Good to the bone
While bone-in meats may not be on most Americans’ regular dinner rotations, they serve as the basis for a variety of tasty specialties that are sure to spice up your new year.
There is really no middle ground — there are people who are meat-on-the-bone eaters and people who aren’t. These days, however, the former are getting a bit frustrated. Our markets are brimming with boneless pork cutlets, salmon filets and dainty filet mignon steaks. What happened to the bone-in leg of lamb; the oxtails; and the whole, head-on fish?
Squeamishness surely explains some of the disdain many Americans have for these bony parts. Generations removed from the farm, many diners don’t want their dinner to look anything like the animal from which it came. In virtually every other part of the world, however, carcasses hang from their hind feet in markets and shoppers are accustomed to the sight. They view the carcass as an indicator of freshness, not as an object of disgust.
We think filet mignon and other cuts of meat are superior merely because they cost more. Cuts such as pork hocks and lamb necks and bone-in fish such as sardines are associated with poverty because they are typically cheap. As if their low stature didn’t doom them already, bone-in cuts including necks and chicken wings demand time and effort to cook, a serious drawback in our “dinner in 30 minutes” culture.
In times past, in-store butchers purchased whole carcasses of beef, lamb and pork and broke them down on site. If you wanted fresh marrowbones, butchers would have them unless another customer got there first. Today, markets buy boxed meat already broken down into quarters and large cuts such as loins, ribs and rounds; skilled butchers who can dismantle a whole carcass have all but disappeared.
Devotees know that cooking meat on the bone yields more flavorful dishes and super-tender meat — usually falling off the bone from hours of braising. And, in many cultures, nibbling on bony parts, from fish heads to chicken feet, is undertaken with pleasure. Why Americans prefer a boneless kitchen, barbecued ribs aside, is up for debate, but one thing isn’t — we are missing out on some fabulous food.
This new year, I want to celebrate these often-overlooked, and increasingly unavailable, bone-in cuts. Anyone who has savored a tender braised lamb shank or scooped out a roasted marrowbone will recognize the origins of the phrase “bone of contention.” Some bones are worth fighting for.
Osso buco, a traditional Northern Italian dish of tender braised veal shanks, is typically served with risotto alla Milanese, a creamy risotto enhanced with saffron threads, and sprinkled with gremolata, a mix of parsley, garlic and lemon peel.
- 4 veal shanks, each about 2 inches thick, tied with kitchen string
- Coarse salt and freshly ground pepper
- 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
- 1/4 cup, plus 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 carrot, cut into 1/4-inch dice
- 1 stalk celery, cut into 1/4-inch dice
- 1 small red onion, cut into 1/4-inch dice
- 1 cup crushed canned Italian plum tomatoes
- 2 cups dry red wine
- 2 cups veal stock or low-sodium chicken broth
- 1 teaspoon chopped fresh thyme
- 1 teaspoon chopped fresh sage
- 1 teaspoon chopped fresh oregano
- 1/2 teaspoon freshly grated lemon zest
- Gremolata for serving (recipe follows)
1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Season the veal shanks generously with salt and pepper. Spread flour in a shallow dish and dredge the shanks, shaking off any excess.
2. Heat 1/4 cup olive oil in a heavy ovenproof pot with a lid over medium heat. Add the shanks and cook until lightly browned on both sides, turning once. Transfer to a plate and turn off the heat. Using paper towels, carefully wipe out the pot.
3. Add remaining 2 tablespoons olive oil to pot and heat over medium heat. Add carrot, celery and onion and cook until the onion is wilted, about 3 minutes. Add the shanks and tomatoes, wine, stock, thyme, sage, oregano and zest and bring to a simmer. Cover and bake until the veal is very tender, about 2 1/2 hours. Season with salt and pepper and serve immediately, garnished with gremolata.
Makes about 1/2 cup
- 1/2 cup minced fresh parsley leaves (preferably flat-leafed)
- 2 tablespoons freshly grated lemon zest
- 1 tablespoon minced garlic
Combine all ingredients and chill until ready to serve. Can be made up
to 1 day ahead.
Boiled beef dinner (pot-au-feu)
Pot-au-feu (whose name literally means “pot on the fire”) has been served for centuries in France — the perfect brasserie comfort food. Purists favor beef as the main meat to use, balancing the dish with a gelatinous cut such as beef shank; a meaty one, such as short ribs or rump; and big pieces of bone, which are used for their rich marrow. A pot-au-feu is a complete meal. At the table, diners start with a bowl of the concentrated broth accompanied by marrow spread on slices of toasted baguette and then salted. A second course consists of the different meats and vegetables arranged on a large platter and served as the main course with mayonnaise, mustard and horseradish.
- 2 pounds beef shanks, cut crosswise into 2-inch-thick pieces
- 2 pounds beef shoulder roast, tied
- 2 pounds oxtail or beef short ribs
- 1 2-pound marrowbone, cut into 2-inch pieces
- 4 carrots, peeled and trimmed
- 3 parsnips, peeled and trimmed
- 3 turnips, peeled and trimmed
- 2 medium yellow onions, peeled
- 1 small head savoy cabbage, quartered
- 2 leeks, washed, trimmed and halved crosswise
- 3 sprigs fresh parsley
- 1 bay leaf
- 1 clove peeled garlic
- 4 black peppercorns
- 4 whole cloves
- 6 medium waxy potatoes, peeled
- Salt and freshly ground black pepper
- Cornichons, pickled onions, freshly grated horseradish, Dijon mustard and whole grain mustard, for serving.
- Sliced crusty baguette, for serving
1. For the boiled meat: Put beef shanks, roast, oxtail, marrowbone, carrots, parsnips, turnips, onions, cabbage and leeks into a large stockpot. Wrap parsley, bay leaf, garlic, peppercorns and cloves in cheesecloth and tie with kitchen string. Add to pot and add enough cold water to cover meats and vegetables (about 7 to 9 quarts). Bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce heat to medium and simmer, skimming any foam that rises to the surface, for 1 1/2 hours. Add potatoes to pot and simmer until meats are very tender, about 1 hour more. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
2. For the first course, strain some of the broth into 4 soup bowls, reserving some for the second course. For the second course, transfer shanks, oxtail and vegetables to a large, warmed serving dish. Transfer roast to a cutting board, discard twine and carve. Add meat to serving dish. Strain some of the remaining broth into serving dish (strain any remaining broth and save for another use). Serve with bread and desired condiments.
Moroccan braised lamb shanks
Served with steamed couscous or basmati rice.
- 1/4 cup olive oil
- 4 lamb shanks, about 1 1/4 pounds each
- 1 onion, sliced crosswise
- 1 hot red chili, such as serrano or Thai, chopped
- 2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
- 1 piece ginger (3 inches), peeled and very finely chopped
- 2 stalks celery, chopped
- 1 carrot, chopped
- 2 teaspoons ground cumin
- 2 teaspoons ground coriander
- 1 teaspoon oregano
- 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
- 2 pinches saffron
- Coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper
- 3 cups chicken stock
- 2 cans (16 ounces each) whole peeled tomatoes
- 8 dried apricots, sliced
- 1 1/2 cups green and black olives, such as Moroccan or Alphonso and Cerignola
- 1 1/2 pounds butternut squash, peeled, seeded and cut into 1-inch cubes
- 1 can chickpeas, drained
1. Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Heat oil in a large Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Add lamb and sear until browned all over, about 2 minutes per side. Remove from pot and set aside.
2. Discard all but 3 tablespoons of fat from pan. Add onion, chili, garlic and ginger. Cook, stirring frequently, until vegetables begin to soften, 5 to 6 minutes. Add celery, carrot, cumin, coriander, oregano, cinnamon and saffron. Continue cooking, stirring frequently, until vegetables are soft and fragrant, 5 to 7 minutes. Season with salt and pepper.
3. Add chicken stock, tomatoes, apricots, olives, squash and chickpeas and bring to a boil. Add lamb, making sure it is submerged halfway; season with salt and pepper. Transfer to oven and cook, rotating lamb every 30 minutes, until meat is evenly browned and falling off the bone and sauce is thickened, 2 1/2 to 3 hours.
Braised short ribs
Serves 4-6, with leftovers
Serve with a wide, flat noodle, such as tagliatelle or pappardelle, or over creamy mashed potatoes. This may seem like a lot, but if you are going through the trouble, make extra! It’s even better the next day, and it freezes well.
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 1/2 cup chopped pancetta
- 4 pounds beef short ribs
- Coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper
- 1 large onion, chopped
- 2 stalks celery, chopped
- 2 carrots, peeled and chopped
- 1/4 cup flour
- 2 tablespoons tomato paste
- 4 cloves garlic, peeled
- 2 bay leaves
- 2 tablespoons chopped fresh rosemary
- 1 tablespoon chopped fresh thyme
- 3 cups dry red wine
- 3 cups veal or beef stock
- 1 ounce dried porcini mushrooms
- Chopped flat-leaf parsley
- Freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano or Pecorino Romano cheese
1. Heat oven to 400 degrees. Heat olive oil in a large, ovenproof, enameled cast-iron casserole or heavy soup pot over medium heat. Cook pancetta until golden and crisp, about 4 minutes; transfer to a plate with a slotted spoon.
2. Season short ribs well with salt and pepper and add half to the pot. Cook until browned, about 6 minutes. Transfer to a plate and repeat with remaining ribs. Add onion, celery and carrots and cook, stirring occasionally, until just tender, about 7 minutes. Add flour, tomato paste, garlic, bay leaves, rosemary and thyme, stirring constantly until well combined. Add pancetta, wine, stock and mushrooms and bring to a boil. Return short ribs to the pot, making sure they are submerged; cover and transfer to oven. Reduce oven to 325 degrees. Cook until very tender, about 3 hours, turning ribs occasionally. To serve, shred meat from bones and return to sauce. Discard bay leaves and season with salt and pepper. Serve, garnished with parsley and cheese.
Roast marrow bones and parsley salad
My radiologist hubby was baffled when I ordered my favorite appetizer of roasted marrowbones at Prune restaurant in New York City. As someone who looks at bones all day for a living, he just couldn’t get past the fact that I wanted to spoon marrow out of a cow femur, but he doesn’t know what he missed! This recipe is adapted from “The Whole Beast: Nose to Tail Eating” by Fergus Henderson (HarperCollins, 2004). Spoon the softened marrow over toast, sprinkle it with coarse salt and top with a few leaves of parsley salad.
- 8 3-inch center-cut pieces of veal or beef marrowbone
- 2/3 cup very coarsely chopped Italian parsley leaves
- 1 shallot very thinly sliced
- 1 1/2 teaspoons small capers
- 1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon extra-virgin olive oil
- 1 1/2 teaspoons lemon juice
- Fine sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
- Coarse sea salt, preferably fleur de sel, for garnish
- Toast, as needed
1. Soak the marrowbones in cold salted water about 8 hours to purge them of any blood, changing the water a couple of times.
2. For a neater presentation, simmer the marrowbones gently in boiling salted water for 10 minutes. While the bones are hot, cut or scrape off the cartilage that clings to the outside to leave as clean a surface as possible. Chill the poached bones until you are ready to roast them. (Henderson does not take this step, and it is optional.)
3. Preheat the oven to 450 degrees. Put the marrowbones, cut side up, in an ovenproof skillet. Roast until the marrow is loose and softened but not melted, 15 to 20 minutes.
4. While the bones roast, combine the parsley, shallot and capers in a bowl. Whisk together the olive oil, lemon juice and salt and pepper to taste.
5. Divide the bones among 4 plates. Toss the parsley salad with just enough dressing to coat the leaves lightly and then divide the salad among the plates. Pass the coarse salt and toast at the table.