Retrospectacle: A Neuroscience Blog

I’ve become a bit more interested in cooking lately, I suppose because of its similarity to performing an experiment. You have reagents (ingredients), follow a protocol (recipe), and have have both positive and negative outcomes (hopefully delicious!). The recent discovery of Cooking for Engineers has also peaked my interest since it often frames cooking in chemical or mechanistic terms, replete with how-to and pictures for the visually-inclined.

This week I’ve gone out on a limb and made a couple of my favorite, yet kinda weird, dishes. These include Tom Yum soup (Thai coconut lemongrass soup) and Chile Relleno (cheese-stuffed poblano peppers). I’m particularly intrigued by Cooking for Engineers recipe for Ossobucco which is one of my all-time favorite dishes. I think I’m going to tackle this recipe next, although I’m a bit hesitant due to the time-intensive nature of the dish (but what a payoff!).

Ossobucco literally means “bone with a hole” or “hollow bone,” which is pretty apt. Ossobucco is braised veal shank with a marrow-bone in the middle, and is a traditional northern Italian dish. The bone marrow in the middle of the bone is edible (and yummy!), and imparts a distintive flavor to the dish. The bone that is ideally used in ossobucco is a young cow’s femur, specifically where it fits into the acetabulum. The trick might actually be procuring such a cut (shown below), ie finding a high-quality butcher.


Does anyone else love ossobucco, and if so, got any cooking tips or a recipe? I’d rather go all out and make it awesome and delicious!


  1. #1 Charlie (Colorado)
    April 7, 2007

    I don’t think I buy the translation — “bue” is ox, hole is “fora” (like “foramen magna”) and “hollow” is “cavit�”. I think it’s Milanese for “little ox bone”.

    But anyway, I love it too, and veal in general.

    Make sure to brown the whole surface, as much as you can; fairly hot pan, and leave the meat alone for several minutes so it has a good chance to carmelize; that’s where the rick brown color and flavor come from.

    You should read On Food and Cooking by Harold McGee.

  2. #2 Charlie (Colorado)
    April 7, 2007

    Well, rats. Okay, that word is “cavita” with an accent over the “a”.

    “*rich* brown color.”

    I need coffee.

  3. #3 Jonathan
    April 9, 2007

    I’ve just made it once but it came out pretty well. I think that the long slow cooking is the main key to getting the flavours into the stock and the meat falling off the bone. There are lots of Chinese variants of ossobucco, mostly from the East of the country, which are superb – they even give you a straw to suck out the marrow 🙂

  4. #4 blf
    April 9, 2007

    I also like this dish and variations on the theme, but being one of those cooks who doesn’t bother (much) with recipes, I don’t have have any (consistent) suggestions…

    I second the suggestion for Harold McGee’s On Food and Cooking (I have both editions!). He has also started a blog recently, Curious Cook.

  5. #5 sagan
    April 9, 2007

    umm Charlie,
    osso means bone, and buco means hole.
    Ossobuco is generally mis-spelt as ossobucco.

  6. #6 d
    April 10, 2007

    I have mixed feelings about raising creatures as product, although I can’t say I’m against it without being a hypocrite. I think the idea of humane slaughtering is oxymoronic, though; if we’re going to be barbarians, we may as well cop to it. Wouldn’t you agree?

  7. #7 Shelley
    April 11, 2007

    There’s a difference between admitting we’re killing things (yeah) and attempting to kill things to minimize their suffering. I think that all methods of killing are certainly NOT equal, and it shouldn’t be up to the meat industry to determine which way it should be. They’ll just go with a cheap way, not a humane way. I personally don’t want to think that the animal i ate suffered a great deal when alternatives were available.

  8. #8 d
    April 11, 2007

    I think I understand what you meant with that first sentence. I don’t think the two things are in contention with one another, though (admitting to killing vs. killing something with as little pain as possible). I agree that businesses will tend to be economical; US history is rife with examples of this (aptly, the best example is from the early meat industry in Chicago). The Wikipedia article on the Humane Slaughter Act impugns one Texas beef company that was “cited 22 times in 1998 for violations that include chopping hooves off live cattle”. I bet that saved some time and money.

    I think that “humane slaughter” is a misnomer. The word humane tints the phrase with a warm feeling that shouldn’t exist around the butcher’s table. People may start to believe we’re doing the animal a favor by knocking it out before we slit its throat. Brecht said that mankind is kept alive by bestial acts, and I agree with him. I think the neatness of the supermarket has taken away this reality from most people, though, which is why I’m cynical about things like this “Humane Slaughter Act”; it’s all show, like those little yellow ribbons plastered on the soccer mom SUVs.

    I do agree with your sentiment that animals shouldn’t suffer. At any rate, I didn’t mean to target you for any particular vitriolic diatribe. I was just digging through the web and came across your article on veal (of which I’ve witnessed the keeping and slaughter of), and I decided to comment on what I was thinking.

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