Friday, 18 February 2011

Osso buco

The best thing about working at the Evening Standard, which I did from 2005 to 2007, (although for fuck's sake don't tell the Student Loans Company that - as far as they're concerned I was missing presumed dead in western Namibia and therefore do NOT owe them any money for that tax year), was my boss.

He was so great because he'd always say "well done". It didn't really matter what you'd done, he'd always just say "well done". I mean, not if you'd done something bad. If you'd done something bad he'd say "oh dear". And then when you put it right, he'd say "well done".

Call me simple as a drooling gun dog, but that worked on me. Although I'd had nice bosses in the past, none of them had said "well done" with the frequency and fervour of Sebastian.

"Seb I got you a sandwich," I'd say.
"Oh well done," he'd say.

"Seb I rang Antonia Fraser about that thing," I'd say.
"Oh, well done. What did she say?" he'd say.
[She almost always said "fuck off", by the way]

"Seb I forgot to put through all those payments," I'd say.
"Oh dear," he'd say. "Can you do it now?"
"Yes I'll do it now," I'd say
"Oh, well done," he'd say.

You get the picture. On Fridays, I used to get us both chicken shwarmas from Ranoush Juice, just opposite the Evening Standard's offices in Kensington. Ranoush Juice is one of a chain of Lebanese places that will be familiar to Londoners, and not to anyone else. We'd eat the sandwiches at our desks, stinking the place out. On Fridays at the Standard there was nothing to do after about 1pm because there was no paper until Monday. So at about 3pm Seb would say:

"Okay, well done, you can go home now." And off I'd go. You see? I literally hadn't done anything, and he's say "well done". Awesome. It did wonders for my productivity. I would write 100 or maybe even 200 words a week in that place. Phew!
A note: our Friday lunches only lasted until Ariel Sharon had that heart attack; it turned out that his favourite food was chicken shwarma and Sebastian didin't want any after that.

Needless to say, I cried tears of genuine sadness when I left the Evening Standard to go and work at the Independent. And in the 12 months that I worked at the Indy I don't think anyone ever said "well done" to me. Not once. Ever.

As you can imagine there were no tears of sadness when I got the hell out of there.

But I had been infected with the habit of saying "well done" to everyone, about everything. It's a great motivator. I do it to my husband all the time.

"I put a wash on," he'll say.
"Oh WELL DONE," I'll say.

Recently, my husband has been mostly making dinner and I find that, even though before I had the baby he promised he would do a lot of cooking, it's vital to say "WELL DONE THIS IS DELICIOUS WOW WOW WOW" when we sit down. And it works because he's really kept at it.

Last night we had Osso Buco, which is one of those things that has a mystifying name but is really quite a simple thing. It's basically veal shin stew and it incorporates bone marrow, which makes the whole thing very glossy and sticky. Osso buco means "bone with a hole", which is a pretty unromantic description - but that's the Italians for you.

Sorry no photo but Kitty was freaking me out all night and the picture somehow never happened. But it's super-tasty, trust me.

When you go to a butcher to get your meat for this, you can ask for either some veal shin (you want rose veal, obviously) or if you like, "osso buco", which is the name of the cut. I know it sounds a bit like going in and asking for some "spaghetti bolognese", but it isn't.

This is a mash-up of Hugh FW and Claudia Roden in that Hugh does not include tomatoes and Claudia Roden does.

This is a pretty rich dish so you really only need one slice of veal shin per person. It is traditionally eaten with a risotto and gremolata but I won't go into that here because Kitty's only just gone to sleep and I need to go and have a shower before the cleaner gets here. I love my cleaner, but why does she always want to come at lunchtime?

Osso buco
For 2

2 slices veal shin
1 large handful, or about 50g plain flour, seasoned with salt and pepper
some veg oil for cooking, plus a large knob of butter
2 garlic cloves, chopped finely
2 medium onions (i.e. not massive, white onions), chopped
2 celery sticks, chopped
1 carrot, chopped - do not be tempted to be clever and use more than one carrot here because too much carrot makes everything very sickly sweet
1 large glass white wine, doesn't matter what
250ml ish light stock - pork, chicken - if you've got a bit less than that you can top up with hot water, do not fret
3 tomatoes (if you want, don't if not - I think they're nice though), skinned. You do this by making a cross in the bottom of the tomato with a knife and then putting them in boiling water for 2 mins and then the skins come off. The riper the tomato the easier this is
salt and pepper

1 In a large pan or casserole dish that goes on the hob, heat together a long sloop of veg oil and the knob of butter. Dust the veal shin in the seasoned flour and brown all over then set aside.

2 To the pan add the garlic, onions, celery and carrot and cook gently until soft. I find the best way to do this without burning everything is to cook it on the lowest possible setting for at least 15 minutes. You may have a better way of doing it, in which case don't let me stop you.

3 Put the veal pieces back in the pan - flat side down so that the marrow doesn't all fall out, then pour in the glass of wine, turn up the heat and sizzle until it's reduced by about half. Add your stock, topped up with water from the kettle if you need to - (mine has a fucking LEAK, it's so annoying... need a new one... any recommendations?) - and some salt and pepper, bring it all to a very gentle simmer, put a lid on it and cook for 2 hours.

4 And that's basically it. Turn the meat once or twice during cooking and keep an eye on the liquid level - if it looks like it's drying out, throw in some more stock or water. After 2-ish hours take the lid off, turn the heat up and bubble to reduce the sauce a bit.


  1. My God, that sounds delicious.

    I had a great kettle when I still lived in the UK. It NEVER leaked once, poured very smoothly and boiled quickly. It did light up blue, but it wasn't as gimmicky as you may think. It's only mid-range, but extremely good value for money; felt very well-made.

    I was very sad to leave it behind when I moved to the US (where kettles are SHIT, everyone percolates coffee in the South, they don't do 'hot' tea).

  2. I must've had my Dualit kettle for fifteen years now, and never a moment's trouble with it.

  3. I have a Kenwood stealth kettle, and it's so quiet that you can make cups of tea with a hangover without wanting to chuck a noisy kettle out of the window. It's not actually called a stealth kettle. But it should be.