Jarrets de veau

(Mirepoix, too)

Here's a good winter dish: Jarrets de veau, or veal shanks. The recipe comes from Michael Roberts' charming Parisian Home Cooking, one of the few cookbooks that stand at the ready in my kitchen.

The first thing to do, of course, is to get hold of good slices of veal shank, properly tied up by the butcher. If you have never dealt with veal shank but are attracted by the idea of a meltingly good and simple stew, then simply ask your butcher how much "osso buco" costs today - you'll need between a pound and a half (for two) to three pounds (for four) of meat - and, if you can bear the expense (which will not necessarily be great), order two to four pieces. Ideally, all the pieces would be of the same size, but in practice they never are, because they're sawed from the same shank, and the calf of a calf is not unlike the calf of a human being: it swells and then tapers. Don't worry about this, though; you'll probably never prepare this dish for four matched appetites.

The second thing to do is to make mirepoix. You will already have done this. To make mirepoix, take two bunches of fresh carrots (the kind that are sold with their tops), three heads of celery, and two or three Vidalia onions (depending on size), and chop them up very fine. If you're like me, you'll cheat and pulse the vegetables in a food processor. The result won't be pretty, but then the result rarely makes it to the table, because, as "aromatics," they're used to infuse liquids with their flavors and then discarded. You want equal amounts of all three.

Over low heat, sweat the vegetables in clarified butter or oil until they begin to assume translucence. Actually cooking the mixture is not the point; what you're doing here is getting rid of excess water. I find that it takes forty minutes to complete this phase of the operation. That's why I do it ahead, and generally while I'm cleaning (out) the refrigerator.

While the "aromatics" are sweating, line a brownie pan with plastic wrap. When the mirepoix is done, spoon it into the brownie pan. Put the pan in the freezer. When the mirepoix is frozen, remove it from the pan and wrap it up nicely. You should have something that looks like a thickish tile. Put it back in the freezer.

A block of mirepoix ought to last you a while. You will slice bits of it off as needed, using a bread knife (some strength required).

Back to Jarrets de veau. Be sure to read this through before beginning! You will need

  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon unsalted butter
  • Two to four pieces of "osso buco"
  • A slice of mirepoix
  • 1 cup dry white wine (eg Sauvignon blanc)
  • 2 cups chicken broth
  • 1 sprig of fresh thyme
  • 2 bay leaves
  • ¼ teaspoon dried rosemary
  • 2 slices of white bread
  • sprigs of parsley

How much mirepoix? I knew you were going to ask. It's really up to you. Let's say, an inch off the block, or just a little less.  You will also need one of these. If I could have only one electric appliance, it would be this one, or, rather, these three. I use mine every day. For this recipe, you will use two of the three applications, the processor and the immersion blender.

Now, to begin. Get the oil and butter nice and hot in a covered flameproof casserole that's large enough to hold the meat. When the foam subsides, drop in the pieces and brown them on all sides; this will take eight to ten minutes, according to Mr Roberts. The fat will burn and blacken, but don't worry about it.

When the meat is nicely browned, remove it to a plate and pour off the fat. Sizzle the piece of mirepoix in the pot for a minute to break it up into clumps. Put the meat back in the pot on top of the mirepoix, along with the wine, and cook for a minute or so to burn off the alcohol. Then add the broth, the thyme, the rosemary and the bay leaves. Bring the pot to a nice simmer and put a lid on it. Leave it on the stove, over low heat, for seventy-five minutes, or until the meat seems about ready to fall off the bone but has not actually begun to do so. Check the pot from time to time to make sure that the braising liquid is simmering - bubbling gently but not too gently.

In the food processor, crumb the bread together with the parsley. You want reasonably fine crumbs.

When the meat is done, remove it from the pot and strain the remainder, discarding the solids. With the liquid back in the pot, add the bread crumbs and stir them into the liquid, again over low heat. After a minute or so, put the pot in the sink and tip it a bit, to make a deep end. Purée the sauce with the immersion blender. When it's nice and smooth, put it back on the fire until the sauce has reduced to a silky consistency that is somewhere between "runny" and "gravy." It's your call.

The dish is now ready. You can serve it just as it is, or on a bed of noodles, or, as I did the other night, over sliced steamed fingerling potatoes. Boy, did those potatoes soak up the sauce! In any case, put each piece of meat in a soup dish or a pasta plate - something wide and rimmed - and spoon the sauce over it. 

Read Part III carefully, with calm, regular breaths. You will see that there is not a lot to this showpiece. You can tell your guests how easy it was to make, but they won't believe you.

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