I haven’t written in a while because it’s been a challenge getting accustomed to working full time. I had forgotten the hustle of fitting in time to do all the household chores, e.g., shopping for groceries, cooking dinner, eating breakfast, doing laundry and the myriad other things that keep things going smoothly. Oh, and sleeping, did I mention that?
Most nights I come home, change into lounge clothes and stretch out my back on the floor or bed, and wake up at 2 am, lights on and the iPod or tv still playing, a glass of wine forgotten at my elbow. I would eat a cracker or two and go to bed after ungluing my contacts from my eyeballs.
On Sunday last weekend I decided enough was enough, I needed a good meal to enjoy during the week and one with leftovers that I could take to work for lunch. Meals downtown have doubled in price since when I last worked down there. It’s difficult to find something decent for under $10 or to justify this expense daily so most often I would forgo dining out in favor of a granola bar from the snack jar at work and a brisk walk through the canyons of buildings, looking for elusive sunshine. In my freezer has been a lamb neck, a large hunk of meat from the butchering demonstration by Hank Shaw this past spring. He suggested a slow braise, and Guy Arnone suggested to me on Twitter to try it osso bucco style, so I pulled the neck out to thaw and ascertained I had all necessary vegetables for my long-adored osso bucco recipe.
By Tuesday the lamb neck had finally thawed and it weighed out over five pounds. I got home at 6:30 pm and by 7 pm the neck was in the oven in my giant Staub pot, surrounded by the osso bucco sauce base of mirepoix, tomato concasse, wine, herbs and broth.
By 11 pm I was struggling to stay awake. Every 45 minutes I would hoist the hot, heavy pot from the oven, open the lid to a cloud of rich, fragrant steam, and turn the lamb neck over and stir the sauce. It was nowhere near done, it should have been tender, falling-off-the-bone level succulent, but it was stubbornly not tender enough.
Again, I turned to Twitter and Becky Selengut said “put it (the oven) on 200 degrees – make sure there is ample liquid, cover, sleep like a baby.” What excellent advice! Thank you, Becky!
I did exactly that and woke six hours later to The Roost smelling fantastically of meaty, stewy aromas. The meat was perfectly tender and just the rich texture for which I had been aiming. After cooling a bit while I got ready for work, I stored the neck in my favorite soufflé dish with a ladleful of sauce to keep it company, and the sauce in another bowl and stashed both in the fridge. A surreptitious spoonful of sauce slurped while dashing out the door was a great preview of my meal to come that night.
I could hardly wait.
Home again by 6:30 pm after dropping $60 at Whole Paycheck (never shop when you are hungry, I ended up buying four different kinds of cheeses and I only went there for lemons and parsley!), I washed my Staub pot and removed the lamb and sauce from the fridge. Surprisingly, there wasn’t a lot of fat congealed on the broth. I was expecting a thick layer but realized the rich, unctuous flavors I tasted in the sauce came from the marrow and collagens released by the slow braise. I reduced the sauce by about half and snuggled in the lamb neck, intact but supremely tender, into its deep brown depths and popped on the lid to warm slowly.
Meanwhile, A___ arrived for our standing Wednesday night girl’s night and I surprised her with a slim pink can of Sofia sparkling wine for Wine Wednesday. We caught up on the week past and the weekend while sipping our bubbly from a straw and devouring a slab of Truffle Tremor. For our pre-dinner entertainment, we giggled at the vulturous cat, desperate for us to drop some cheese “accidentally”.
Eventually we bestirred ourselves from our perches on Vicky and Martha (my new acquisitions of a Victorian settee and a Martha Washington chair donated to The Roost by very dear friends) and headed to the kitchen.
While water was boiling for handmade egg noodles, I heaped a shallow bowl with herb salad mix and tiny, sweet as sunshine yellow cherry tomatoes, a shower of salt and pepper and dashes of walnut oil and fig vinegar. The noodles cooked for a minute and were dressed with Danish butter and lavender infused pepper. The neck was carefully hoisted into a serving bowl and was enrobed with that wonderful sauce and topped with bright, aromatic gremolata. Almost anything can be improved by a handful of gremolata, which is a magical concoction of grated lemon zest, minced garlic and parsley.
We dug in like wolves, using forks and fingers to shred off moist hunks of meat from the lamb neck, spooning sauce onto the noodles and filching a tomato now and again from the salad bowl. A bottle of bootleg Napa wine evaporated quickly, a bottle of a Cabernet Zinfandel blend acquired by Sneaky’s Underground BBQ, and over desultory conversation, phone calls and texts, everything else on the table slowly vanished.
While we were digesting I broke out my new art supplies and sketched a lobster while we planned my birthday dinner, which includes lobster mashed potatoes. Outside, over the traffic noises the foghorns tooted and Nob Hill vanished behind a thick blanket of fog. Inside, my pad was warm and steamy and we were swathed in woolens and down. One would never guess this was early August, except to San Franciscans like us.
Later, much later, I pulled out enormous cupcakes obtained at the bakery: a massive vanilla glazed cupcake heaped with lemon buttercream and a devils food cupcake glazed with ganache and a pretty pink mound of cherry buttercream and topped with a bing cherry. Despite our rich meal we did manage to do the cupcakes justice and then realized with a shock that it was 11:30 pm. We bid each other adieu and I dove into bed like Greg Louganis into the deep end, and did not move until the alarm quacked at me at 6:30 am.
Overnight Osso Bucco
4 large veal shanks or 8 small ones (or a 5# unsliced lamb neck or 5# sliced lamb neck pieces)
Enough flour to lightly coat the meat
1 T grapeseed or vegetable oil
1 large onion, chopped
2 stalks celery, chopped
3 carrots, peeked and chopped
3 cloves of garlic, sliced
2 cups of red wine, divided
2 cups peeled, seeded and chopped tomatoes
2 cups light meat broth or chicken broth
1/2 tsp fresh thyme
1/2 tsp fresh oregano
3 T fresh parsley
A Bay leaf
Salt and pepper
1/2 a lemon, juiced (reserved from gremolata)
Cooked and buttered egg noodles
Gremolata (equal parts grated lemon rind, minced garlic and minced parsley. I used 2 large lemons, 3 very fat cloves of garlic and a handful of parsley in the minichop)
The day before you plan to serve this meal, preheat oven to 300 F.
Season the meat with salt and pepper and pat lightly with flour. In a large, heavy pot with a tight-fitting lid, heat a little oil and brown the meat on all sides and remove. Pour off the fat and add the onions, celery and carrots and a sprinkling of salt. Sauté until softened and add the garlic and half of the wine. Allow to reduce almost to nothing and add the herbs, tomatoes, broth, the rest of the wine and the browned meat. Cover tightly and place in the oven. Braise, turning every 45 minutes, for 3 hours, then reduce the oven to 200 F and allow to slow cook overnight or for 6 hours. (if you are using veal shanks, you can either just cook it at 200 F for 6 hours or longer, or only cook them at 300 F for 3 hours, turning the meat every 45 minutes. You can also adapt this for the crockpot, adding the meat to the crockpot on high, then adding the sauteed vegetables with the reduced wine and cooking on high for 3 hours, then reduce to low and cook for 6 hours +.)
Remove meat and sauce and store separately and chill for 8 hours or overnight.
Remove all congealed fat from the surface of the sauce, place in a pot large enough to hold the meat in a single layer and heat the sauce over medium high heat. Reduce until sauce is thickened, then add the meat and the lemon juice. Cover and heat gently until thoroughly heated through.
Arrange on a large shallow dish for serving, spoon over sauce and sprinkle generously with the gremolata. (Note, do not make the gremolata in advance.). Serve over buttered noodles.
A Sad Closing:
Nine years ago almost to the day, I prepared my osso bucco for my beau, Marc. He was Sicilian and appreciated good food. We were just starting our relationship and he often told people my osso bucco sealed the deal in his mind that I was “a great catch”. We were together for seven years, cooking for our friends, family and each other, and teaching his darling little girl to try new foods and how to cook. She’s quite a good cook now and we had great times. Sadly, the relationship ended suddenly and badly, and even more sadly, I learned yesterday that same night I was serving this dish he passed away suddenly and unexpectedly. We hadn’t spoken since we parted ways but I had wished him well and this was hard news to hear. I find it strangely ironic the timing of my making osso bucco and his passing, since upon reflection I haven’t made it since I prepared it for him all those years ago. Marc would have loved this version of my osso bucco. My heart goes out to his family and our friends.