In Texas, over the couple of decades or so, the lowly “beef cheek meat” has become one of the most favored beef cuts for making soft tacos using low, slow, moist cooking to make the naturally tough cut tender and juicy. Tacos made this way from cheek meat are great, but we believe we’ve found an even better cut for tacos. Osso Buco is an Italian term that describes cross-cut beef shank. In Italian, “osso” means “bone” and “buco” means “hole”. Technically, Osso Buco is classically veal shank, but beef shank is widely referred to as Osso Buco as well. Whether you call it cross-cut beef shank or Osso Buco, this is a low value cut that when braised becomes very tender and juicy. And slow cooking with the bone adds flavor and “bone broth” health qualities, and the marrow from inside the bone melts into the beef and adds incredible flavor.
Osso Buco, or "cross-cut beef shank", when braised slowly until "falling off the bone" makes incredible taco meat, with the melted bone marrow adding flavor
For this dish, the meat can be cooked in a variety of ways. The traditional way of making "Barbacoa" was to slow cook in a pit. These days, most people are not in a position to dig a pit, so oven roasting, slow cooker "crock pot", and more recently, the use of the "Instant Pot" pressure cooker has gained in popularity. The key is to keep it "low and slow" to ensure that the connective tissue breaks down and the meat becomes completely tender. We often braise the cuts of Osso Buco in the oven in a pan with a little water in the bottom, wrapped in foil to keep the moisture in. We used the Instant Pot method to cook the taco meat in the pictures with this recipe.
The recipe is easy, but it does require a little pre-planning since the Osso Buco cuts must be slowly braised until they are “falling off the bone”. There are many options for seasoning the meat, and for sauces, that can be found by investigating "barbacoa tacos" online, but here we will offer up a recipe for both the Osso Buco taco meat, as well as a topping sauce that we find to be outstanding.
After lightly browning the Osso Buco it should look something like this. In this case we used an "Instant Pot" to braise the Wagyu Osso Buco relatively quickly (2 hours), but other methods such as slow cooking with water in a pan in the oven, or roasting slowly in a grill or smoker, works as well. The key is to cook the Osso Buco "low and slow" until it is super tender and "falling off the bone".
For this recipe we used 6 cuts of Wagyu beef Osso Buco, with a total weight of around 5 lbs., which will result in around 3 lbs. of finished meat product, resulting in around 8 to 12 tacos, enough to feed around 4 hard-working ranch hands, or around 8 city folks.
To prepare this dish we first lightly brown the cuts of Osso Buco on a cast iron griddle that we first wiped down with a small amount of leftover Wagyu fat. Into the Instant Pot we added 1 quart of water, 2 tbsp. pink Himalayan salt, 2 tbsp. ground black pepper, 1 tbsp. cumin powder, 1 tbsp. cayenne, 1 clove of finely minced garlic and 4 tbsp. Worcestershire sauce.
For this particular event we used the "Instant Pot" pressure cooker to cut the cooking time substantially. Very simple - just put the meat and cooking seasonings into the pot and press the "Meat/Stew" button.
Using the faster-cooking Instant Pot method, we simply placed the lightly browned pieces of Osso Buco beef and the cooking seasoning ingredients into the pot and pushed the “Meat/Stew” button on the front of the Instant Pot. The timer automatically set for 2 hours, and we left the default “Keep Warm” feature on the Instant Pot set to "on" so that it would say warm after finishing cooking.
After braising, your Osso Buco should look something like this - beef "falling off the bone" tender, and the bone marrow melted out of the bones.
We started the Wagyu Osso Buco in the Instant Pot in the early afternoon, and then went about our work day until close to dinner time. So the Osso Buco beef cooked in 2 hours and was then automatically kept warm until we returned to finish making our tacos. We used a strainer to strain the meat and bones out of the liquid and transfer to a glass oven pan. We then removed the bones, ensuring that all of the bone marrow was left in the meat. We then “shredded” the beef using two forks, breaking up any chunks of meat so that we were left with a pan full of relatively fine "shredded" beef as shown in the picture. We then placed the pan in an oven at 150 degrees to let the excess moisture evaporate. This process needs to be monitored, and it is best to stir and turn over the beef a couple of times during this process, which should only take around 10 to 15 minutes. As soon as the excess moisture is cooked off at low heat in the oven the Wagyu Osso Buco beef is ready to make tacos! During this oven time we prepared the toppings.
After moving the beef to a flat oven pan, the removing the bones and "shredding" the meat with forks, and baking in the oven at low heat to remove excess moisture, the beef should look something like this.
While the Ossoc Buco beef was in the oven we prepared the toppings, including an aioli sauce (described below), chopped cilantro, halved cherry tomatoes, and quartered limes. Others might like chopped onion, diced jalapenos, or other types of sauces. There are many ways to dress a soft taco, but this is how we did it this time. We think the garlic-flavored aioli sauce complements the meat well and adds a great, complimentary flavor. But if you don't like garlic you might want to investigate a different topping sauce, of which there are many possibilities.
For our aioli sauce, we first finely ground together our garlic, parsley and cilantro using a Mexican volcanic stone "Molcajete" until we had a fine puree.
To make the aioli sauce, we crushed and then ground into a pulp using a Mexican volcanic stone Molcajete (a mortar and pestle) 2 medium-sized cloves of garlic (can be adjusted based on your desire for garlic flavor), adding 1 tbsp salt, 1 tbsp. ground black pepper, 1 tbsp. Ancho Chili powder, 1/4 cup chopped parsley, 1/4 cup chopped cilantro, and then squeezed in the juice from an entire lime. We then whisked together 1/2 cup of mayonnaise and 1/3 cup of olive oil, and then blended in the garlic/spice mix described above, and mixed the sauce well using a wire whisk.
We then combined our olive oil, mayonnaise, and garlic/parsley/cilantro mix.
Serve the taco meat on soft, warm tortillas (corn or flower depending upon your preference), and drizzle a small amount of the aioli sauce on top of the meat, and top with the optional “sides” of cherry tomatoes and chopped cilantro. Optional “sides” can include multiple other types of sauces, finely chopped Ancho pepper, finely chopped Poblano pepper, chopped onion and chopped parsley.
We then whisked the ingredients together to make a smooth, tasty aioli sauce for our tacos.
THE OSSO BUCO TACO
We have sampled a lot of tacos. We love a properly prepared Wagyu cheek meat taco, but on a comparative basis, we think the Wagyu Osso Buco taco wins for flavor. The slow braising with the bone and bone marrow seems to be the difference. Enjoy!