Surprise Your Sweetie with a Valentine’s Day Dinner to Remember.

Surprise your sweetie on Valentine’s Day with a delicious home-cooked dinner. The menu: Red Wine-braised Osso Bucco with Citrus Gremolata, Parmesan Polenta and Arugula Salad.  And for the dessert, the delicious chocolates your honey brings you, with another glass of wine or a good cup of coffee. (Note: the Osso Bucco is not difficult to make but takes a long time in the oven, so plan accordingly.)

Red Wine-braised Osso Bucco with Citrus Gremolata

Braised Veal Shanks
2 cross-cut veal shanks, at least 1 1/2 inches thick
3 Tablespoons canola oil
Salt and Pepper
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1 cup chopped onions
1/2 chopped celery
1/2 cup chopped carrots
1 Tablespoon chopped garlic
2 Teaspoons tomato paste
1 bay leaf
2 springs of fresh thyme
3 parsley stems
1/2 large orange, segments only
1 cup red wine
1 quart rich veal or beef stock

Gremolata (optional)
1 teaspoon lemon zest
1 teaspoon orange zest
1 teaspoon minced garlic
1 teaspoon finely chopped parsley
Combine all ingredients and let flavors mingle at room temperature for 1 hour.

1 cup coarse-ground yellow corn meal
6.5 cups low-sodium chicken stock, hot
1/2 cup grated parmesan cheese
2 Tablespoons unsalted butter, room temperature
Salt and pepper

Arugula Salad
4 cups loosely packed baby arugula
Salt and Pepper
3 Tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
1 Tablespoon apple cider vinegar

-Heat oil in a oven-proof pot with a lid, just big enough to fit the veal shanks
-Season the shanks well with salt and pepper.
-Lightly dust with flour on all sides, patting off the excess
-Place shanks in hot pan, allowing to brown, avoiding moving them for several minutes. Brown all sides in this manner.
-Remove browned meat from pot and place on a plate, saving the juices.
-Add onions, celery, and carrots. Cook over moderate heat until lightly browned. Add garlic and tomato paste. Cooking, stirring frequently, until tomato paste turns “brick” red.
-Add red wine, scrapping the bottom of the pot. Simmer until reduced by 1/3.
-Return the shanks and collected juices to the pot.
-Add beef or veal stock, just enough to come about 1/2 to 2/3 of the way up the pieces of meat.
-Add thyme, parsley stems, bay leaf, and orange segments, bring to a simmer, cover pot, and place in oven at 300F for 2.5-3 hours.

You can prepare the dish a day or two in advance up to this point. Cool and refrigerate until the big day.  Then reheat and finish.

-Once tender, move meat to a warm place and strain the braising liquid through a fine mesh strainer into a small sauce pot. Simmer until the sauce coats the back of a metal spoon. Keep warm until ready to serve.
-Spoon 1/2 cup sauce over each veal shank. Top with a pinch of gremolata

-While the Osso Bucco is in the oven, bring 5 cups of chicken stock to a simmer saving the other 1.5 cups to adjust the thickness of the final product.
-Once simmering, “rain in” the corn meal gradually, stirring continuously to avoid sticking, lumps, and scorching.
-Once all the corn meal has been added to the stock, turn heat to low and allow to cook, stirring occasionally for 45 minutes to an hour. If the polenta becomes too thick or looks dry, add some of the remaining stock.
-You can tell when the polenta is done when the texture turns from grainy to creamy, the corn meal having absorbed the cooking liquid and softened.
-Remove polenta from heat and stir in the butter and parmesan.
-Taste and add salt and pepper as desired.

Arugula Salad
-Place 1 tablespoon of apple cider vinegar in a stainless steel or glass bowl. Add a pinch of salt and pepper.
-Gradually whisk in the 3 tablespoons of olive oil
-Place arugula in separate bowl, seasoning the dry greens lightly with salt and pepper
-Drizzle just enough dressing over the greens to lightly coat them (no soggy salad!)
-Toss gently.
-Plate immediately to avoid wilting

Some food for thought
Osso Bucco, literally “bone hole” in Italian, is a name for a veal shank, essentially the shin bone of a veal calf. Traditionally, for Osso Bucco, the shank is cut into a cross section, exposing the inside of the shank bone and the hole the hides the delicious marrow, hence the name. This recipe yields a rich, soul-warming winter meat that, paired with a glass of red wine, candle light, and a lover’s company will surely make for an unforgettable romantic evening. This is a delicious dinner that is full of flavor but is relatively easy to execute, with the braised meat and long-cooked polenta being more or less forgiving of the down falls of an easily distracted cook.

It is a general rule that “low activity muscles” (or muscles that are not used very much by the animal) are the most tender, but are often lacking in flavor and complexity. A beef tenderloin, for example, is a muscle that is barely ever used by the cow and is therefore very tender. However, the filet doesn’t have a huge amount of flavor in of itself.  It is one of the most expensive cuts of meat on a menu, one because the name recognition of “filet mignon”, and second because there is a limited amount of tenderloin per animal, making the cost higher.

Conversely, muscles that get a lot of exercise (think legs, shins, shoulders, and tongues) are relatively cheap cuts of meat and are packed with flavor; all you need to know is how to render those tough pieces of meat in melt-in-your-mouth deliciousness. The name of the game with these tough cuts is “low and slow”. Either BBQ, slow roasting, or most commonly braising will yield a moist, tender final product.

Braising is what we call at school a “combination cooking method”. It is so named because it is a combination of both dry and moist heat applications. First, one must season (salt and pepper) and sear the pieces of meat over high heat with minimal amount of fat (canola oil, etc.). Note: High heat is required to sear the meat properly, so don’t use butter or olive oil, as it may burn.

After browning the meat on all sides, thus caramelizing the proteins to add essential flavor and color to the final product, flavorful liquid (stock, wine, etc.) is added to the pan to release the bits of caramelized proteins stuck to the bottom of the cooking vessel. The meat is cooked until completion in this flavorful liquid at barely a simmer until it is moist and fork tender (generally several hours. Once the liquid reaches a simmer, the cooking pot can be covered and placed in an oven, anywhere from 275F to 325F).

With several hours to kill while the meat is braising, you are able to take you time and complete the rest of the meal. The meat could even be braised a day ahead of time, since it is commonly said that Osso Bucco only improves, the flavor becoming more developed, the longer ahead of time it is made. If braising the meat ahead of time, once the meat is fork tender, remove the pot from the heat and allow the meat to cool completely, remaining submerged in the cooking liquid to avoid moisture loss. When ready to serve, reheat the liquid and the meat, then remove the meat and keep in a warm place (the lowest temperature at which you can set your oven), strain the cooking liquid, reduce it to a sauce consistency (a rapid simmer), and serve. General guidelines call for at least 1/2 cup of sauce per portion, so don’t over reduce! ENJOY!

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Author My First Apartment

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Sam is originally from Boston, MA. He studied ecology and Spanish language during his undergraduate degree at Hampshire College (Amherst, MA). He then went on to train as a chef at the prestigious Culinary Institute of America (Hyde Park, NY) and earn an introductory certification from the Court of Master Sommeliers in San Francisco in 2013. He currently lives in Barcelona, Spain and works as a culinary tour operator, wine educator, and food/travel writer for several outlets including My First Apartment. You can check out his blog at Zucker and Spice Travel.

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