Why It Works
- Bone-in beef shanks are dredged in flour and browned, plus vegetables are sautéed before they're transferred to the slow cooker. This adds flavor to the slow braise.
- Removing the sauce and thickening it with a touch of flour after cooking gives it a rich, gravy-like consistency.
- A bright, simple parsley, lemon zest, and garlic gremolata brightens and lightens the otherwise rich dish.
I stopped at the grocery store after a particularly exhausting string of days, with no real plan in mind except that the fridge was looking sparse. While I was wandering through the aisles grabbing necessities, I had comfort food at the top of my mind. It's really no surprise that plans for osso buco began to take shape. Who could say no to tender, braised meat in a rich sauce flavored with wine and vegetables, not to mention that ultra-rich and tender marrow inside a shank?
The only problem was that veal shanks weren't available. However, cross-cut, bone-in beef shanks were—and that wound up being a good (and, frankly, more affordable) thing.
Since traditional osso buco, a braised Milanese dish, is slowly simmered, adapting it for the slow cooker was a logical step.
Tossing the raw shanks into the slow cooker with vegetables is tempting, but it would not be wise. You need to brown the meat, sauté the vegetables, and then deglaze the pan with wine before it gets transferred to the slow cooker if you want to maximize flavor—and who wouldn't? And unless you're fine with a thin sauce, you'll want to thicken yours in the end with a little bit of flour as well.
For this recipe, the beef shanks are seasoned and dredged in flour, then seared over high heat in a Dutch oven until nicely browned. They're transferred to the slow cooker, and then diced onions, carrots, and celery are sautéed in the same pan the shanks had just been browned in. A bit of tomato paste is added to the mix and cooked just until it starts to concentrate in flavor. After a quick deglaze with white wine, the whole shebang joins the meat, along with stock and a touch of vinegar—a key ingredient that cuts through the richness of the marrow and creates a necessary background note to the gravy. As for aromatics, oregano, thyme sprigs, bay leaves, and a pinch of ground cloves make an incredible difference.
Once the shanks are tender and the sauce deeply flavored, I skim the sauce and give it a quick simmer on the stovetop just before serving. A final shower of parsley, lemon zest, and garlic (the traditional Italian accompaniment to osso buco known as gremolata), and you have a company-worthy affair. Of course, I won't judge you if you want to curl up on the couch with the entire pot and eat it all on your own.
If you want to keep things traditional, feel free to substitute veal shanks for the beef. There's no need to otherwise alter the dish.
For the Shanks:
4 cross-cut, bone-in beef shanks (about 2 1/2 pounds total)
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons flour, divided
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 1/2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 medium onion, diced (about 1 cup)
2 carrots, peeled and diced (about 1 cup)
1 stalk celery, diced (about 3/4 cup)
2 1/2 tablespoons tomato paste
4 medium cloves garlic, finely chopped (about 4 teaspoons)
1/2 cup dry white wine
1 cup homemade or store-bought low-sodium chicken stock
1 1/2 teaspoons balsamic vinegar
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
4 sprigs thyme
2 bay leaves
Pinch ground cloves
For the Gremolata:
1/2 cup flat-leaf parsley, finely chopped
1 tablespoon grated zest from 1 or 2 lemons
2 medium cloves garlic, minced (about 2 teaspoons)
For the Shanks: Pat shanks dry using a paper towel. Place 1 cup flour on a plate. Season beef with salt and pepper and dredge in flour, shaking off excess. Heat oil in a large Dutch oven over medium-high heat until lightly smoking. Add meat and cook without moving until well browned on first side, about 5 minutes. Flip and cook until browned on second side, about 4 minutes longer. Transfer to a slow cooker.
Add onion, carrots, and celery to the Dutch oven, reduce heat to medium, and cook, stirring occasionally, until vegetables have softened, about 7 minutes. Add tomato paste and garlic. Stir and continue cooking until fragrant, about 1 minute longer. Add wine and scrape up any browned bits from the bottom of the pot using a wooden spoon.
Transfer the contents to a slow cooker and add stock, vinegar, oregano, thyme, bay leaves, and ground clove. Season with salt and pepper and cook on low until meat is tender, about 6 hours.
Remove and discard thyme sprigs and bay leaves. Skim fat from the sauce and transfer 1/2 cup of gravy to a medium saucepan. Whisk the remaining 2 tablespoons of flour into the reserved gravy until no lumps remain. Add the rest of the sauce to the saucepan. Whisking frequently, bring the sauce to a rolling boil over high heat and cook until the sauce achieves a gravy-like consistency, about 4 minutes. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
For the Gremolata: Combine parsley, lemon zest, and garlic in a small bowl.
Arrange shanks on a platter and spoon sauce on top. Garnish with gremolata and serve.
Dutch oven, slow cooker
|Nutrition Facts (per serving)|
|Amount per serving|
|% Daily Value*|
|Total Fat 24g||30%|
|Saturated Fat 7g||36%|
|Total Carbohydrate 23g||8%|
|Dietary Fiber 3g||12%|
|Total Sugars 6g|
|Vitamin C 16mg||82%|
|*The % Daily Value (DV) tells you how much a nutrient in a food serving contributes to a daily diet. 2,000 calories a day is used for general nutrition advice.|