Wednesday, June 22, 2005

Saving a Condemned Cut

I can't stand to throw away food. I won't try to salvage moldy bread or sour milk, but it bothers me that I let it go bad in the first place. So my heart sunk last night when I poked around the refrigerator and found a package of osso buco that I had purchased nearly a week ago. I even flashed back to the moment at Andronico's meat counter when I decided that it would make a great braised dish.

The sell-by date was June 17, so I decided to do the "smell test." I braced myself for ungodly funk, but instead got, well, meat. I sniffed again and found no traces of ammonia or signs of rot. Smiling, I pulled out a pot and my chopping board. I told John that we would be having braised osso buco for dinner.

I rubbed salt and white pepper on the meat and browned it over high heat. I deglazed the pan with Marsala and added chopped shallots, carrots, celery, and parsely. I stirred in some tomato paste and two bay leaves before I realized that I didn't have any chicken stock. I've braised meat entirely in wine before, so I decided to substitute Marsala for the stock. I covered the pot, turned down the heat, and crossed my fingers that it wouldn't turn out too sweet.

John and I sipped glasses of Navarro 2002 Pinot Noir, Méthode à l'Ancienne while the meat cooked over low heat for two hours. The alcoholic vapors hit the nose a little hard, but it was juicy and soft on the tongue with a mellow finish. We shook our heads at the 14.5% alcohol content--California winemakers have been making booze-y cabernet sauvignons and zinfandels for years, but pinot noir loses the nuance of berry, earth, and smoke in this style.

After two hours, I set aside the osso buco and strained the braising liquid. I set it over high heat to cook down to a rich sauce while I sauteed diced carrots, celery, and corn. I rested the meat over a bed of vegetables and pooled the sauce around the dish. John sliced some Arizmendi City Bread, a dense, chewy sourdough to accompany our meal.

It was late--8:45--when we finally had dinner, but the osso buco was fork tender. The gelatin had broken down to baste the meat and enrich the sauce. Slow cooked meat is certainly worth the work, and it's certainly worth rescuing from the forgotten corners of the refrigerator.

You're back!! Yea! More please.
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