating marrow weirded me out a bit at first, but it is important to try new things and waste as little of the animals we eat as possible. I highly recommend you try it!

Osso buco is usually associated with Milanese cuisine. Traditionally, it is served with risotto alla Milanese, a golden rice dish seasoned with saffron.1 I chose to pair my braised shanks with a simple, buttery Parmesan polenta, which paired beautifully with the rich sauce.

Mmm browned goodness.

Mmm browned goodness.

The recipe begins with two important components of making a flavorful braise, stew, or pan sauce: a fond and mirepoix. First, the veal shanks are seasoned, floured, and browned in a single layer on all sides in order to caramelize the meat a bit and develop a flavorful fond, or the browned bits in the bottom of the pan. This will naturally deglaze when the wine and stock are added to the pan and will infuse your sauce with incredible flavor.2 After removing the browned shanks from the pan, we introduce an Italian soffritto or mirepoix, consisting of chopped onions, celery, and carrots sautéed in butter or oil. (Italian soffritto is not to be confused with the Spanish/Latin version of sofrito I used in the pork pernil post!) This very simple mixture is the base for countless dishes.

Mirepoix

Mirepoix

The principle cooking method in osso buco is braising, which has an interesting history behind it. The word braise comes from the French term for “glowing embers.” Meat and vegetables used to be cooked with a small amount of liquid in a large, heavy pot over hot coals.3 However, like on a stove, even cooking is more difficult to achieve when the heat source is only coming into contact with the ingredients on one side–the bottom. Therefore, coals were also placed in an indentation on the lid of these large vessels in order to create more even heat distribution.3 Today, we replicate this method by using braising pans or Dutch ovens that begin the cooking process atop the stove and then finish in the oven. A well-executed braise is rather simple and traps all the flavors and moisture in the ingredients, which is especially useful for transforming tough cuts of meat into fall-off-the-bone tender morsels.

Hungry yet? Let’s move on to the recipe!

Osso Buco

(adapted from Ina Garten’s Barefoot Contessa Foolproof: Recipes You Can Trust)

  • 3 ribs celery, medium-diced
  • 3 carrots, medium-diced
  • 1 leek, cleaned well and medium-diced
  • 1/2 large yellow onion, medium-diced
  • 7 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1/2 cup pancetta, medium-diced
  • Approximately 4 Tbsp. butter
  • 8 oz. mushrooms, sliced
  • 1 Tbsp. lemon zest (about one lemon)
  • 2 cups good chicken stock
  • 2 cups good beef stock
  • 1 cup dry white wine
  • 4 large veal shanks tied with twine (or substitute beef, pork, or lamb shanks)
  • 1 cup flour
  • Kosher salt and ground pepper
  • Fresh herbs for bouquet garni (I used about 5 sprigs fresh thyme, two sprigs fresh sage, two sprigs fresh rosemary, 4 sprigs fresh parsley, secured with twine)

    Bouquet garni

    Bouquet garni

  • Kitchen twine

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Rinse the shanks and dry well with paper towels. If not already tied, use one or two pieces of twine (depending on the size of the shanks) around the circumference of each shank in order to keep the meat attached to the bone as they cook.

Combine flour with 1 Tbsp. of salt and 1 tsp. of pepper. Coat each shank in flour, making sure to knock off any excess. In a Dutch oven, render the fat from the pancetta until it is browned and just crisp. Remove the pancetta pieces with a slotted spoon and set aside. Add 2 Tbsp. of butter to the pancetta fat, and once heated, brown the veal shanks in one layer on all sides. Additional oil or butter may need to be added. (Be sure not to crowd the pan, or the meat will steam instead of brown.) Once browned all over, remove the shanks to a plate.

Wipe the excess oil from the pot with paper towels. Melt 2 more Tbsp. of butter, then add the celery, carrots, leek, onion, and mushrooms. Saute over medium heat until the vegetables are tender, about 10 minutes. Add the garlic and lemon zest and cook for 1 more minute.

Osso buco just before going into the oven.

Osso buco just before going into the oven.

Add the wine and chicken and beef stock, scraping the pan with a wooden spoon or spatula to loosen the browned bits at the bottom. Introduce the shanks pack to the pan, add the bouquet garni, reserved pancetta, and salt and pepper to taste.

Allow the liquid to warm through, but not quite simmer, then cover the pan tightly and place in the oven for approximately 2 hours, or until the shanks are very tender.

Taste for seasoning, carefully remove the twine, and serve the shanks hot with the sauce atop polenta, mashed potatoes, or risotto.

(And don’t forget to dig into the marrow!)

Hello, beautiful.

Hello, beautiful.

Sources
  1. Cloake, F. (2014, March 6). How to cook the perfect osso buco. The Guardian. Retrieved from http://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/wordofmouth/2014/mar/06/how-to-cook-perfect-osso-buco
  2. Allen, C. (2008, April 22). Fond of Fond. Cooking for Engineers. Retrieved from http://www.cookingforengineers.com/article/244/Fond-of-Fond
  3. Brenner, L., & Deane, D. (2015). Braise of glory. Los Angeles Times. Retrieved from http://www.latimes.com/food/la-fo-braising-s-story.html#page=1

Chicken Paprikás

Take a trip to Hungary via your spice cabinet. Paprika is sure to warm your soul.

Florida’s rainy summer weather is starting already, and I have to say, I’m quite fond of the thunderstorms that roll in each afternoon like clockwork. (So long as I have nowhere to be and can cozy up in my apartment with a good book or movie!) The only thing that’s been missing from my rainy day festivities is some soul-warming comfort food.

hunky1

One of my great-grandmother’s cookbooks–published in 1955!

It just so happens that my mom dug up her grandmother’s (my great-grandma’s) old cookbooks the other day, so I thought I’d try to whip up one of these recipes with my own flair. My maternal grandfather’s family was extremely Hungarian, so most of the books and recipes that my mom rediscovered include things like ‘pot steak,’ jellied pigs’ feet, and stuffed cabbage. Considering that most people these days aren’t gnawing away on pickled pigs’ feet, I thought I’d go for a classic slow-cooked dish: chicken paprikás.

Looking over the few different recipes for chicken paprikás in my great grandmother’s cookbooks, I noticed that there was a serious lack of vegetables in all of them. But, to be fair, this dish originated as humble country grub. While the adapted recipe I’ve provided below may not be totally authentic, I found it to be flavorful and a tad more nutritious. (Veggies 4 lyfe!)

hung2

One of the variations I found in my great-grandma’s cookbooks.

Here’s a bit of background on this beloved Hungarian entrée:

Chicken paprikás is named for the spice that stars in this flavorful red dish. Paprika is made by grinding the pods of Capsicum annuum peppers into a powder. It can come in eight different grades, varying from mildly sweet and bright red (Különleges) to a dark reddish brown with ample heat (Erös). Paprika has become pretty much synonymous with Hungarian cooking, but the peppers from which it is made did not originate anywhere near Central Europe.

IMG_3924

My version of paprikás simmering away on the stove.

Native to North and northern South America, Capsicum annuum is a species of pepper that varies widely in shape, size, color, and level of spice.1 It is said that Christopher Columbus mistook these spicy plants for the source of prized black pepper and brought them back to Spain from the New World at the end of the 15th century.2, 3 However, culinary use of these peppers did not take off immediately. Paprika peppers, or ‘Turkish peppers’ were actually used as exotic ornamental plants in wealthy Europeans’ gardens.3

Like many ingredients in the culinary world, paprika did come full circle, though. In the 16th and 17th centuries, paprika was brought to Hungary from the Balkans by Greek, Turkish, and Slavic peoples.3 Peasants and herdsmen began using the spice in their simple stews, such as gulyás (goulash), and eventually wealthier folks embraced the practice as well. It is suggested that widespread use of paprika in Hungary came about in the late 18th century, when it appears on a written monastery inventory, and even as a surname in a few registry documents.3IMG_3901

Nowadays, paprika is typically used as a finishing touch of color atop deviled eggs, but if you’re looking for some truly authentic flavor in your paprikás or gulyás, look for the Hungarian variety. The two main hubs for paprika production in Hungary are Szeged and Kalocsa, and each is home to a paprika museum and festival. (Szeged brand is what I used in the recipe below, and it is available in many grocery stores.)

Chicken Paprikás

  • 2 Tbsp. bacon fat or oil
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 1 red bell pepper, chopped
  • 8 oz. mushroom caps, sliced
  • 4 cloves garlic, crushed
  • 1.5 lbs. chicken pieces (I opted for skinless chicken thighs)
  • 1 cup chicken broth (approx.)
  • 2.5 Tbsp. sweet Hungarian paprika
  • 1 Tbsp. tomato paste
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 1 cup sour cream brought to room temperature
  • Cooked egg noodles for serving

Heat bacon fat or oil in a dutch oven over medium heat. Once hot, add onions and carefully brown, stirring frequently to avoid sticking and burning. After the onions are browned, salt and pepper the chicken pieces and add them to the pot. Brown chicken on both sides. Add the red pepper, garlic, and mushrooms, stirring to incorporate well. Allow to saute for a few minutes.

Carefully brown the onions and chicken.

Carefully brown the onions and chicken.

Add enough chicken broth to just cover the chicken pieces, being sure to scrape the flavorful browned bits from the bottom of the pot. Stir in the paprika and tomato paste, lower heat to a simmer, and cover. Let cook for approximately one hour.

The chicken should be tender and easily come off the bone, and the drippings should be of a sauce consistency once done. If there is too much liquid, cook a little longer uncovered to boil it off, or use a roux to thicken to desired consistency.

Remove the pot from the heat and allow it to cool for a few minutes. Take the room temperature sour cream and slowly stir in warm sauce from the pot a spoonful at a time. This ‘tempering’ helps to ensure that your sauce will incorporate smoothly rather than break or curdle. Once the sour cream is warmed, add it all to the pot and stir.

Voila: A hearty hunky favorite!

Voila: A hearty hunky favorite!

Serve hot over dumplings, rice, mashed potatoes, or noodles. Enjoy!

Sources:
1) Paprika. (2015). In Encyclopædia Britannica. Retrieved from
http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/442178/paprika
2) Swains, H. (2013). Paprika: A primer on Hungary’s spicy obsession. Retrieved
from http://www.cnn.com/2013/11/29/travel/paprika-hungary/
3) Smith, M., & Jusztin, M. (2014). Paprika: The spice of life in Hungary. In Jolliffe, L.
(Ed.), Spices and tourism: Destinations, attractions, and cuisines (pp. 53-71). Bristol, UK: Channel View.
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