I’m staying true to my word and, once again, pushing the culinary envelope. When I started this blog, I promised to make seemingly complicated dishes more accessible to the masses, and, well, my hope is that this recipe will prove to do just that. If the likelihood of you tackling this recipe tonight is akin to you climbing Everest and returning by daybreak, let me assuage your concerns and remind you that never is a recipe so easy as when it is approached with an open mind…and explicit instructions. I’m treating you with kid gloves today and providing you with step-by-step…by step photos to walk you through the process of making this dish and the ever-dreaded task of making risotto. There’s a reason that risotto have never been successfully executed on 10+ seasons of Top Chef – it CAN be difficult. But with the right attitude and some TLC, your risotto will shine as bright as the smile you’ll be wearing after successfully tackling this. And I assure you that once you’ve learned to make dreamy risotto at home, you’ll never want to order it off a restaurant menu again.
This isn’t a dish that can be made quickly. It requires love and attention and a slow cooking process. The cut of meat — veal shank — has connective tissue that runs around and through it so it requires slow braising to tenderize it. When it is fully cooked, the meat will literally fall apart — it is that tender. When I’m braising and slow-cooking, I always use a cast iron pot. Cast iron holds heat more effectively and re-radiates it. The heat is actively evened out and breaks the flow of what would otherwise be direct heat, redirecting it in a different path. I have two such pots that are dear to me. A bright orange one that I use almost daily and a deep blue one that is, admittedly, less loved and can be found somewhere deep in the recesses of my garage. If you don’t have a cast iron pot, you can most certainly braise in any large pot.
So try this recipe tonight. There’s still a few hours before dinnertime to braise this incredibly tender and delicious stew and make this ethereally creamy risotto before the kids get home. I challenge you to expand your children’s palettes, dig deep to find your inner epicurean and give your family or dinner guests a break from the everyday to create a meal that is so good it should be renamed “the veal shank redemption”. You’ll thank me for it. Now, mangia, mangia!
You’ll want to dredge each side of the veal shank with flour after seasoning it. The flour ensures that you get a nice sear on the meat for added flavour and also thickens the stew as it cooks.
When using a cast iron pot, never put it the heat on high or the inside bottom will burn. High heat is needed to sear meat beautifully, but bear in mind that cast iron retains heat better than your average pot and also distributes it evenly, so while you may need to put a normal pot on high heat to get a good sear, a medium-high heat on a cast iron pot is all you need.
The gremolata is extremely traditional and completely essential to the dish as far as I’m concerned. The citrus notes and the fresh parsley cut the heaviness of the meat and the indulgent risotto, and brighten the dish to balance it beautifully.
Arborio rice is a short-grained Italian risotto rice that’s named after the town in which it is grown. This rice is very starchy and when cooked, the rounded grains are firm, creamy, and chewy and blend well with other flavours that may be added to the rice. The starch is an important component for creating creamy dishes, such as risotto, so it is important not to rinse the rice before cooking or much of the starch will wash away. Besides risotto, Arborio rice is used in dishes such as sushi or pudding, and in recipes where rice is molded into shapes. It is readily available in most grocery stores, usually in the international aisle.
The saffron in this risotto is an essential ingredient. Saffron is plucked from the Crocus flower by a labour intensive hand-picking process so it’s no wonder that it is among the world’s most costly spices by weight. You can buy about a gram of this precious spice for about $12-16, although, lower quality saffron is available for as low as $8 per gram. The only thing that offsets the cost is the knowledge that you only ever need a small pinch of saffron to beautifully flavour an entire meal and the flavour is completely unmatched. The pot of chicken stock with saffron should sit on a burner on simmer as you’re making the risotto. The liquid should keep very warm during the risotto making process.
Below is a step-by-step pictorial on how to make risotto. The rice is added to the pan after the onions have softened and is lightly toasted for about 30 seconds until the rice is fully coated with the warmed oil and and the flavour of the onions has permeated the rice.
The liquid is slowly poured in with a ladle (about 1-2 spoonfuls at a time) and is cooked off before any additional liquid is added. The process is repeated until all the liquid is done and you’re left with a moist pile of perfectly al dente risotto. Do not overcook the risotto or it will become gummy.
Lastly, you’ll add the butter and cheese to make the mixture entirely glossy and creamy. Don’t fret if your rice seems runny. The rice will begin to set up as it sits so the extra liquid is needed. Italians say that the traditional texture of risotto is fairly fluid and should be “flowing in waves”. A spoon put into the rice should never stand up straight or your rice is too stiff. I reckon that a perfectly cooked risotto should flow like magma (not an entirely relevant analogy as most of us have never actually seen magma flowing, but it is an apt comparison in my humble opinion). The Parmiggiano Reggiano is quite salty, so be sure to taste your risotto after adding the cheese and before salting it to taste, if necessary. If you can’t get your hands on Parmiggiano cheese, any hard cheese will work fine, but, truth be told, I once used mozzarella cheese when I was fresh out of Parmiggiano. The taste is different of course, but equally delicious. Never, ever use powdered Parmesan cheese – there’s no atoning for a sin that is as unforgivable as putting ketchup on kobe beef!
Osso Buco + Gremolata + Risotto alla Milanese
6 1.5 inch thick veal shanks
3 teaspoons salt, divided
2 teaspoons black pepper, divided
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup oil
1 large onion
2 carrots, peeled
2 stalks celery
1/2 cup mushrooms
3 cloves garlic
2 tablespoons tomato paste
1 28 ounce can crushed tomatoes
2 cups (500 ml) chicken broth (or water)
1 sprig fresh rosemary, leaves removed and finely minced
1 sprig fresh thyme, leaves removed and finely minced
1 tsp dried oregano
1 small dried bay leaf
1/4 teaspoon crushed chili flakes (optional)
8-10 leaves basil
1/4 cup fresh parsley
1 large clove garlic
Pinch of salt
Risotto alla Milanese
1 small onion, finely chopped
1 tablespoon oil
1 cup arborio rice or risotto rice
4 1/2 cups chicken stock or water with 2 bouillon cubes
1/2 teaspoon saffron threads
4 tablespoon unsalted butter
1/2 cup freshly grated Parmiggiano Reggiano
salt and pepper to taste
Prepare the Osso Buco: Wash the veal shanks and pat them dry with a paper towel. Using kitchen twine, tie the veal shanks around the middle so that they keep their shape as they cook. Set aside. In a large pot cast iron pot, add the oil and let it warm over medium-high heat. Sprinkle the veal shanks on both sides with 2 teaspoons of salt and 1 teaspoon of pepper. Rub the seasoning into the meat well. Place the flour in a shallow dish or small plate. Dredge the veal shanks in the flour making sure to shake off any excess. Place the shanks in the hot oil and let them cook for 3 to 4 minutes per side or until deeply browned. Remove to a plate and set aside.
Mince the garlic. Dice the onions, carrots, celery and mushrooms. In the same pot, add the garlic, along with the chopped vegetables and season with the remaining 1 teaspoon of salt and 1 teaspoon of pepper. Allow the vegetables and garlic to cook for 5 to 6 minutes or until they start to cook down. Add the tomato paste and cook for a minute or so. Add the chicken stock and allow all the brown bits at the bottom of the pan to release. Stir in the canned tomatoes, rosemary, thyme, bay leaf, oregano and chili flakes (if using). Stir to combine then nestle the veal shanks into the saucy mixture and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to low and cover the pan with a lid. Cook for about 2 hours or until the meat is falling off the bone. Be sure to check on it every 20-30 minutes but don’t stir the pot very much as the twine will slip off of the veal shanks with too much agitation.
When the osso buco is cooked, remove the pot from the burner. Chop the basil and add it to the pot. Stir gently to combine. Remove the veal shanks onto a platter, cut off the twine and cover them with some aluminum foil to keep warm. Discard the bay leaf. If the sauce is too runny, increase the heat to high and bring the sauce to a boil. Let it boil for about 5 minutes or until the sauce reduces a bit.
Prepare the Gremolata: Wash the parsley and set it on a cutting board. Using a microplane (or rasp) zest the lemon and grate the garlic on a cutting board. Add a pinch of salt. With a sharp knife, mince everything together so that you have a very fine mixture. Set aside.
Prepare the Risotto: In a large pot, add the chicken stock (or water with 2 bouillon cubes) and bring to a simmer. Sprinkle in the crushed saffron threads. Turn the heat to low and let it keep warm as you make the risotto. Place a shallow sauce pan with a large surface area over medium heat, and add the oil and onions. Cook them over medium heat for 4 to 5 minutes or until the onions start to soften. Do not let the onions brown. They should be pale and translucent. Add the rice. (Do not rinse the rice or the starch will wash away.) Add a ladle full of the chicken stock and stir. Make sure that most of that liquid has cooked out before adding another ladle full. Continue adding chicken stock one or two spoonfuls at a time until the rice is mostly cooked though. Stir constantly and keep a watch over the rice as it can burn quickly. This can take 15-18 minutes in total. Once the rice is just about cooked all the way through, add one more ladle full of chicken stock along with the butter and parmigginao. Stir everything together and add salt and pepper to taste. Risotto should be served immediately.
Plate the dish: Place the risotto on a plate leaving a well in the centre of each pile of risotto. Place the sauce in the well and top with a piece of veal shank. Sprinkle generously with gremolata.