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?