by Dan Born
Looking back on the hunting trips of my past, I am horrified to have to account for all the shanks that were casually tossed into the trimming pile, destined for the grinder to be made into so many breakfast sausages, burger patties and casseroles. Sadly, I don’t think I was the only one committing what I now see as tantamount a sin on the level of the kind found on Moses’s tablets. That type of thrifty, easy to scale, function-over-form style of cooking which has long dominated the rural, Germanic-protestant northern Midwest I hail from certainly has its culinary highpoints (looking at you pickled herring in cream sauce and tater-tot hotdish), but bone-in cuts of red meat like the shank, that require a low and slow cooking process, largely fell by the wayside.
That needs to stop. Don't get me wrong, I love venison burger; we eat at least 2 pounds of it a week in our home, but you can make some amazingly rich and flavorful dishes with the shank, and I’m confident that one will never again see the grinder in my kitchen.
Osso buco (or ossobuco, osso bucco) is an Italian dish made from cross cut shanks braised with vegetables. The name translates to "bone with a hole," which describes the marrow hole in the center of the bone cross section. Traditionally made from veal, the recipe works wonderfully with the shanks of wild ungulates like deer and elk. Someday I hope to make this dish with black bear.
Two whole, frozen venison shanks sawed into 2-inch disks. A standard hack saw works great for this task, though I prefer a Japanese style pull saw, which cuts on the backward motion and results in a finer, more controlled cut. I wrap the shanks whole in paper while butchering the deer and then keep them in my freezer, sawing the shanks into discs while frozen and letting the individual pieces thaw in my refrigerator prior to preparing the meal.
1 cup flour seasoned with salt and pepper
3 tablespoons bacon fat (vegetable oil works if you don’t have the bacon grease)
2 tablespoons butter
1 medium onion, chopped
1 small bag baby carrots, chopped.
2 cloves garlic, chopped
2 stalks celery, chopped
1 tablespoon tomato paste
1, 14 ounce can crushed tomatoes
1, 8 ounce can of beef stock
1 cup of red wine
3 tablespoons of Italian seasoning (or 1 tablespoon each of individual seasonings like rosemary, thyme, and oregano.
2 tablespoons chopped parsley.
1. Roll shanks in flour seasoned with salt and pepper.
2. Brown the shanks in the bacon fat in a hot, large cast iron skillet or other appropriately sized stovetop pan. Don’t crowd the shanks. Set shanks aside.
3. Add butter and sauté onions, garlic, carrots and celery for 5-6 minutes over medium heat or until slightly browned.
4. Add crushed tomatoes, tomato paste, Italian seasoning and ½ your beef broth and wine. Reduce heat and simmer for a few minutes.
5. Add shanks on top of the bed of vegetables and enough wine and broth to submerge ¾ of the shank disks.
6. Simmer covered for 4 hours, checking periodically to add additional wine or broth should the liquid evaporate too much. Cooking times will vary with the size of the shank. When the meat is just about ready to fall off the bone, it’s done.
7. Serve over polenta, risotto or even potatoes. Sprinkle a bit of the minced parsley on top for added presentation points.
Chef's Note *Although the dish appears "fancy" by most modern American standards, it has long been considered a working-class meal as shanks were cheap and easy to obtain. Delicious and simple to make, if your hunt results in a harvest, make sure to save those shanks for this most excellent dish.