I can still remember the first time I ate my own home-cooked meal of the famous Italian dish Osso Buco, literal meaning ‘hollow bone’. It was 1983 and I had recently bought a Crock Pot, a type of slow cooker that was fashionable at the time. I don’t recall much about the recipe but may palate will never forget the flavours, including my first experience of fresh gremolata, added to the plate immediately prior to eating.
Over the next two decades, I made Osso Buco a couple of times each year. The pieces of shinbone would usually be baby beef, which was more widely available than veal in WA, especially during the years I spent in Albany on the south coast. In Melbourne, however, the supply of veal shanks is plentiful and inexpensive and that is what Maggie and I always use.
Soon after Maggie and I made a kitchen together in 2004, we came across a recipe in which whole pieces of preserved lemon were cooked with the meat and vegetables. We really liked the result and decided that we would dispense with the gremolata; not that we would begrudge anyone who opted for the extra flavour kick.
1½-2kg veal shanks (osso bucco), sliced 3-4cm thick
2 medium-sized brown onions, finely chopped
2 medium-sized carrots, peeled and finely chopped
1 stalk celery, finely chopped
1 tbsp garlic, finely chopped
1-2 quarters of preserved lemon, including flesh
250ml dry white wine
150ml light stock (veal, chicken or vegetable)
400g tinned tomatoes, coarsely chopped
1/2 tsp sugar (to balance the tartness of the tinned tomatoes)
3 sprigs thyme
2 bay leaves
3 sprigs fresh parsley
extra stock, if needed
- Add vegetable oil to a large, heavy-based oven-proof pan and brown the osso bucco pieces over medium heat. Put aside and discard any oil, taking care not to dislodge anything stuck to the base of the pan.
- Add butter to pan and sauté the onions, carrots and celery for 6 to 7 minutes. Add garlic and preserved lemon and cook for a further 3 minutes or until the vegetables have begun to soften.
- Pre-heat oven to no more than 150C (130C in our hotter-than-average oven is just right for slow, gentle braising).
- Add wine, stock, tomatoes and sugar to pan, stir well and bring to a simmer.
- Push the veal pieces, lying on their wider ends, into the pan and tuck in thyme, bay leaves and parsley (or combine them in some muslin, as Maggie does). There should be enough liquid to come about two-thirds of the way up the pieces of veal. If necessary, add more stock.
- Bring liquids back to a simmer, cover with lid and cook for up to 2 hours, until veal is tender and sauce is well integrated, almost creamy. Baste the veal every 30 minutes and add water if the sauce is drying out.
- Serve with a green vegetable and either mashed potato, pasta or rice.