Some of the world's most beloved dishes, such as French cassoulet and good old American pot roast, require long, slow cooking. The low temperatures and long cooking times produce dishes with rich, mellow flavors and lushly tender meats -- but often the time commitment is not convenient. Fortunately, most classic dishes, such as osso bucco, freeze well for those days when you're short on meal-prep time.
Shanks are one of the toughest cuts on any animal, which is why they're typically slow-cooked. They're made up of dense, well-used muscles thickly interwoven with the tendons and ligaments that hold those muscles to the animal's ankle joints. If they're quickly cooked, only the most determined of diners could manage to chew and swallow their gristled, stringy flesh. Yet, when they're slow-cooked, those very characteristics make shanks a delight. The connective tissues dissolve slowly into natural gelatin, moistening and enriching the shank muscles as they soften under the gentle heat.
Many culinary traditions have prized dishes using lamb shanks or veal shanks, but one of the best known is Italy's osso bucco. It's made by braising the shanks in a sauce made with wine and water or broth, usually with a small quantity of tomato paste. When the shanks are fork-tender, the braising liquid is boiled down to concentrate its flavors, becoming thick enough to act as a sauce. They're traditionally served with saffron-scented risotto and a topping called gremolata, a mixture of breadcrumbs, garlic, lemon zest and parsley that complements the rich flavor of the shanks.
Freezing Osso Bucco
Rich, slow-cooked braised dishes such as osso bucco are well-suited to advance preparation. Whether you make your shanks in a roaster or a slow cooker, making a large batch is no more difficult or time-consuming than making a small batch. Freezing and thawing makes little difference to their texture. Allow one shank for every two people if you're cooking and freezing them whole. If you bought your shanks sawed into slices for more convenient cooking, package the slices according to your appetite. Let the shanks cool in the sauce, then package the meat airtight in freezer bags. Freeze the sauce with the meat or package it separately in serving-sized bags or containers.
Reheating Osso Bucco
Thaw frozen osso bucco overnight in the refrigerator, which maintains a food-safe temperature. Or thaw it safely in cold water or in the microwave, when you plan to cooked it on the same day. Refrigerator thawing gives you leeway to postpone your meal for a night or two without compromising food safety. Reheat the meat and sauce in a preheated oven at 250 to 300 degrees Fahrenheit until they reach a food safe temperature of 165 F when tested with an instant-read thermometer. Use that time to cook your risotto and mince your gremolata, or to prepare your own choice of accompaniments.
- On Food and Cooking: The Science and Lore of the Kitchen; Harold McGee
- Professional Cooking; Wayne Gisslen
- USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service: The Big Thaw -- Safe Defrosting Methods-- for Consumers
- USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service: Leftovers and Food Safety
Fred Decker is a trained chef and prolific freelance writer. In previous careers, he sold insurance and mutual funds, and was a longtime retailer. He was educated at Memorial University of Newfoundland and the Northern Alberta Institute of Technology. His articles have appeared on numerous home and garden sites including GoneOutdoors, TheNest and eHow.