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I'm specifically wondering this in the context of ossobuco, but this probably goes for a range of stew recipes. Every ossobuco recipe I've come across tells you to dredge the meat in a (light) coating of flour before browning and subsequently stewing it. Now, I get that the flour has a role to play to thicken the stew, but for that purpose it seems like it would be far more convenient to add the flour to the pot separately, making sure of course to fry it some to get rid of the raw flour taste (and possibly even to brown it a little for extra flavor).

So, what if anything, is the point of putting the flour on the meat? Could it be to aid browning? But then I feel like I could brown my veal shanks perfectly well without flour, and that might actually lead to a nicer flavor as you'd be browning the actual meat instead of the flour (and you could even brown the flour separately to get the best of both worlds).

If it's to form a crust (just guessing here), then I don't really see how that gels with the thickening argument (unless that's totally wrong), and in any case my experience making ossobuco before (where I diligently followed the traditional method) was that the meat doesn't really hold a crust anyway being stewed for hours (nor does that seem particularly desirable).

Any ideas? Does anyone know the (putative) reason, or does anyone have experience trying it both ways?

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3 Answers 3

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I'd say the reasoning is three-fold.

  1. It cooks it first, in oil, so it's not going to go lumpy when liquid is added, same premise as a roux but one-pot.

  2. It saves having to make up a slurry later, which wouldn't benefit from the bit of maillard you'd get with a pre-fry, so it's in all likelihood good for your flavour profile too.

  3. And, historically, once it's all simmering in the pot, there's less reason to have to mess with it during the cook time; set & forget for busy cooks or traditionally housewives who had a myriad additional tasks to perform whilst dinner's cooking.

…and a late 4. It measures itself, flour to meat surface area is a constant. Presumably as any cook will usually be using approximately the same 'chunk' sizes, that gives consistency across multiple meals, even with differing overall meal/pot sizes.

Just to be clear - nothing in any traditional recipe is absolutely necessary. You can change what you like - but the result may no longer be as 'as intended' by the original recipe.

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  • Hmm, I appreciate your input but I'm not sure I follow. The alternative I'm proposing is still one-pot, with no need to make up a slurry. You would just add the flour to the mirepoix after the latter has sweated for long enough, and fry this a little before adding the liquid and returning the meat to the pot. You're just coating the veg instead of the meat, and the veg is easier as you can simply stir in the flour as it fries. As for consistency, I would counter that for thickening the sauce it would be better to maintain a constant ratio of flour to liquid, not flour to meat surface area. May 12, 2023 at 19:46
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    You wouldn't get any browning in your sofrito/mirepoix. I hadn't considered you'd be doing that separately. With any traditional recipe like this I try to use one pan, ingredients added in 'necessary order', like it would have been done before modern chefs started interfering;) If I'm ever in doubt about variations in a recipe, I always try to see if The Guardian have done it - they test out famous variants to try come up with a 'best'. Happily, they've done osso bucco - theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/wordofmouth/2014/mar/06/…
    – Tetsujin
    May 13, 2023 at 6:40
  • Oh cool, I love that Guardian series as well - thanks for the tip. Not sure why you think there'd be no browning of the flour when adding it to the mirepoix? In a big enough pot with enough heat I'm pretty sure it would brown just fine. Of course you'd do it after the mirepoix has already sweated down, otherwise there will be too much moisture. See for instance this recipe for espagnole sauce which does the same thing: epicurious.com/recipes/food/views/espagnole-sauce-231202 May 13, 2023 at 11:16
  • Well, you chose the word mirepoix… which by my definition & Wikipedia's is never browned.
    – Tetsujin
    May 13, 2023 at 12:00
  • You end up browning the flour deeper than you would with a roux (or obviously with a slurry), but if you don’t add extra fat to the pan, you make use of the fat that renders from them meat. You don’t need this step (and I think America’s Test Kitchen has done the experiments), but it gives you fairly consistent results for those not familiar with making a roux
    – Joe
    May 13, 2023 at 12:20
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Flouring meat is absolutely NOT required in stews. I made what amounts to a chicken stew the other night and I didn't thicken it till the end. In fact, a stew doesn't necessarily need to be thick at all*. The recipe I was using, from Julia Child's "The Way To Cook" (pages 144 & 147), calls for making a chicken simmered in white wine and then making a "blanquette" by separating the meat and vegetables from the stew, making a roux, adding the fluid from the stew and finally adding some cream for texture and to thin it to taste. I have used this method with beef and to make goulash as well. For every cup of fluid you have put aside from the stew (defatted and strained) mix 2 Tablespoons of Butter and 2¼ Tablespoons of flour over low-medium heat in a saucepan and whisk them at least a few minutes to get rid of the flour taste. Then whisk in the fluid from your stew. Once that is done, taste for adjustments to your salt, pepper, etc. and finally add some heavy cream until you get that perfect consistency. Believe me, it will be an exquisite feeling in the mouth. Pour it over the solid part of the stew and serve.

There are a few advantages to this method: The flavors intermingle more and quicker because convection moves a thinner liquid around more quickly and there is less chance of burning the stew on the bottom of the pot. It does take a few minutes longer but I think it is well worth it.

*(I know, isn't it soup then? Not if it has a lot of stuff in it that won't fit in a spoon...)

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I decided to simply do my own experiment and I can report back that adding the flour separately worked much better.

I made my ossobuco as I normally do, but this time instead of flouring the meat, I browned the meat without flour, set it aside, then sweated the soffrito in the same pan with some butter, before adding the flour. The flour browned perfectly well, and after deglazing with wine it made a nice, smooth and even base sauce to which I added my stock, crushed tomatoes, herbs and meat. After several hours on a bare simmer the result was the best ossobuco I've ever made.

I like this method way better as I always find flouring the meat to be cumbersome and imprecise, and browning the floured meat never worked to my satisfaction either. I feel like you end up primarily browning the flour and not so much the meat, and the flour afterwards tends to fall off in chunks. Of course the flour must come off the meat to bind the sauce, but then (as I said in my original question) that defeats the purpose of putting it on the meat. I also have the impression that adding the flour separately leads to better results as far as binding the sauce is concerned, as the flour browns and distributes through the sauce more evenly. Last but not least, I found it easier to brown the meat this way - you actually get to brown the meat itself directly, and you don't have to worry about burning the flour. Oh and even laster but not leaster: it's nice not to have chunks of browned flour in the pan when you add your soffrito.

5/5 would recommend.

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