Veal shanks are popular in many European cuisines, but it’s in osso buco, the northern Italian classic, that they can be at their most heavenly. Osso buco— veal shanks that have been browned and then slowly cooked in a sophisticated and subtle tomato sauce—has an undeserved reputation of requiring large amounts of both time and expertise in the kitchen. Like most braises, it does require slow, gentle cooking to become tender, and it does taste better when made a day ahead of serving, allowing its wonderful flavors time to settle and meld. But few dishes are more forgiving or more seductive. And the truth is, osso buco doesn’t take much hands-on time, nor is the cooking difficult. It’s simply a question of breaking down the steps.
Shop for 1-1/4-inch-thick shanks. Choosing thick veal shanks ensures that the meat will stay moist. You can go thicker if you want; just expect the braising time to be a bit longer.
Brown the shanks well. This is essential for succulent meat and a deeply flavored sauce. To get a nicely browned crust, don’t crowd the pan. At the same time, you don’t want too much room in the pan or it will get too hot, and the shanks could burn.
Braise the meat with tomatoes and in a moderate amount of flavorful liquid. This will yield the deep, rich sauce you’re looking for. After an hour and a half or so in the oven, the meat will start to pull away from the bone. At this point, you can be pretty sure the meat is done. But to be certain, there’s nothing like taking a little taste to confirm their velvetytender texture.