My Mom thinks that our dog is actually a person inside a dog suit. Well, okay, more like inside a dog’s body. While he hasn’t rescued any Timmys stuck in a well, he can take my direction-challenged Mom on a walk so that she won’t get lost and waits at the curb until he’s given permission to cross. He also adjusts his behavior to suit his walker. With me he powerstruts going just below a trot–I’m only 5′ 4″ and his head comes to a few inches below my hip so needless to say we get a lot of amused double-takes. The hubby gets dragged all over the place cuz they like to play rough. With my 90lb (she outweighs the dog by a whopping 5lb), 70+ year old Mom he goes at a sedate walk with plenty of slack on the leash. This is something he’s come up with all on his own with no conscious prompting from the peanut gallery. When my husband broke his leg in the treacherous bike commute of 2010, the pooch carefully checked him out to make he wasn’t a doppelgänger and then proceeded to treat him like my Mom, gently nudging his hand for attention but no more rough-housing.
So, while he may not be Stephen Hawking, this pooch is also amazingly empathetic and intelligent and did I mention appreciative too? (I’m being completely objective here ;)) Instead of being a crazy cat lady, I’m the weirdo who cooks birthday dinner for her dog. Yup, usually I make him a mini meatloaf “cake” with mashed potato “frosting” and spell his name in ketchup but this year I received a special request. Yes, the voices also do karaoke but no Justin Bieber, that’s sooo 2011. The hubby has requested osso buco as it’s one of his (and probably the pooch’s too) favorite dishes. Why does he get to choose the dog’s B-day dinner? Cuz he has to eat it too. You see, the pooch is part golden retriever and really wants to be involved in anything we do–he likes to think he’s a people with limited privileges and dew claws. On his first birthday, I placed his mini meatloaf in a dish on the floor for him near his dog bowl and he patiently waited in the dining room watching us eat our meatloaf. After 15 minutes, the hubster walked over to his food bowl, called the dog over, ate a piece of the dog’s meatloaf and then set it back on the floor. Satisfied that he was getting people food, the birthday boy started eating. So since he has to act as royal food taster, dear husband gets to pick this year’s dinner.
Now wait a minute here crazy dog lady, isn’t osso buco made with veal shanks? Classically, yes, but osso buco literally means “hollow bone” and involves braising a fairly tough hunk of muscle wrapped around a richly marrowed bone so long that it’s fork tender (or in our case spoon-tender, all the better to slurp up that tomatoey sauce). Actually if you want to get all old school, it was traditionally made with a white sauce of spices (ie cinnamon, bay leaf, and allspice) and served with gremolata [pushes glasses up nose.]. I use beef instead of veal shank for the same reason I don’t eat foie gras, it makes me too sad. While I recognize and respect the fact that a living creature is dying so I may live, I still want it to have humane living conditions and treatment. (We’re actually very careful about where we get our meat, voting with our money and going directly to accountable local farms or through our local butcher who has the same philosophy.) Even though the American Veal Association has an initiative to ban individual pens by 2017, they are moving toward “group housing” where multiple calves are in a larger pen with enough room to lie down or get up and turn around. Not exactly a ringing endorsement for being able to roam the pastures and interact with the world. Although a few farms actually have free-range veal, to me it’s akin to child labor versus having a career as a working adult. And while veal may be oh-so-tender, patiently braising beef shank in a savory tomatoey sauce will give you a melt in your mouth dining experience that will have your dining companions (and pooch!) licking the plate with 50% less guilt 🙂 While the gremolata is optional, its zesty flavor provides a nice counterbalance to wake up your taste buds from the rich and hearty osso buco. This tastes great with saffron risotto, farro risotto, braised white beans, good old polenta, or [insert your favorite starch here].
Quick and dirty tricks:
1) If you don’t have a window herb garden but still want the added zing of fresh over dried herbs you can finely chop then freeze your herbs in 1 tbsp measures using an ice cube tray. A lot of companies make smaller sized, ~1 tbsp cube trays (even in silicone so they’re easy to pop out). Once they’re frozen, you can pop them out and store them in zip bags and reclaim that valuable freezer real estate 🙂
2) Mediterranean cooking seems to have a penchant for infusing herbs into a sauce or stock and while you can go all retro with a bouquet garni or cheesecloth, I find herb infusers to be more useful. You get all that herby flavor without bits and pieces falling off into your stock or sauce that then have to be painstakingly fished out, they’re more durable and honestly less icky looking that a well-loved cheesecloth bag, and the hook and chain can be wrapped around a pot handle so you don’t have to go fishing for a bag in molten liquid. I like the oblong shape of mine by RSVP Intl as the longer shape allows me to fold herbs in half, lock the latch, hook the chain and infuse away.
3) How to use butcher’s twine without getting raw meaty hands all over your string? I tie a loop around the hook on the spindle and then hang it from a cabinet knob. That way, not only is it at eye level but you only have to touch the string which is wrapping around the meat anyway. Score!
4) Why the discrimination against canned tomatoes? While they are convenient and inexpensive, they’re also sadly lacking in flavor as the tomatoes are picked before they’re fully ripe so they don’t fall apart during the commercial canning process. Adding cider vinegar and tomato paste adds back that tanginess and tomatoey flavor.
4 thick (~2 1/2 inches) beef shanks, patted dry and individually tied with kitchen string
1/4 c all-purpose flour **substitute corn starch if cooking gluten-free
Salt and freshly ground pepper
2 strips bacon, diced (substitute 2 tbsp butter and 1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil if eating kosher)
1/2 c full-bodied red wine (I used Shiraz)
1 large sweet onion (~ 1 c), diced
1 medium carrot (~1/2c), diced
1 stalk celery (~1/2 c), diced
2 tsp (2 cloves) crushed garlic
3-4 c beef stock
2 c cherry tomatoes or 2 large chopped tomatoes or 14.5 oz can diced tomatoes + 1 tsp cider vinegar + 1 tsp tomato paste
1 tsp tomato paste
6 sprigs flat-leaf (Italian) parsley, 4 sprigs thyme, and 1 bay leaf in a cheesecloth bag or herb infuser
1/4 teaspoon salt
Preheat oven to 325F.
Season shanks with salt and pepper. Place flour in a gallon zip bag and add a shank. Shake to coat with flour (I like to leave some air in the bag before I close it so that the contents can move freely and mix more easily). Repeat with remaining shanks. Add more flour to bag if needed.
In a large ~5-6 quart oven-safe pot or Dutch oven brown bacon over medium heat till crisp. Remove bacon and set aside. Brown shanks in bacon fat, ~3 minutes per side, stoically sipping a cocktail to keep your busy hands from trying to move the shanks around cuz they’ll brown perfectly unmolested 😉 Remove shanks and set aside. Pour off all but 1 tbsp oil from pot. Deglaze pot with wine and scrape up yummy browned bits from the bottom then add mirepoix (onions, carrots, and celery). Sauté 4-5 minutes, allowing the veggies to soften and release their juices. Add garlic and sauté for another 1-2 minutes till aromatic and golden. Return the bacon, shanks, and any accumulated juices to the pot (just place on top of veggies). Add stock to just cover the shanks then top with tomatoes and tomato paste (no need to mix, it will diffuse throughout the sauce while braising). **If you’re using a slow cooker empty pot into slow cooker at this point and cook on med-lo setting for 6-8 hours or however long it takes your slow cooker to give you fork tender beef. This is also a good stopping point to put your pot in the refrigerator if you want to make this dish partway the day before.
Bring to a simmer then cover and bake in oven for ~2-2 1/2 hours till a fork sinks in easily with little pressure. Remove shanks from pot and set aside. Using an immersion blender, blender or food processor, pulse sauce until smooth ~7-8 pulses. (You can also leave it chunky, I prefer it smooth for aesthetic reasons :)) Serves 4 +/- one super happy dog. (This is the best photo I could get, he knew that bowl was his and wasn’t waiting on ceremony.
1 bunch (1/2 c) fresh flat-leaf parsley leaves, minced
2 tbsp lemon zest
1 tbsp (3 cloves) crushed garlic
While the osso buco is braising, mix together gremolata ingredients in a small pretty bowl you want to use at the dinner table so people can garnish their own plates. Set aside in refrigerator until 20 minutes before eating to let it warm up to room temp. I like to use ~1/2-1 tsp per serving.