Saturday, March 10, 2012

Moroccan Osso Buco

When I first went to study in the South of France, it hadn’t been more than ten or twelve years since the first of their North African colonies had been liberated, and only three or four years since the last, Tunisia, had been liberated. (Boy, I’m really dating myself!) I had several friends whose parents had been “pieds-noirs,“ or “black feet”, those who had been French nationals in the territories and had to leave. Many of them had never before set foot on continental French soil.

The dinners I had at their homes were nothing like what I’d had in French restaurants or other French homes. I fell in love with the flavors, and when I worked in Paris the following summer, I sought out the many small North African restaurants in the student neighborhood, the Quartier Latin.

Still, it was years before I attacked this style of cooking, first to learn to cook it and then to teach it to others. My initial inspiration came from the fine cookbooks on the subject by Paula Wolfert.

Recently I was having friends over for dinner and had picked up veal shanks for osso buco. This is the Italian term for veal shank slices, meaning “bone with a hole”. I wondered why I couldn’t turn this into a North African dish. So I did, with considerable success.

It would typically be served with couscous, but I served it with a rice pilaf instead. Roasted asparagus made the perfect complement. The marrow in the bones is delicious, so set the table with tiny spoons or seafood forks so it can be dug out.

The spice mixture, ras el hanout, can be purchased from Penzey’s, or you can make your own from the recipe below. For our dessert, I mixed a spoonful into chocolate ganache, which I used to fill little sweet tart shells. And it is very interesting as a spice in apple or peach pie. It’s also great dusted over sliced oranges and black olives on a salad, or mixed with olive oil as a rub for poultry or pork.

Moroccan Veal Shanks

6 slices veal shanks, about 1-1/2” thick (total about four pounds)
½ cup flour
2 tsp. ras el hanout, divided
¼ cup olive oil
1 large onion, diced
4 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
½ tsp. ground cumin
1 tsp. ground ginger
Juice and finely grated zest of two large lemons
2 cups chicken stock
½ cup each dried apricots, halved, and golden raisins
½ cup whole blanched almonds
Garnish: slivered zest of two lemons and ¼ cup, packed, chopped cilantro
Preheat the oven to 325. Pat the veal shanks dry with a paper towel. Mix the flour with 1 tsp. ras el hanout and lightly dust the veal shanks on both sides. In a heavy skillet, heat the oil over medium heat. Brown the veal shanks on both sides, starting with the side with the larger bone end. As they are browned, remove to a roasting pan with a cover, just large enough to hold the meat in one layer. Place the smaller end down, so that the marrow remains in the bone.

In the same pan, sauté the onion and garlic in the remaining oil until very soft but not browned. Add the remaining ras el hanout, ginger and lemon juice and zest. Stir a couple of times, then add the chicken stock and dried fruit. Bring to a simmer and pour over the veal. Sprinkle the almonds around the edges, cover, and bake for two hours.

For the garnish, combine the lemon zest with the cilantro and sprinkle over the top. Serves 6.

Ras el hanout:

1 tsp. each freshly grated nutmeg, ground black pepper and ground white pepper
2 tsp. each ground cinnamon and ground cardamom
1/4 tsp ground cloves
1/4 tsp cayenne pepper

Mix all together. Keeps a long time at room temperature in a tightly covered jar.


Anonymous said...

Mrs. Mantia, We can't thank you enough for this recipe. Read it Friday morning in the Commercial Appeal, and finally got to it this afternoon. After decades of cooking and enjoying beef lamb and veal shanks - always in the french or italian styles - this was really a delight! Probably because I used unsalted stock, the lemon cried out for salt, which I faithfully omitted per your recipe. Even so it was a revelation. We added a few dried baby mission figs to the ossu buco along with the dried fruit you suggested, as well as to our couscous. This is a keeper! Thank you again.

Anonymous said...

and I almost forgot to say - thank you so much for the common sense marrow tip. I always bemoaned the empty bones - now I know why...

Alyce said...

I've made it twice more. My husband was amazed. One thing he learned when we first started courting: If it's a good recipe and I get a good picture, we'll never have it again. If it isn't good we won't have it again. He always hopes that I get a terrible picture of the ones he likes most!!

JaneR said...

just picked up some ras al hanout at WS outlet. I LOVE north african cooking, what I have had. Will try this soon.