Lately, peasant food is all the rage. Dishes that used to be inexpensive and called for ingredients most people would not use have begun to cost more than a steak.
Consider Osso Buco. My wife wanted me to make the classic Italian poor man’s stew recently so I went to pick up some ox tail. (I know, you’re thinking doesn’t that call for veal shanks? But years ago I saw a TV chef prepare them this way so I gave it a whirl.) Much to my surprise, the humble ox tails cost almost as much as a lamb roast or cheap steak per pound. Ox tail used to be something a butcher would almost want to give away.
I chose to use the tail because I thought it would make the perfect serving size. I planned to serve it traditionally, which meant over a bed of Milanese risotto. Unfortunately I did not have any bone marrow to spare for the rice, so I decided to make a mushroom risotto finished with cream and saffron. You can also serve osso buco over polenta or Cannellini beans.
All in all the dish came out pretty well, but for the price I paid for the ox tail I expected far better. The meat was difficult to eat and though slow cooked was still a little stringy. Now if I had paid what I expected for this cut of meat both of these things would not have been an issue. (I could have used lamb (yes, lamb) shanks for about the same cost, which is what I planned to do in the future. Katherine today brought home veal shanks and Cannellini beans and I can take a hint.)
The other issue was that we could not get to the marrow in the ox tail, which is the best part of osso buco. Of course I could have chopped each tail-piece in half after cooking which would solve that problem.
Below is the recipe for both the risotto and the osso buco. A few notes. When using saffron always buy the threads. Kept in an airtight jar they will last forever. When ready to use grab a small pinch of threads, about 5-8, and crush them using a mortar and pestle. If you don’t have one, use the back of a spoon in a small bowl. Once the saffron is a powder, add two tablespoons of warm chicken stock and stir to mix the saffron into the liquid completely. You can also use warm vegetable stock or water. Add the saffron liquid to whatever dish you are preparing when it is almost done cooking. I used some of the liquid from the dried porcini mushrooms in the risotto as well as the osso buco. One ounce of dried porcinis can flavor up to four cups of hot water. (My wife thought that the porcini overpowered the saffron and the risotto should be flavored with one or the other. I disagreed.)
- 4-6 veal or lamb shanks
- 1 14-ounce can whole tomatoes crushed by hand
- 1 ounce dried porcini mushrooms soaked in 4 cups hot water
- 2 carrots diced fine
- 2 stalks celery diced fine
- 1 onion diced fine
- 3 garlic cloves minced
- 1 cup red wine
- 2 tbsp chopped fresh parsley
- zest from one lemon
In a small bowl combine lemon zest and 1 tbsp parsley. Mix well and set gremolata aside. Soak mushrooms in 4 cups boiling water for about an hour. Coat ox tails in flour mixed with salt and pepper. Melt two tablespoons butter in a large pot and saute onion over low heat until it begins to brown. Add carrots and celery and sweat for about five minutes. Meanwhile squeeze the liquid from the mushrooms and chop roughly. Add chopped mushrooms and garlic to pot. Turn heat up to medium and brown the ox tails on all sides. Add wine and deglaze pan. Add tomatoes and 3 cups mushroom soaking liquid. Bring to a boil then turn heat down to low and partially cover pot. Cook until ox tails are done, about 1 1/2-2 hours.
Creamy Mushroom Risotto
- 2 cups Arborio rice
- 1 quart chicken stock
- 1 cup porcini liquid from above recipe
- 1 ½ cups thinly sliced shitake mushrooms
- ½ cup minced red onion
- 3 garlic cloves minced
- 1 cup heavy whipping cream
- 5-8 saffron threads crushed and mixed with 2-3 tbsp warm chicken stock
Bring chicken stock to a low simmer on back of stove. Melt 1 tbsp butter with 1 tbsp olive oil in a large saute pan. Add onion to pan and saute until it turns translucent and softens. Add garlic and cook until fragrant, about a minute. Add rice and stir well to coat. Season with salt and pepper. Add ½ cup wine and cook down. Add porcini liquid and cook until absorbed. Continue to add a cup of stock until rice begins to soften but still has a bite. Add mushrooms and continue to add stock a cup at a time until risotto is creamy and soft. Add cream and saffron liquid and cook until thickened. Let stand on stove for 15 minutes before serving. Place a large spoonful of risotto on a plate, top with one ox tail and a ladle of liquid from the pan. Garnish with the gremolata.