Locavore Cooking: Braised Beef Shanks, Osso-Buco Style with Gremolata

My husband Kurt and I like to support the local farming community.  There are several options for us:  the near-by local farmers’ markets in Manassas. Sterling and Leesburg, the farms themselves– particularly Jeff and Ginny Adams’s Walnut Hill Farms in Stafford county, and local food delivery services (I’ve tried two– Arganica/Relay Foods and Washington Green Grocer– WGG is by far the superior purveyor in terms of quality, service and price).

If you ask me why I prefer locally grown food, I’ll tell you I am freaked out by the pesticides and antibiotics in commercially raised crops and meats.  If you ask Kurt, he’ll say it’s the superior flavor first and foremost in local food– everything else takes second place.  Whatever your reason, you should try locally grown food, just to see how it differs from what you get in the supermarket.  Besides, as Farmer Jeff says, your kids should know that eggs and milk don’t come off grocery shelves; fruit isn’t always perfect in size, shape or color, nor nicely packaged in cartons and plastic bags.

I dug deep into that basement freezer of ours and pulled out a pack of beef shanks from a local farm, and figured it had been a while since I made osso buco.  While these beef shanks are considerably larger than veal, they braise just as well.  Cornmeal, chicken stock, bay leaf, thyme and a few grindings of pepper would transform into soft, creamy polenta– the perfect accompaniment!

I use Kurt’s recipe– from his preferred Italian cookbook, Marcella Hazan’s Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking. Between the two of us, he’s really the master Italian chef; he has the perfect palate for creating sauces that evoke Italian cuisine at its best– be it tomatoes, garlic and pancetta, or cream, Parmesan and roasted peppers.  Ken, who blatantly proclaims he “hates Marinara sauce,” when I serve any tomato-based dish, eats any tomato sauce-slathered food that my husband puts before us.  It’s a magic trick I wish I could learn!

Braised Beef Shanks, Osso-Buco Style (adapted from M. Hazan)

  • 2 1/2 to 3 lbs beef shanks or 6-8 veal shanks
  • flour
  • salt and pepper
  • oil for browning the shanks
  • 1/2 stick (4 TB) unsalted butter
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 1 medium carrot, diced
  • 2 stalks celery, chopped
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 slices of lemon peel (no white pith!)
  • 2-3 sprigs thyme
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 2-3 sprigs parsley
  • 1 c white wine
  • 1 c beef broth
  • 1 1/2 c canned Italian chopped tomatoes

for the Gremolata:

  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 2-3 TB finely chopped parsley
  • 1 tsp lemon zest

This afternoon as I was getting all the ingredients out to make this dish (it braises in the oven for two hours), Kurt came upstairs from his man-cave and asked what I was making.  I told him it was his osso buco– then asked him if he wanted to make it himself (since he does make it better than I do)!

“Sure,” he said, and in that split second I went from head chef to sous chef.  I poured a bourbon on the rocks (yummy Woodford Reserve recommended by my Kentucky mommy dinner gal pal Shari) while Kurt pretended to be the Galloping Gourmet with his glass of red.

I measured out the wine and beef broth, pulled some thyme from the deck and the rest of items he needed from our pantry.  He chopped the veg while I rinsed off the shanks and patted them dry– this is a critical success factor to get a good crust on your meat.  (Don’t flour them until you’re ready to begin browning them, either)!

We veer slightly from Marcella’s technique where you prepare the vegetables and braising liquid in the main pot and brown the flour-dredged shanks in a separate pan.  We both brown the shanks in oil in the main pot, pour off the oil and then add the butter to saute the vegetables.  Call us lazy, but we say we’re efficient!

Here’s how Kurt did it:  (I probably drove him crazy with the camera– “Wait!  I have to take a picture of that!”)

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.  Prep the vegetables, measure out the liquids.

Vegetable and liquids prep

Vegetable and liquids prep

Rinse and dry the beef shanks and liberally season with salt and pepper.  Dredge in flour.  “Make sure you say to really shake off the excess when you write this up!”

I wrap the shanks in paper towels to absorb any excess moisture

I wrap the shanks in paper towels to absorb any excess moisture

Heat some oil in a heavy Dutch oven (our standard is Le Creuset); when the oil begins to smoke, add the shanks,

NOTE:  very little flour on these, per Kurt!

NOTE: very little flour on these, per Kurt!

and brown well on each side.

You want a nice, brown crust

You want a nice, brown crust

Pour out any remaining oil and add the butter.

Yeah, it's half a stick of butter!

Yeah, it’s half a stick of butter!

Remove to a plate while you prepare the braising liquid.

Perfectly browned crust

Perfectly browned crust

Add the vegetables and saute until softened.  (Kurt browns his a bit).

Kurt will let these get a little brown to enhance the flavor of the braising liquid.

Kurt will let these get a little brown to enhance the flavor of the braising liquid.

Add the lemon peel and garlic.  Stir and cook briefly.  The scent of the lemon is released when it hits the hot butter– it’s lovely!

The lemon adds a freshness to the sauce-- and is also in the gremolata!

The lemon adds a freshness to the sauce– and is also in the gremolata!

Add the white wine and reduce slightly to intensify the flavor as well as to burn off the alcohol.

Let the wine bubble and burn off the alcohol

Let the wine bubble and burn off the alcohol

Add the parsley, bay leaf, thyme and a few grindings of pepper.

Thyme, parsley and bay-- what could be better in a braise?

Thyme, parsley and bay– what could be better in a braise?

Add the tomatoes, then the beef broth.  Stir to combine all ingredients, then

It doesn't look like a lot fo liquid, but braising uses only a little liquid (vs a stew).

It doesn’t look like a lot fo liquid, but braising uses only a little liquid (vs a stew).

add the beef shanks.  They should NOT be submerged in the liquid, but rise well above it, like this:

See?  The shanks are well above the liquid...

See? The shanks are well above the liquid…

Bring to a boil, then clamp on the lid and bake in the preheated oven for two hours.  Kurt turns the shanks every now and then.  (I don’t).  We drank more bourbon and wine…and some of those spicy cocktail nuts!

Mix together the parsley, lemon zest and garlic for the gremolata and,

The gremolata adds a fresh zing after so many hours of braising-- we love it!

The gremolata adds a fresh zing after so many hours of braising– we love it!

add during the last 2-3 minutes of cooking.  (I’ve decided this is why his osso buco comes out so much better than mine; I never make gremolata)!  Correct for seasoning (Kurt added a little more salt).  Remove to a platter.

Melt in your mouth tender with an unctuous sauce.  People in my family fight over the marrow!

Melt in your mouth tender with an unctuous sauce. People in my family fight over the marrow!

Serve on a base of  creamy polenta.

My polenta with Kurt's braised shanks-- we had multiple servings...

My polenta with Kurt’s braised shanks– we had multiple servings…

I’m a very lucky girl with a husband who’s such a great chef!

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