Osso Buco

The first time I remember eating this gift of the gods was at a little restaurant in Venice, and while it is not the regional dish of note the version I had was memorable in the extreme. Thirty some-odd years later it is still a favourite of mine and one I make when the weather turns cold and snowy, and today was one of those days, in fact it was - frozen balls on a brass monkey cold, at -22 Celsius and it snowed and even drifted a bit, for effect. It is supposed to fall to -36 by the middle of the week so I may need to make it again, or just drink heavy. I haven't decided at this point.

Osso Buco is a hearty dish and very easy to prepare, and there are a number of variations to it that should satisfy any taste bud.  While I'm no expert in the history of it, (although I am an insufferable expert on many other topics and activities, just ask me!) I have done extensive research (Wikipedia) and all my research indicates the dish is traditionally made with veal shank and white wine as the main ingredients in the braising liquid and served with gremolata.

Other variants have it made with red wine, beef shank, lamb shank, tomato puree, and also with some strong cheese added to the braise at the finish. I won't stand on any stump and say one is better than the other, because I am a humble and meek blogger, and I like them all.  The one I make at home is most often made with beef shank or pork shank. Lamb shank is awesome as well, but the traditional ingredient, veal shank, is very difficult to find because apparently some nefarious prick somewhere is hoarding the worlds supply of veal, so we are forced to use alternative shanks like beef, pork and lamb, and it turns out they are all wonderful.

I also use tomato puree or sauce and use either red wine or white wine, depending on what I have on hand or in my hand as it were. Using tomato puree and red wine offers a very rich and savory sauce that is a wonderful companion to almost any starch. I have paired it with different pastas, gnocchi, potatoes, noodles both home made and store bought, rice and even spaetzle. For tonight's offering I made a very nice black and wild rice pilaf, and it was a winner.

So without further ado, lets make a little loving...

3 Tbsp olive oil
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 Tbsp salt
1 tsp ground black pepper
1/2 tsp ground white pepper
4 veal, beef or pork shanks, about 1 1/2 inches thick (about 4 lbs)

1 large onion minced
2 large celery stalks, diced
2 large carrots, diced
4 cloves garlic, pressed

3 bay leaves
1 tsp thyme
1 tsp basil
1 tsp salt
1 1/2 tsp ground pepper
1 cup dry white or red wine

1 large can (28 oz) tomatoes, drained and chopped (or 14 oz can tomato sauce)

2 cups low sodium beef or chicken stock

1 Tbs parsley, minced
1 tsp salt
1 tsp ground black pepper

Preheat the oven to 350°F.

In a shallow bowl or plate combine the flour with 1 tablespoon salt and 1 tablespoon pepper, mix well.

Place the shanks into the seasoned flour to dredge (coat both sides well).

Heat a large Dutch oven over medium heat. Add the olive oil and heat until very hot, place the flour coated shanks into the hot Dutch oven and cook until well-browned on all sides, remove from pan and set aside.

Add the onions, celery and carrots and garlic (a kind of mirepoix) to the Dutch oven and cook until softened.

Add 2 tablespoons of the seasoned flour to the mirepoix (not a ménage à trois, but I like the way you think!) and saute for about another 2 minutes.

Add the bay leaves, thyme, basil, salt and pepper, the wine and stir making sure you have scraped the bottom and sides of the pot to get all the browned goodness into the mixture, add the stock and tomatoes and bring to a boil.

Place the browned shanks back into the Dutch oven.  Put the lid on and place into the preheated oven.

Cook for 2 -3 hours, or until the shanks are very tender.  Serve with rice, roasted potatoes, buttered egg noodles, linguini or whatever other starch floats your boat.

This is comfort food, plain and simple.  The name makes it sound exotic but it is just good old fashioned comfort food. It is like a stew in that it tasted better the second day so perhaps make it a day ahead of wanting it to really take it to another level.

Snowy Palms Resort

Lettuce Wraps

Lettuce Wraps recipe at bottom of page...

I don't know if when you travel in China you will find lettuce wraps on any menu, never having been there, I can't say for sure, but I doubt it.  I think some inspired chef in some Chinese restaurant kitchen somewhere in North America  invented it for an appetizer and it took off. And why not?  Light, tasty and delectably crunchy parcels of goodness would catch on anywhere wouldn’t you think?

I can't remember the first time I tasted them, but I do remember that when I did, I liked them immediately.  After eating them a couple of times I put on my investigators uniform and went to town to figure out the recipe. Was way before the preponderance of recipes for them on the internet we enjoy today, so I had to reverse engineer it at the restaurant.

So with some trial and error (all delicious) I settled on a recipe that has become a family favourite and has been for over 20 years. I usually use barbeque pork from the Chinese barbeque joint but if I don't have any of that handy I will use chicken and/or duck meat, depends on what is hiding in the fridge along with some cured Chinese sausage I normally have in the freezer.

So here we go, let's make some lettuce wraps.  You don't have to stick to this recipe exactly since it is a flexible recipe and you can use any meat you like, or if your one of THOSE meatless types, tofu is good too. Be adventurous and make some soon; I am sure it will become a family favourite too and it is sooooo easy to make it is ridiculous...

1 large head of iceberg lettuce
1 head of celery, about 8 stalks, cleaned and minced fine, about 3 cups when minced
2 cups finely diced cooked chicken, pork, beef, duck or tofu

4 ounces (3 pieces) Chinese sausage, cut lengthwise into 4 strips and then mince

1 - 8 ounce can bamboo shoots, minced

1 ounce dried mushrooms, soaked in hot water and then minced very fine, remove stem before mincing

1/4 cup onion, finely minced

2 Tbsp fresh garlic, pressed or finely minced
2 Tbsp chives or green onions, minced fine, I like to use flowering chives, very aromatic
1 Tbsp fresh ginger, grated fine

1 ounce mung bean threads (optional but I really like them)

2 Tbsp light soy sauce

1 Tbsp hot water
1 Tbsp oyster sauce

1 Tbsp sesame oil
2 tsp fish sauce (optional but I like the salty taste it gives, be careful with this, it is powerful stuff)

1 tsp sugar
1/2 cup hoisin sauce

Okay so lets clean the lettuce first. Grab the lettuce firmly and hit the bottom (stem) against the counter-top to force it inwards.  Once suitably disciplined, the lettuce will  release the stem and you simply have to twist it out. Once the stem is out, place the head of lettuce upside down in the sink and run cold water through it. That will help release the individual leaves, carefully remove one leaf at a time until you have removed all useable ones.  Place on tray to drain and keep in the fridge until needed for dinner.

Place soy sauce, hot water, oyster sauce, sesame oil, fish sauce and sugar in a cup and mix well until sugar is dissolved, set aside.

In a large pot add 2 quarts canola oil and heat to 375 degrees.  Once to temperature, add 1 bundle of bean threads. The threads will expand rapidly. Once they stop expanding, about 20 seconds, flip over with a pair of tongs and cook 10 seconds more.Remove from oil and drain on paper towel.  Once cool, crush and place in a bowl to serve.

Place wok over medium heat, add oil, then add onion, ginger, chives, mushrooms and garlic, stir for 30 seconds.

Add the chicken and Chinese sausage, stir fry for 1 minute.

 Add the celery and the bamboo shoots, toss for 30 seconds then add the soy sauce mixture, then stir fry until the liquid has evaporated, about 2 minutes.

Once liquid has evaporated, place mixture onto serving platter and serve to deserving guests, if you have any that are deserving that is.
To serve these up, take a lettuce leaf and hold it like a cup.

Spoon about 2-3 tablespoons of celery filling, 2 tablespoons of crispy bean threads and about 1-2 teaspoons of hoisin sauce.

Once you have assembled the lettuce wrap, fold it like a taco and then go in for the first bite.  The proper position is:

Hold with both hands.
Hold both elbows out.
Hunch over plate to catch spillage.
Bite down and enjoy.  My youngest daughter is showing the proper and well practiced lettuce wrap eating technique and posture.

For those of you that are challenged in some manner or other, I offer lettuce wrap making lessons. The cost is minimal (red wine) and the results are terrific. Call 1-888-LETSWRAP for more instructions and fees...