With pictures and blog entries posted, I have been getting a lot of dinner requests, more than before. Sometimes it will be an implicit “all we get is to see the pictures and have to sit with our mouths watering” hope for an invitation, and at times it will be a more explicit, “so when will you have me over for dinner?”
I had promised an invitation to a friend, a fellow Hanover-residing Iranian, with a double chin and a certain quirkiness, that I believe has derived from his high-capacity brain overloaded with quantum physics, too much for any human to handle.
I had been wanting to make ossobuco for a while, and decided it was the perfect experiment to coincide with his first theintuitiveeater dinner immersion. Little did I know, while ossobuco is what it is because it is supposed to be a relatively cheap and available cut of meat, in this small town of mine, it was neither. Ossobuco literally means “bone with a hole”, and is a cross-cut veal shank, so the marrow-filled bone falls in the middle of the round cut of meat, giving everyone a few teaspoonfuls of marrow to enjoy. It’s a tough cut, supposing why it should be cheap (but nothing in Hanover comes cheap), and tenders with snail paced braising.
I butcher-hopped until I found a young, cute butcher at one of the Co-Ops, avoiding eye-contact with the older, menopausal butcher woman with a frowning crease in her brow and bloodstains on her apron, to fall into the hands of the tall, blue eyed, short but spiky haired butcher boy, that couldn’t help but smile. It isn’t a breeze to find veal, and specially cuts of veal that aren’t clean, boneless cutlets. Americans are spoiled; everything is cleaned and filleted and portioned, and still have I never seen a nation with so many microwavable options in their supermarkets’ freezer aisle. To get a piece of a labor-intensive cut of meat actually requires flirting. At least up here it does.
My sweet tone, innocent smile, and subtly showing crease finding its way upward out from the front of my white racerback top on a remarkably hot day, sent the butcher boy back and forth from the counter to the freezer, until he found a shank, and promised it was all he had. I asked him to cut it into three evenly thick pieces, and took the frozen parcel home to defrost.
Veal shanks need time, and having to defrost them with only a few hours before sunset, was not an assuring feeling but, I can say it was a panic worthwhile. While they defrosted in a bowl of water, I tended to the sauce; carrot, celery, onion, fennel, rosemary and thyme, browning and simmering in splash after splash of white wine, until the bottle was almost empty (1/4 of the lost wine may have been because I had a glass or two myself, but no more; I never cook under the influence). I tied the meat with smoked bacon strips and string, browned it on both sides, then put it in the pureed vegetable bath and covered it with more wine.
The meat was served on guinea pig made cheesy polenta, and sprinkled with parsley and lemon zest. It could have used another hour of solid braising, but would have made the sensation too good to swallow. We used our small spoons to scoop out the marrow from the center bone, a delicate but fatty treat, condensed with rich notes of heartiness. I was swept away. A wonderful last supper option, with those flavors left napping in my mouth I could have died from satisfaction, or a heart attack.
Nothing was left of our plates except for the bone and string, and we were meat-high, all three of us stoned on succulent veal shanks. I did not hear back from my dinner-guest-of-honor until the following Friday, when he texted me, “I finally recovered. Thank you so much for dinner on Sunday. You guys rock!” That was quite a recovery period. We eat like this all the time- well, not all the time.