Friday, February 17, 2012

A Quick Meal Sometimes Takes All Day!

I define a "quick meal" as one which cooks quickly start to finish, or, alternatively, one which has only a little hands-on time and spends the next hour(s) merrily cooking away with little or no attention on the part of the cook. A slow cooker takes care of the second option. While I don't have a countertop slow cooker, my oven does have a slow cook setting (which I found out about inadvertently when one of our cats accidentally turned it on). Osso Buco is a particularly flavorful and delicious slow cooked meal. While it is ideal for an elegant dinner party, it's also easy enough for an everyday meal. It's made with the cross cut (usually) veal shanks, a cut which includes a large marrow filled bone in the center.

The hands-on part of the dish requires simply browning the veal shanks well in a combination of butter and olive oil. While that is working, carrot, celery and onions are diced, then added to the pot for a quick sauté. Then everything is covered with white wine, chicken broth and diced tomatoes. It is at this point that the cook's work is done, for the entire thing goes into the slow cooker for the next few hours while the cook gets to decide what to wear for the dinner party, visit with guests, have a glass of wine, whatever. It is also very forgiving as it can cook for three hours or even four or five, only getting more succulent with the passage of time.

Right before you serve the Osso Buco, prepare the gremolata garnish. All that's left to do is cut up some crusty bread and toss a salad. Outstanding!

Osso Buco
Serves: 4

4 thick slices veal shank (about 8 to 12 oz. each)
2 Tbs. butter
1 Tbs. olive oil
1 carrot
1 onion
1 stalk celery
1 cup dry white wine
1 cup chicken stock
1-14 oz. can diced tomatoes, drained, or 3 tomatoes, peeled, seeded & diced
salt & pepper (to taste)
grated zest of 1 lemon
2 cloves garlic
1/2 cup flat leaf parsley

In a stovetop safe crockpot insert or other large pot, heat the butter and oil over high heat until quite hot, but not smoking. Arrange the shanks in a single layer in the pot and allow them to brown well on all sides. (You will know when the bottom is brown when the meat easily releases from the pan. If it sticks, let it cook a few minutes more.) While the meat is browning, dice the carrot, celery and onion. Once the meat is well browned, remove it to a large plate and add the diced veggies to the pan. Sauté them quickly over high heat, stirring frequently and scraping the bottom of the pan to loosen all the browned bits of meat. When the veggies are tender, stir the wine, chicken stock and tomatoes into the pot, again scraping the bottom to be sure all the browned bits make it into the sauce. Return the shanks (along with any juices which have accumulated) to the pot in a single layer, nestling them into and under the veggies. At this point, the whole thing goes into the slow cooker for the next several hours. If you'll need to serve in only 3 hours or so, set the slow cooker to high. If you have more time, say 4 or 5 hours or even more, set the temp to low. Alternatively, this can be done in a conventional oven at 300 degrees for a couple of hours (if you use a conventional oven, place a piece of parchment paper over the pot before tightly covering with the lid. The extra thickness of the paper will ensure that the lid seals completely and the juices won't evaporate.) When cooked the meat should be falling off the bone. Taste the pan juices and adjust seasoning.

Just before serving, prepare the gremolata; mince together the lemon, garlic and parsley either with a blender, food processor or a sharp chef's knife. Using an extra large spatula or large slotted spoon, carefully transfer each shank to its own deep dinner plate. Spoon the veggies and sauce over and around the meat. Serve each portion of the veal with a spoonful or two of the gremolata sprinkled over the top.

Notes & Pointers:
This is one of those dishes which should really be seasoned right at the end, as there's no way to predict how much the juices will cook down by the end of the cook time. Though classically made with veal shanks, beef shanks can be substituted, but cooking time should be extended by about 25% to allow for the coarser texture of the beef. When serving, provide your guests with demitasse spoons for retrieving the delicious marrow in the center of the bones. This gelatinous morsel is prized for its flavor. While this dish needs no stirring during the slow cook process, you might want to check once to see if you need to add more stock, especially if your slow cook lid isn't particularly well sealed or if you leave it for the longest cook times.

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