Wednesday 27 May 2015

A New Life, A New Beef Dish

I recently seemed to have lost my zeal for cooking. Perhaps I lost my muse, as authors and artists would have it.

Or perhaps the two major surgical procedures and the large amounts of anaesthetic in my body had something to do with this loss of muse. Or it could have been the scare of finding a large cancerous tumour on my kidney and having it removed.

Whatever the case, after a two month sabbatical from cooking and from sailing, I am back. The recent spell of cold weather in the Cape triggered a primordial urge for a hearty stew. It is as if the cold weather creeps into your bones and your body tells you this cold will only be chased away by a hearty stewed dish.

After a short internet search, I had the idea. Osso buco. That very Italian dish that warms the cockles of your heart with the meat almost melting in your mouth.

The internet search was short, simply because I was very hungry. So I searched for stewed beef dishes. The standard recipe calls for veal. I summarily dismissed the idea and went and bought beef shin. Here in South Africa beef shin is relatively cheap. The cut need not be very tender, as the stewing process will see to that.

The process is what makes the dish. Spices are very simple. On one of the myriad web sites quoting a recipe, the author remarked that there appears to be an ongoing, raging debate on whether to use tomato or not. Then some recipes call for fennel, some not. Some require sage, others not. And so on.

Being of a somewhat eclectic bent, I decided that my recipe will be a fusion version. There will always be some chilli in my stewed dishes and mostly not any wine. I use soy sauce instead. The soy sauce has a slightly richer texture and a fuller flavour.

Dial Rock, Saldanha bay. It is good to be out on the water again.
Osso buco is basically beef shin or veal stewed in a bed of vegetables. Notably celery and carrot. These hard vegetables do not cook away, so you have some chewiness at the end of the cooking. Again, allow the dish to rest for at least half an hour before dishing up. This will allow the initial sharpness of the ingredients to calm down and allow the more subtle flavours to come out.

As for cooking, most recipes will have you simmer this dish in the oven for a long time at reasonably low temperature. I chose to cook the dish in a cast iron casserole on the burner. Again at low temperature for a long time. I used the same dish for the initial frying of the meat and the subsequent cooking. This will have the caramelised bits of the frying as part of your dish. The dish then makes its own stock, thereby enhancing the flavours.

The Milanese version of the dish serves it up on a bed of saffron risotto. I chose stock standard mashed potatoes. There is something earthy in mashed potatoes don't you think? This mash was made with milk and real butter, making it rich and creamy.

Osso buco needs a gremolata as well. I have never made this, so all was a bit new. Gremolata is quite simple. Mashed raw garlic mixed with finely chopped parsley. A no-brainer. However, this one has some trick to it to make the flavours come out. I use a little table salt with the chopped garlic when mashing it. The salt prevents the garlic from splattering all over the place. The salt also draws some juices out of the garlic. Add the finely chopped parsley and the salt keeps on doing its magic. For this recipe I added some very finely chopped up citrus peel to the gremolata. Make the gremolata while the meat is cooking. This will allow the gremolata's flavour to develop as well. The gremolata is served as a garnish on top of the plated food. I put half of the quantity into the casserole when I turned off the flame.

So here goes.

Osso Buco alla the Hungry Sailor


For the osso buco

500-600g beef shin with bone in
1 large onion, chopped
3 celery sticks chopped. You need about ¾ cup of chopped celery.
½ large carrot finely chopped. Again about ¾ cup of chopped carrot will do.
1 small hot chill, finely chopped
3 buttons garlic, chopped
2 medium fresh tomatoes, coarsely chopped
1 400g can of whole peeled tomatoes
1 50 ml sachet of tomato paste.
Dollop of soy sauce
dollop of olive oil
50 g butter
1 cup of chicken or vegetable stock.
4 fresh sage leaves
sprig of fresh fennel
Some oregano
Some hot water
25 ml of fine flour

For the gremolata

2 buttons fresh garlic.
Sprig of fresh parsley
Zest of half a lemon. I used some dried citrus skin, finely chopped.


Pat the meat as dry as you possibly can, then dust the meat with the flour. Make sure than all the surfaces are covered. Get the casserole up to heat and add the olive oil. The casserole should be of such a size that the meat can lie flat inside without being bundled up. Now fry the meat both sides until it is nice and brown. Take c are not to burn the meat. The flour may burn earlier than the meat, so your close attention is required.

Remove the meat from the pot, then add the butter. Turn the heat down if required. The butter must not burn. Allow the butter to melt, then add the chopped onions, celery and carrots. Fry these gently until the onions go translucent. Then add the garlic and chilli. Fry these for fifteen seconds or so. Now add the chopped tomatoes, the can of tomatoes and the dollop of soy sauce. Allow this lot to reduce to about half the volume, then add the stock. Mix through thoroughly.

Now place the pieces of meat on top, making sure that the meat is covered in fluid. The parts that stick out will not cook properly. Add the juices that oozed out of the meat while resting. At this stage I added some small onions whole, just for garnish. Add the tomato paste now. Add the sage and the fennel, tearing them by hand. Sprinkle some oregano over the lot.

Turn the heat down to minimum on your smallest burner and put the lid on. Check every half hour for sufficient fluid in the pot and ladle some of the juices on top of the meat. Now make the gremolata.

Chop up to buttons of garlic, using some table salt to keep the bits together during mashing. Add the chopped parsley and the lemon zest. Mix this thoroughly. The quantity should be around three table spoons.

The test for readiness is the tenderness of the meat. The meat should be marrow soft. This will take about two to three hours. Turn off the flame and sprinkle half of the gremolata on top. Close the lid and make the potato mash. Remember to add some real butter to the mash.

Then dish up. Sprinkle some gremolata on each serving as a garnish. This one goes very well with a full bodied red wine and low lights. Like candles.

Bon appetit!

Authored by Johan Zietsman

Last updated on 2015-05-27

All images taken with LG G3 smart phone and processed with Photoshop Express.