Get authentic: do the veal thing
It is, so some sources say, possible to find real veal in South Africa, but not easy. Hennie Fisher explains
BY DEFINITION, veal comes from young cattle (calves), milk fed and unweaned and under the age of three months. Yes, one of our premier food suppliers does sell ‘baby-beef’, presumably from animals between 6 to 12 months old and not reared exclusively on milk alone. The delicately lean and tender light pink, but firm flesh, is unmistakable and what one wants for a true osso bucco.
This authentic Milanese dish requires small shank bones cut about 2cm thick, with a cute, round bone slam-bang in the middle surrounded by an equal amount of meat all round. This is a very specific requirement, and the flabby steak-like chops sold as shanks, along with those whole shanks that now abound on every restaurant menu all over the country, just will not do.
If you have the patience hang around your butcher counter for one or two decent shank slices from every leg, but it will take a while to accumulate enough from an assortment of beef carcasses.
The alternative, of course, would be to make your osso bucco from lamb or even mutton. A while ago Pick n Pay sold some unattractively boxed 2km to 3km packets of New Zealand lamb that contained a selection of little shank pieces, each perfectly round with the unmistakable bone in the middle. If you are not a purist insisting on Karoo lamb, and if you are able to ignore that ever more pressing carbon mile guilt for a moment, these are definitely worth laying your hands on.
Osso bucco is one of the few dishes in which the Italians serve primi and secondi together, as the traditional accompaniment for osso bucco is risotto Milanese: simple Parmigiano risotto.
At some point osso bucco was such a popular dish that little narrow spoons were invented especially to get to the bit of marrow suspended in the round bone, something that many consider the highlight of this dish.
This dish lends itself to deep midwinter when you want something hearty and unctuous, as well as to now, when spring is around the corner but it is still somewhat cool. It is made with white wine (in bianco) when no tomato is added. Some recipes suggest the meat should be tied with string to prevent it falling from the bone during cooking.
Finally, there is the matter of gremolada: that sprinkling of finely chopped parsley, lemon zest and garlic often accompanying an osso bucco.
± 2kg veal or lamb shin pieces, all about 2cm thick, and about 5cm in diameter Flour — seasoned 80g butter 80ml vegetable oil 4 carrots, finely chopped 6 celery stalks, finely chopped 3 onions, finely chopped 3 garlic cloves crushed into a paste 4 bay leaves Salt and pepper 250ml dry white wine 500ml lamb stock 6 tomatoes, skin and seeds removed.
Whether you sauté the onions, celery and carrots first, remove them and then brown the shank pieces, or the other way around, is your own choice.
Just don’t leave any bits of carrot mix in the casserole after removing the remainder, as it will burn when you braise the meat at a higher heat.
It is imperative to use a sturdy, heavy casserole. If you plan to make this in the oven then of course your dish needs to be ovenproof, but this dish works equally well on the stove top.
Melt butter and oil together and sauté carrot/onion/celery mix gently until soft. Add garlic and lightly brown the mix for a minute or two. Remove and set aside. Add more oil if necessary, dredge the shank pieces in flour and shake of as much of the excess as possible. Brown the pieces very well, turning them often until they have a beautiful even colour all over — it’s best to do this in batches if your casserole is not big enough. Deglaze the pan with wine. Add meat, vegetables, stock and tomatoes back to the pan. Add a few bay leaves and a grinding of pepper. Bring to the boil, and transfer to a medium hot oven, or turn down the stove and cook slowly and gently for at least 2 to 3 hours until the meat is really soft but not falling of the bone and the pan juices have turned into lusciously thick goo.
Check seasoning and consistency and adjust. Osso bucco is, apart from the aforementioned traditional risotto Milanese, also great served with mashed potato and might even be delicious with a good dollop of pap on the side.