Master in the Kitchen promises to offer you the best tips on how to add oodles of savoury flavour to your dishes and believe you me there is nothing more savoury than a dish which is cooked using meat and bone. Veal shanks are often referred to by their Italian name: ossobuco, which literally translated means “bone with a hole”.
Although many think of this as an Italian dish in reality all traditional societies that reared and ate cows would have used this piece of meat and spiced it up with locally available vegetables, herbs and spices. Don’t make the same mistake I once did and buy beef shanks which are tougher than veal shanks. Beef shanks make a great beef broth and the left over meat can be turned into a spinach, ricotta & meat pie. For a stew, however, you are better working with veal.
There are plenty of recipes setting out how to prepare beef shanks – one of the best, as always, coming from Marcella Hazan in Classic Italian Cooking. She advises coating the shanks in flour and frying them before adding them to the stewing pot. I omitted this step but managed, nevertheless, to deliver deliciously tender and tasty meat. Marcella Hazan’s recipe also suggests using stock as the basis for the stew but I think this is unnecessary. Keep what spare stock you have for a soup or risotto. The bones and meat in this dish are going to create a stock so no added stock is, strictly speaking, necessary. In fact, rather than using stock, or wine or tomatoes I just added lots of plain water – enough so that I could use some of it for later in the week. Believe me: you will get plenty of flavour out of this dish even if you just resort to using plain old water.
Veal shanks are not necessarily the cheapest option – but if you save it for a Sunday lunch you’ll be rewarded with a tasty meal that will delight all your family. In any case there are plenty of left-overs to make at least one more meal out of this dish. Yesterday was the feast of St Nicholas – a special day in the low countries. The kids had been exceptionally “good” all year so got given some presents. Charlie, who has been an exceptionally “good” collie all year was rewarded with one or two of the left over bones. A special St Nicholas present for our well behaved and much loved collie.
Veal shanks (around 150-200 gr per adult portion).
3-4 sticks of celery OR leeks.
1 turnip (optional).
A dash of vinegar (wine, apple, malt or balsamic).
Thyme, savoury and a one or two bay leaves.
Salt & Pepper.
Rinse the shanks under cold water and pat dry with some kitchen paper. Sprinkle them with salt and pepper and set to one side.
Begin by preparing a classic mirepoix – dicing the onion, celery (or leeks) carrots and turnip into small pieces and gently sautéing them in either some goose fat, lard or beef drippings.
Once the onion has turned translucent add the veal shanks and turn them in the pot until they have browned. Add the thyme, savoury, bay leaf and splash a good glug of vinegar into the pot.
Fill the stewing pot to the rim with water in order to make as much stock as possible. Place the pot in the oven and stew on 140 degrees centigrade for anywhere from four to six hours.
As the shanks slowly stewed I went for an afternoon walk with G. and Charlie. It’s far too mild for this time of the year – but we did get to see the sun set behind the trees.
When you are ready to serve take the pot out of the oven and remove the shanks as best you can. The meat is ready to fall off the bone – delicious and tender! Some of the shanks will have retained their marrow – others will have lost theirs. This is good news – the marrow will have melted into the stew adding bags of flavour and nutritional value to your evening meal.
Pour the gravy through a colander to remove the vegetables and catch the gravy in a clean pot. Discard the vegetables. You will be left with a dark brown, to die for, beef stock. Far better than any fake OXO cube. Pour half of the stock into a dish to use for a vegetable soup later in the week. Heat the remaining gravy up until it is reduced by half and pour it over the beef shanks. Serve with some home-made chips.