In certain Northern parts of Italy, the climate is not very favourable to wine and beer and grappa are the preferred alcohols. Grappa is made with grapes, plums, or juniper berries, but can also be distilled from concoctions of camomile and passion flower.
Combining beer with rosemary, sage, juniper and cumin certainly takes us away from the traditional flavours of what we know as osso-buco and it is quite refreshing. The same combination of herbs and juniper can also be used to flavour a pork roast, or even a turkey breast, and it is absolutely divine.
The original recipe called for thickening the sauce with corn starch, but I prefer using a beurre manié for this type of recipe. The result is much more appealing and it gives a better consistency to the sauce. Adapted from The Italian Farmer’s Table.
Stinco di vitello alla birra
4 large veal (or pork) shanks
1/4 cup flour, for dredging
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons butter
1 onion, chopped
1 rib celery, chopped
2 cloves garlic, chopped
3 bottles of blonde beer
1-2 cups chicken broth
1 tablespoon tomato paste
2 bay leaves
1 tablespoon juniper berries, lightly crushed
1 tablespoon chopped rosemary
1 tablespoon chopped sage
1 tablespoon cumin seeds
beurre manié*, to thicken the sauce
*To make a beurre manié, mix equal quantities (by volume) of butter and flour, either with your hands or with a spoon until homogeneous. Use this to thicken soups and stews. In this specific recipe, you will need 1 to 2 tablespoons of butter mixed with the same amount of flour.
Preheat the oven to 300ºF.
1. Season the veal shanks on both sides with salt and pepper. Dredge in flour, shaking off the excess. Set aside.
2. Heat the oil and butter in a large pan over medium-high heat and cook the veal shanks on both sides until deep golden, about 10 minutes. Remove from the pan and keep on a plate. Lower the heat to medium-low.
3. Cook the onions and celery, stirring often, until soft, about 7 minutes. Add the garlic and cook for one more minute.
4. Add the beer, increase the heat to medium-high and cook, uncovered, for 10 minutes, until reduced by half.
5. Add the tomato paste, bay leaves, juniper berries, rosemary and sage and stir. Add the veal shanks back to the pan and then, add just enough chicken broth to come up to 2/3 of the meat.
6. Transfer to the oven and cook, covered, for three hours. Check once in a while to make sure there is enough liquid in the pan, adding more if needed.
7. Take the meat out of the pan and transfer to a plate. Strain the solids through a fine sieve and reserve the cooking liquid, discarding the solids. Bring the liquid to a slow boil and add the beurre manié with a whisk. Whisk until thickened to your liking. Add the cumin seeds and return the meat to the pan. Simmer for about 5 minutes, basting the meat with the sauce, and serve at once over mashed potatoes or with soft polenta.