OSSOBUCO ALLA MILANESE
The word means hollow bone, in reference to the middle part of the hind shank of veal which, unlike the fore shank, offers a generous serving of tender meat around the marrowbone. The city of Milan claims ossobuco as its own; in 2007, Milan formally declared the dish a Denominazioni Comunale, an official public acknowledgement that a specific dish or product is native to a certain territory.
These shanks are usually taken from the marrow-bone hind leg, from below the knee to just above the ankle. They can be sawed into thick cross-wise pieces, as in the recipes that follow, or braised whole. If hind shanks are not available you may have to settle for a foreshank, which will be bonier and gristlier, weigh up to 4 pounds with the knuckle included, and serve 2 people. Foreshanks are delicious when braised and their gelatinous quality makes a great sauce.
While it is generally agreed that ossobuco hails from Lombardy, it is less clear when it arrived on the culinary scene. Veal shanks were commonly used in Italian cooking during the Middle Ages, but no record exists of a dish called ossobuco. Some food writers point to the fact that ossobuco is commonly served with gremolata, a combination of minced garlic, parsley and lemon peel, as reason to date it to the 18th century, a period when lemon replaced more expensive spices like cloves, cinnamon and nutmeg in Italian cooking. At that time ossobuco would have been en bianca, though, since tomatoes were not widely used in Italy until the end of the 18th century. A recipe for ossobuco alla Milanese (braised in tomatoes) appears in Pellegrino Artusi’s 1891 cookbook titled La Scienza in Cucina e l’Arte di Mangier Bene, the first published collection of recipes from throughout Italy.
Recipes vary in their recommendations about preparing the dish in advance. Marcella Hazan cautions that advance preparation causes the veal to dry out, while other authors permit braising the shanks a day or two in advance, allowing them to cool to room temperature before refrigerating them, covered, and then gently reheating them before finishing the recipe. Saffron risotto, polenta or mashed potatoes are standard ossobuco accompaniments.