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The basics of cooking with bones

Bones are scary if you've never cooked with them, but once you've done it, you'll see that there is nothing to be afraid of after all.

1. Read your recipe carefully and note how the bones need to be cut. Then, head to the butcher. Most oxtail soup recipes call for lengths of 2 to 3 inches. Sometimes, short ribs are cut into shorter or longer lengths. Unless you have a bone saw in a kitchen drawer, you will want your butcher to do the cutting. Ideally, all pieces should be about the same size, so they cook at the same rate. Bones freeze well, so if you only visit the butcher occasionally you might want to pick up some short ribs along with your veal shanks and freeze them for a cold and rainy day.

2. Do take a few minutes before fixing and forgetting your short ribs, osso buco or oxtail soup to brown the meat. The caramelization that occurs during this extra step will add yet another layer of flavor to your dish.

3. When cooking bones, low and slow in a moist environment is the rule. The collagen that holds together the muscle fibers in the meat surrounding bones is extremely tough. Miraculously, when it is cooked to a temperature of 160 degrees it begins to dissolve, rendering the meat tender. But the only way to get the internal temperature of your meat to 160 without drying it out is to simmer gently in liquid. Eventually, the meat will get hot enough to fall apart, but will also stay moist as it bathes in the sauce as well as its own melted collagen and fat.

To test for doneness, gently insert a sharp paring knife into the meat at a few points. If it slides in very easily, it is done. If the meat is still tough in parts, let it cook another 30 minutes and check again.

4. If you'd like to store your cooked bones overnight before serving, separate the meat and sauce into two containers. Skim the solidified fat from the sauce an hour before you want to eat, transfer the meat on the bone to a baking dish and top with the sauce, cover with heavy duty foil, and reheat at 325 degrees until the meat is warmed through and the sauce is gently bubbling, about 45 minutes.

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