Osso Buco: Italian “Bone with a hole” packs a whole lot of flavor

by Terry B on January 19, 2011

There are many versions of the classic Northern Italian favorite, osso buco. This one uses slow oven braising to make the meat flavorful, fork tender and moist. Recipe below.


There’s something about using kitchen twine that makes me feel like a chef and connects me to the past. Trussing up pork tenderloins or rolled roasts with string says you’re getting serious in the kitchen, in a comfortingly old school way. It was something Julia did.

So tying up a pair of meaty veal shanks for osso buco had me feeling cheflike. Preparing this classic Italian dish also put me in the mood for opera. I popped a mix CD of arias into the kitchen boombox (never mind that many of them were sung in French or German). Cold winds blowing outside and music playing inside made prepping in the warm kitchen especially rewarding.

We’ve been doing a lot of slow oven braising this winter and really enjoying it. It’s perfect for turning tough, but flavorful cuts of meat into amazing, fork tender meals. Osso buco (AH-so BOO-co) particularly benefits from this cooking method. The Milanese favorite is made with cross-cut veal shanks from the hardworking upper portion of the leg. If not cooked for a long time, the meat can be chewy and stringy. Many recipes call for stovetop cooking rather than oven braising, but I find this can tend to dry out the meat, even if you turn it every 15 minutes as some recipes suggest. Braising in the oven surrounds the cooking vessel with a much lower heat for even, moist cooking.

Browning the osso buco prior to braising it gave me another chef moment. I needed to turn the veal shanks as they browned, and the high-walled Staub La Cocotte didn’t give me a lot of room to maneuver with a spatula or other tool. So summoning my inner Anthony Bourdain (or April Bloomfield), I reached into the pot with my bare hands, grabbed the shanks one at a time and flipped them. I know I’m not really a chef (or even a line cook) until I burn myself with a move like this, but it still felt pretty cool.

Veal is lighter and milder in taste than most beef, so you need to use a lighter hand with flavorings. Using white wine instead of red is one example—red wine would overpower the dish. Because veal is so mild, it can also end up a little on the bland side. At least one recipe calls for browning the shanks in the fat of rendered pancetta to add extra flavor. I considered that for a while until I saw recipes that called for another secret ingredient for adding umami to a meat dish: Anchovy paste or fillets. I first discovered this trick when I made a Provençal layered pot roast. The anchovies impart no fishiness at all, but add a wonderful depth and complexity. Many recipes also call for topping osso buco with gremolata, a mix of minced parsley, garlic and lemon zest. Make sure to do this—it adds a nice bright finish to the dish and balances its richness.

Osso buco is often served with risotto. I served it with short pasta tossed with some of the pan juices and vegetables. It would also be delicious with creamy mashed potatoes—not authentic, mind you, but delicious.

And finally, one of the treats of this dish is the delicious, fatty marrow in the center of the bones. In fact, the name osso buco means bone with a hole, showing how important the marrow is. There are narrow spoons designed specifically for getting at it, but I say it’s an opportunity to finally get some use from those goofy souvenir state spoons in the back of the silverware drawer.

Osso Buco with Gremolata
Serves 2 to 3

2 whole veal shanks (about 1 pound per shank), trimmed
salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
flour, for dredging
1 tablespoon canola oil (plus extra, if needed)
1 tablespoon unsalted butter (plus extra, if needed)
1 onion, diced
1 carrot, diced
1 stalk celery, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 tablespoon tomato paste
1/2 tablespoon anchovy paste (or 4 anchovy fillets, minced)
1 cup dry white wine
2 to 3 cups chicken stock
2 sprigs Italian parsley
1 sprig fresh thyme (or 1 teaspoon dry)
2 small bay leaves (or 1 large)

For the gremolata:
1/4 cup minced Italian parsley leaves
1 tablespoon freshly grated lemon zest
1/2 tablespoon minced garlic

Special equipment:
Kitchen twine, for tying the veal shanks

Preheat oven to 325ºF. Pat the veal shanks dry with paper towels. Truss each shank with kitchen twine around the outside (a single strand will do). Season each shank with salt and freshly ground pepper and dredge them in flour, shaking off excess.

Heat a Dutch oven or lidded ovenproof skillet large enough to hold shanks in a single layer over a medium-high flame. Add 1 tablespoon each of canola oil and butter to the pan, swirling to combine. Brown shanks on both sides, about 5 minutes for the first side and 3 to 4 for the second. Transfer browned shanks to plate.

Reduce heat to medium and add onion, carrot and celery to pan, also adding a little more oil and butter, if necessary. Sauté vegetables until beginning to soften, about 5 minutes, stirring frequently to avoid burning. Add garlic and cook until fragrant, about 45 seconds. Stir in tomato paste and cook for about 1 minute. Add wine and bring to a boil, scraping up any browned bits. Return shanks to pan, along with any accumulated juices. Add 2 cups of chicken stock; liquid should come about two-thirds of the way up the sides of the shanks (add a little more if needed). Tuck parsley and thyme sprigs around the shanks, along with the bay leaves.

Cover pan and place in oven for about 2 hours or until the meat is falling off the bone. Check every 30 minutes or so to see if you need to add more broth.

Meanwhile make the gremolata. Combine ingredient in a bowl and mix thoroughly. Set aside.

Carefully transfer the cooked shanks to a serving platter. Cut off the kitchen twine and discard. Discard the parsley, thyme and bay leaves. Spoon juices from the pot over and around shanks. Garnish with gremolata. Serve.


{ 16 comments… read them below or add one }

Toni January 19, 2011 at 3:39 am

There’s a local Italian restaurant which makes osso bucco, and it’s one of my two “go to” dishes when eating there. Funny – I never thought about making it – until now. This sounds terrific, Terry! If cold weather ever returns to these parts, I’ll be all over this one.

Joanne January 19, 2011 at 5:06 pm

You and I are totally on the same page this week since I just posted something almost exactly like this! Except that my sauce was a white wine/butter/lemon/caper sauce. I will definitely be trying this version!

Terry B January 19, 2011 at 5:24 pm

Toni—Do try it! Osso buco is quite easy to make and delicious. Oh, and I’m so sorry to hear you’re having a warm winter in San Diego. What a surprise.

Joanne, your osso buco photo is gorgeous! And you’re right—there are two versions of osso buco. The modern one has tomatoes (or in my case, a dab of tomato paste); the original has a “white” sauce and is tomato-free.

Dime Store Foodie January 19, 2011 at 7:52 pm

Looks so very yummy! It is one of my grandmother’s favorites! I just can’t wrap my head around veal! Too many summers working at my uncle’s farm in Canada bottle feeding the calves! Now adult ones, that I can handle. But as always Terry it looks great!

altadenahiker January 20, 2011 at 3:40 pm

I can just smell it.

Terry B January 21, 2011 at 3:42 am

Thanks, Dime Store Foodie! Your childhood summers sound wonderful, despite the horrendous road trips you describe in your latest post.

Altadenahiker—That’s one of the masochistic pleasures of oven braising, hours of amazing aromas emanating from the kitchen.

Cynthia Fox-Giddens January 21, 2011 at 2:22 pm

A great recipe that can be enjoyed for yummy days. The photo makes you want to grab a fork and start eating :-)

Jeanie January 25, 2011 at 8:29 am

Wow ! I’m starving.. A great recipe- so clear and concise for someone who has trouble in the kitchen :-) – definitely picture perfect
This is my husband’s favorite in our favorite restaurant and short ribs are my favorite. The sauce in both is the same..One small question- If possible, how could I make 2 extra cups of gravy? Thanks a million.

Terry B January 25, 2011 at 2:07 pm

Thanks, Cynthia!

Jeanie—Thanks! Regarding making that much extra gravy, that’s a tough call. Let me start by saying that even after Marion and I ate this for dinner and I had leftovers for lunch, I had about 1-1/2 cups of leftover sauce (now in our freezer, waiting to flavor some pasta or some other dish). You could add a little more broth when you’re cooking the dish, but don’t go overboard or you’ll turn it into soup. Also, once you’ve removed the shanks from the pan, you could add a little water or broth to the juices, heat the pan on the stovetop and thicken it with a little cornstarch or arrowroot. But again, don’t go overboard or you’ll dilute the flavor. Hope this helps.

Jeanie January 25, 2011 at 6:47 pm

Thanks so much Terry. I understand..a little little. You mentioned you had leftover sauce. That would be fine. I looked at the photo above and that’s why I asked. Thanks for explaining step-by-step. I am definitely not a pro in the kitchen, but I will definitely give this a try in the near future. I read everyone’s comments and your recipe sounds unbelievably fantastic!

John Hobson January 26, 2011 at 11:28 am

The traditional accompaniment for Osso Bucco is saffron risotto (if you add chopped marrow to it, it’s called Risotto Milanese). Here is a recipe:

2 cups chicken stock
1 cup dry white wine
2 tablespoons olive oil and/or butter
1 small onion, finely chopped
1 cup arborio rice
1 large pinch saffron threads
1 cup white wine
1/4 cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano
2 tablespoons beef or veal marrow, finely chopped (optional)

Bring stock to a low simmer in a medium pot. Heat oil/butter in a medium saucepan over medium heat for 1 minute. Cook onion until translucent, about 3 minutes. Add rice, saffron (adding it at this point brings out more of the flavor, and the cost of saffron being what it is, that’s a good thing), the marrow if you have it and a pinch of salt. Sauté until rice is translucent, 1 to 2 minutes. Add wine, bring to a simmer, stirring, until rice has absorbed most of wine. Add 2 ladles of stock to rice; simmer, stirring, until rice has absorbed most of stock. Continue adding stock a ladleful at a time, allowing rice to absorb it before adding the next ladleful. Cook until rice is al dente. Turn off heat. Stir in grated Parmigiano-Reggiano. Cover and let sit 2 minutes.

Serves four.

Terry B January 27, 2011 at 3:22 pm

I understand the confusion, Jeanie. Often when I post a food that has sauce, I’ll intentionally either not sauce or undersauce the food for the photograph. Otherwise, you’re mainly looking at brownish gravyish liquid. When I actually serve something for eating, I use a more generous hand with the sauce.

Thanks for the recipe, John! I have to admit, I rarely have the patience for risotto, but this sounds worth the effort.

John Hobson January 29, 2011 at 3:40 pm

In my list of ingredients, I left out 1 large pinch of saffron threads. Sorry about that.

I should mention that risotto takes about 25 minutes to cook, and there is no way to shorten this. If you want to throw in some frozen peas with the last ladle of stock, go for it.

Do you want a recipe for Risi e Bisi (rice and peas), a really nice variation on risotto?

Terry B January 29, 2011 at 10:03 pm

Thanks for the update, John. I’d missed it too! I’ve fixed your comment with the recipe. Regarding the Risi e Bisi, why don’t you email it to me instead of posting it here—I’d love to give it a look.

BingePittsburgh February 10, 2011 at 5:25 pm

I’ve always wanted to try bone marrow on toast. Next time I’m at a local Italian place I’ll be looking for Osso Buco. If I had a dutch oven I’d make it on my own.

shinae February 19, 2011 at 4:33 pm

New to your blog. Delicious pic you got there. :)

I personally look forward to the marrow first while it’s still nice and buttery…

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