Osso buco sounds much fancier than “bone with a hole,” doesn’t it? But that’s what it means, and there is indeed a round, marrow-filled bone in the center of the veal cut used in this Italian classic. It’s the cross-cut shank or shin bone of a young calf, to be exact, braised so the meat gets fork-tender.
Traditionally, the braising liquid is some combination of wine and stock, and the veal may or may not be browned in flour first. Gremolata (a mixture of chopped lemon peel, parsley, and garlic) is the usual garnish.
It would be remiss not to mention the controversy and squeamishness surrounding veal, even from people who have no problem eating meat in general. But that would also lead to a discussion about the industrialized dairy industry and factory farming in general—which are all absolutely worthy of everyone’s consideration. Let’s just say here that your best bet, as always, is to source your meat from a local, organic, free-range farm where the animals are raised in natural conditions and treated humanely all the way through to the end.
Based on sheer numbers, it’s especially rare to find veal from such sources, and it will be significantly more expensive, but many people feel it’s worth it, whether they owe it to the animals and the farmers raising them, or are just willing to pay more for their own peace of mind. (Of course, even if you think you’re buying humanely raised meat, it might not actually be so great; “organic” is big business now, and your food might just be marketed to you in such a way as to make you feel better about what you’re eating. Plus, for those who don’t eat animals for ethical reasons, there is no such thing as humane meat at all.)
None of this is news in this day and age, and many of us don’t intend to change our habits regardless of what we read. But even some of us who do plan to keep eating meat still don’t want to consume even ethically sourced veal. Although veal is the traditional star of the Milanese classic, osso buco can—despite the arguments from purists—be made with beef shanks instead (aka from cows which have had a chance to grow older), and you’ll even find pork and lamb versions. The veal has a more delicate flavor, but the other meats will take on all the wonderful nuances of the sauce. Vegans, vegetarians, and omnivores who have been put off by the preceding paragraphs can even enjoy the basic flavors with a carrot and mushroom interpretation, but osso buco is definitely a meat-eater’s dish.
No matter which kind of animal you use, the cut should include bones, because those add a lot of savor to the dish, and if they’re marrow bones, all the better, since that unctuous substance will seep out into the sauce. The finished dish should be hearty, full of rich flavor, and exquisitely tender—the kind of thing that literally inspires poetry.
The traditional accompaniments to osso buco (which may actually correctly be spelled ossobuco, though you’re far less likely to see it that way in American recipes) are risotto alla milanese, made with saffron, and the aforementioned gremolata garnish, but these days there are many different iterations. And while it’s ideal eating for the colder months, you can enjoy osso buco all year round, as these recipes attest.
This is not quite the quintessential classic osso buco recipe because it uses tomatoes, which the original dish did not, but the extra hit of acidic sweetness from them makes the sauce even more delicious. The veal shanks are browned in oil before being braised in white wine, broth, and aromatics like onion and garlic, with a little bay leaf and thyme. The classic partners of bright gremolata and golden saffron risotto are here to complete the meal. Get the recipe.
A particularly rich pasta topping, this osso buco sauce takes several hours, but then so does traditional ragu. You could certainly just sauce some pasta with leftover osso buco rather than making this from scratch (or top it with these considerably quicker osso buco meatballs), but it’s nice to casually tend a simmering pot all afternoon once in a while, especially if you’ve got a glass of wine and good reading. Get the recipe.
It’s always wonderful to find a slow cooker version of your favorite dish, and here’s one for osso buco. (There’s also slow cooker pork osso buco, and on the other end of things, if you want osso buco and want it now, we have a Pressure Cooker Osso Buco recipe for almost instant gratification.) It will perfume your whole house with mouthwatering aromas and the only thing you’ll need to do before dinner are make some sides, like mashed potatoes for soaking up all the sauce. Get the recipe.
Okay, so maybe this shouldn’t really be called osso buco, but regardless of the name, it’s delicious and immensely satisfying. If you’re not a dark meat fan, you could use chicken breasts, but in either case, it’s important to use bone-in and skin-on chicken parts, or else you won’t get the same depth of flavor, or caramelized crispiness from the skin. Get the recipe.
Sort of a cross between pot pies and shepherd’s pie, these osso buco pies are not only full of rich flavor and fantastic texture (luscious gravy, tender meat, and flaky pastry), they look so whimsically impressive, like portobello mushrooms turned on end. Don’t be daunted by the metric measurements; you can convert them, or simply use this recipe as inspiration. And if you’re not after the playful look of these particular pies, you can use leftover osso buco meat taken off the bone and baked under a crust, whether that’s homemade pie dough or store bought puff pastry. Get the recipe.
For lamb fans, here’s a take on osso buco that’s far from sheepish. The rich flavor of the meat is complemented by the homey sauce of red wine, rosemary, and tomato paste. A lamb shank osso buco with gremolata is also a good way to go, and would be just as tasty served over this creamy polenta. Or you could go beefier and make this short rib osso buco where the polenta serves as a crust. Get the recipe.
If you actually have leftover osso buco, this is a fantastic way to use it. Extra tomatoes and garlic stretch the leftover sauce into a broth, and white beans and carrots add a nice creamy yet toothsome heft to the soup. Get the recipe.
Classic Italian osso buco may date back to the 18th century, but don’t feel bound by tradition. This Asian take on the dish is fragrant with garlic, ginger, lemongrass, chiles, anise, and cinnamon. Soy sauce and Thai basil come into play too. Any leftovers would be especially great used in these osso buco bahn mi sandwiches, but for the first go-round, serve over noodles. Get the recipe.
This is just a beautiful way to make pork, period. Fennel, leeks, oregano, and orange lend lovely flavors to the slow-braised meat. (For another porcine variation tailor-made for fall, try this pork osso buco with braised apples and apple beer.) A fennel-orange gremolata echos the traditional osso buco topping while being distinct. Get the recipe.
Back to beef (or veal)—this version of osso buco brings mushrooms into the fold for extra meatiness and savor, and adds the spicy note of sage to the gremolata. Serve over risotto, polenta, pasta, or potatoes, and you’ll be completely satisfied. Get the recipe.