Lamb shanks: at top of ranks – On Food

Lamb shanks: at top of ranks – On Food – Column

Florence Fabricant

“I intend to keep the lamb shank on the menu,” said Alison Price-Becker, the owner of Alison on Dominick Street, a restaurant in New York’s SoHo. She was referring to what might be considered the signature dish created by Tom Valenti, the chef who has gone on the Cascabel, another downtown restaurant. Alison on Dominick Street was one of the first to feature this hefty but lowly cut.

Meaty braised or roasted lamb shanks and also veal shanks are now being served coast to coast, often in the Italian osso buco style, but in other ways as well.

Osso buco made with veal shank has been a frequent item in Italian operations for many years. At Cesarina in Manhattan, a restaurant under the same ownership as the Villa D’Este resort on Lake Como in Italy, a “classic osso buco” is what is served. With saffron-tinted risotto milanese, of course. Capsouto Freres in Manhattan may be French, but it has room on the menu for osso buco milanese.

A veal shank osso buco is a main dish at the new Good News Cafe in Woodbury, Conn. But here it is made with a saffron tomato sauce and served with creamy polenta.

Lamb osso buco is the trendy new twist. At the new Park Avalon in Manhattan, a lamb osso buco comes with vegtable orzo. And Mad. 61, also in Manhattan, serves braised lamb osso buco with roasted tomatoes, runner beans and pearl onions. Ciao Baby in Washington serves lamb osso buco braised in port wine with mixed beans, risotto, coarse mustard and rosemary. Strictly speaking, osso buco is usually not the entire shank but a think slice of it with the bone. Osso buco simply means bone with a hole. But many operations serve the entire shank as the so-called lamb osso buco.

As a straightforward lamb shank, it’s on the menu at Zoe in Manhattan, wood-braised and served with fennel, kale, tomatoes and herbed gnocchi. Vince & Eddie’s in Manhattan serves a braised lamb shank with black cherry sauce and mashed turnips, Avenue Grill in Mill Valley, Calif. offers braised lamb shank with polenta and piperade, and Colony Bistro in Miami Beach includes an oven-roasted lamb shank with goat cheese potato and rosemary-thyme jus among its main dishes.

Lamb shank apparently sells in Miami Beach despite the weather. It also sells on the lunch menu at Arcadia in Manhattan. But not for light lunchers.

Gus’s Place in Manhattan has a Mediterranean menu that includes a braised lamb shank tagine, a variation on a Moroccan dish seasoned in traditional fashion with orange peel, prunes and pumpkin seeds and served with couscous.

The lamb shank, or lamb osso buco, has been able to ride the coattails of the classic osso buco. And now the veal shank, a cut of meat rarely encountered in fine- dining establishments in the past, is coming into prominence, probably as a result of the popularity of the lamb shank. Both represent the return to rich, hearty cooking, a trend that turns its back on the quick grill and saute and is a boon for the line under pressure to turn food out cooked not only to order but also to a particular degree of doneness during dinner service.

The veal shank in French is jarret de veau and emerges richly burnished, served for two in a copper pan, from the kitchens of Le Cirque in Manhattan. It should be sliced thin, parallel to the bone. Something Different in Indianapolis also serves a braised veal shank with fall vegetables, orecchiette and natural juices.

T-Rex in Manhattan offers a braised veal shank with asparagus risotto, grilled asparagus, caramelized shallots, garlic and pearl onions.

Not only are braised lamb shanks and veal shanks, veal osso buco and lamb osso buco becoming increasingly popular, but in some operations the variations on those dishes are reaching new extremes. For example, at Amarcord, a new New York restaurant featuring the cooking of Emilia-Romagna, the heart of Italy, there is now an “ossobuco di tacchino” on the menu. This is a turkey leg braised in white wine and served with spinach, leeks, herbs and polenta. Braised turkey leg definitely does not have the sex appeal of “ossobuco di tacchino,” but in creating this menu interpretation, the many Italians in the front- and back-of-the-house at Amarcord seem to have forgotten the definition of osso buco, the bone with a hole.

And then there is a salmon osso buco served at Circa in Philadelphia. It consists of salmon wrapped around sea scallops, which are supposed to look like the marrow in the bone. The dish is served with roast tomato broth, risotto cake milanese, lemon and asparagus. But such playfulness is not new. Chefs in the past have created “gigot” of monkfish, “loins” of tuna and “carpaccio” of salmon.

COPYRIGHT 1994 Reproduced with permission of the copyright holder. Further reproduction or distribution is prohibited without permission.

COPYRIGHT 2004 Gale Group