In my continuing quest to learn to cook, I’m using two main sources: a lifetime membership to Rouxbe, and the much cheaper book The 4-Hour Chef, by Tim Ferriss. Tonight was an adventure from the latter source. His first adventure, you might say.
See, instead of most cookbooks (even most beginner cookbooks) that might have a whole bunch of appetizers, then a whole bunch of soups, then a whole bunch of poultry dishes and so on, Ferriss organizes the main section of his book (“Domestic”) from easy to less-easy. A list of the recipe titles, in order, can be found here (pdf). You might notice the first one is Osso “Buko”, a sort of cheater’s version of Ossobuco. Ferriss calls this “an amazing standby dish that will never fail you.” I decided to give it a try.
Ferriss has a general rule in the “Domestic” chapter: no more than 5 ingredients per meal (not counting garlic, salt, pepper, and oil). The ingredients in this one are lamb shanks, carrots, tomatoes, and white wine. You’d think, with only four ingredients, this would be pretty easy. Despite that, three of the four gave me a hard time:
1. San Marzano tomatoes. Two problems with this one: first, while Ferriss calls for a 15-oz can, the only ones in my grocery store were about 27 oz. Second and more important problem: additives. Both Ferriss and Rouxbe are quite clear on what makes good canned tomatoes: no additives. No citric acid, no salt. The addition of these two additives can indicate that the tomatoes were picked before they were ripe, and are generally considered lower quality. Sadly, the only can of San Marzano tomatoes (indeed, all the cans of whole tomatoes of any sort) in my grocery store had both citric acid and salt. But since I didn’t feel like going to a specialty store, I decided to just bite the bullet, buy the San Marzano tomatoes with the additives, and call it good.
2. Lamb shanks. I went to three different stores before I found these. My normal grocery store doesn’t have a butcher counter and didn’t have any lamb on the shelves. My mom’s grocery store had a butcher counter, but they didn’t have any lamb shanks. The butcher offered to give me a much larger leg of lamb, but I had no idea how I’d butcher it, so I turned him down. Finally, I went to a butcher near Vendome metro, where they did indeed have frozen lamb shanks in packages of four, so I picked one up. The shanks were a bit bigger than Ferriss recommended (about 15 oz instead of 12 oz), but I figured it was fine. They were also fairly expensive compared to my normal groceries: $26.50 for four shanks.
3. White wine. Now, Ferriss may have been a wine connoisseur long before he knew how to cook, but I’m the opposite. Marc and I rarely drink wine, and I pretty much never buy it for the house unless I’m cooking with it. I was kinda paralyzed with indecision in the grocery store, until my mom (who also rarely buys wine) offered to give me a bottle she had sitting around the house, a 1991 vintage from Israel. I said sure and took it home, whereupon I discovered the other problem with rarely drinking wine: I managed to cork the bottle. See, I wasn’t able to take the foil off, so I just tried to use the corkscrew without taking off the foil, and… yeah. Splintered the little cork all over the place. Marc tried to fix it, failed, and I wound up resorting to prying as much as I could with a knife and then dumping the rest of the cork into the bottle and just straining the rest. (I realized later I should have strained it through a coffee filter to remove the tiny bits, but there’s hindsight for you.)
Ferriss also notes that you should be using about a third of a bottle of wine, but I think I was using a bigger pot than he was, because it took nearly a full bottle to get the meat halfway covered. Seriously, there was an ounce and a half left in the bottle, which I strained into a wine glass (I had to wash the dust off it first — that’s how long it’s been since we’ve had wine), tasted, puckered, and then strained through a coffee filter so that I wouldn’t be drinking cork. Oops.
Anyway, a few more observations:
– Scrubbing vs. peeling carrots: Ferriss recommends just scrubbing the carrots instead of peeling them. I found this harder, and it saved no time. It took about 12 minutes to scrub 10 carrots, and I still didn’t find them cleaned to my satisfaction. It also took a lot more elbow grease than just peeling them would have. Yes, it avoided having a bunch of carrot peels around, but I think next time I’ll just peel them.
– “Pan Savers”: Ferriss suggests something called a pan saver, which I gather is a heat-resistant bag that you can put into the pot so you don’t need to wash it after. I found some huge oven bags at my grocery store (“turkey size”), but they were very expensive and I decided that washing one pot was an acceptable end-of-meal chore. Especially since Marc’s washing it, because I cooked. *grin*
– Dutch oven vs. pot: One of the things I’m not super-impressed with in Ferriss’ book is his list of equipment. It’s fairly long and quite detailed, down to the brands and very particular specifications. Now, this would be a great guideline if you were starting a kitchen from scratch, but I find that for most people, you’ve already got a lot of kitchen equipment floating around. Ferriss calls for a cast iron Dutch oven/skillet combo set. (He recommends the Lodge LLC3 Logic Pre-Seasoned Combo Cooker.) I’d much rather see a list that says, for example, “An enameled cast-iron Dutch oven is best, but any sort of heavy-bottomed pot that can go in the oven is fine. Heck, even a casserole dish or roasting pan with a tight lid will do if you have one the right size.” I have an 8-quart non-stick pot that Marc’s parents gave me as a gift, is moderately short and wide, and is oven-rated up to about 400 F. I used that. It turned out fine.
– Ease: I’ll grant that it’s a very easy recipe. Once you’ve got your ingredients ready, you just toss them all in a pot, put it in the oven, and walk away for two hours. My kind of cooking.
– Recipe: I find that Ferriss’ “shortcut” recipe is too shorthand, but his long-version recipe is way too detailed. I made up my own version. It’s somewhere in the middle:
Tim Ferriss’ Osso “Buko”
Source: 4-Hour Chef, “Domestic” lesson 1
Tim’s shorthand version: 350F 2h: Cook lamb, 1 bunch halved carrot, 1 can whole tom, 5 minced garlic cloves, 2T EVOO, 1 3/4c white wine, S+P
– 4x 12 oz / 340 g lamb shanks (jarret d’agneau)
– 1 bunch carrots, scrubbed and halved
– 1 can (15 oz / 425 g) whole San Marzano tomatoes
– 5 cloves minced garlic or 3-finger pinch powdered garlic
– 2 tbsp olive oil
– ~1/3 bottle white wine (dry)
– 2 three-finger pinches salt
– 10 hard turns pepper
– gremolata (lemon zest, 2-4 tbsp parsley, 1-3 cloves garlic) — optional
– thaw lamb 1 hour prior to cooking
– preheat oven to 350 F
– place carrots in bottom of dutch oven
– add lamb, tomatoes, garlic, and olive oil
– add white wine to cover 1/2-3/4 of the meat
– add salt and pepper to taste
– cover and cook for 2 hours
– garnish with gremolata (optional)
In the end, it was… fine. It could have been seasoned more (garlic, salt, and pepper wasn’t quite enough, even with all the white wine and tomatoes). It could have used some rice as a side — and, yes, I know that Ferriss is a big proponent of the “slow carb diet”, but neither Marc nor I are on it, so it’s not a huge consideration for us.
In the end, though, it was expensive for what you get. The lamb shanks were $26.50. At about $14 per kilo, they’re about on par with boneless, skinless chicken breasts. But a lot of the weight is bone; there’s not a ton of meat on each shank. I got the wine for free, but if I’d had to buy it, it probably would have been about ten bucks. So figure the whole meal was about $40 for four servings. That’s a lot for us. At that price, I’d probably just go to a restaurant. (Marc and I tend to frequent restaurants where, even after tax and tip, it works out to about $12-15 per person, not much more than this meal.)
So, does it live up to the hype? Is it “an amazing standby dish that will never fail you”? Well, it’s certainly easy. And if I were having company over and wanted something I could pull out of the oven whenever I was ready (and had a spare 2-3 hours at home before they arrived), this is certainly something I could use. But I’m not sure I’d make it for an everyday weeknight meal. It’s too expensive, and it’s not stand-out stellar. I actually prefer our freezer/crock-pot meals. But it’s pleasant enough, and I suspect the leftover liquid will work very well to cook rice. Oh, and I got to play with bones, which makes any meal better. Just ask my mom or grandma. (We Rubin women are bone gnawers. I come by it honestly.)
Final verdict: Tasty, but I’m not rushing to make more.
Update: Using the leftover braising liquid 50/50 with water made some very, very tasty rice.