I love using as much of the deer I get as I can—and that doesn’t always mean using organs. There are plenty of other venison cuts that get discarded or are only destined for the meat grinder. The shanks are one such cut, and they also happen to be one of my favorite parts of the deer.
Often overlooked because they are full of connective tissue, shanks are intertwined with even more of the same silver skin that runs on the outside of a backstrap. For that reason, many people try to grind it; however, most affordable home grinders on the market aren’t really designed to handle tough meat like shanks, and they can dull your blades and clog up your machine.
So what do you do with them then? One option is osso buco, an Italian dish in which the shanks are cut on the bone and then braised in wine and tomato sauce until tender. Done correctly, it is one of the best dishes out there. The only problem is you need a saw to cut the shanks down into usable pieces, and not everybody keeps a bone saw laying around.
An easier option is to cut it off the bone and use it as stew meat. When you braise the shank meat, something very wonderful happens: All that silver skin and collagen in the meat melts out and helps to thicken your sauce. The shanks, which can be tougher than rawhide, become fork tender and the end result is a thick, rich, wonderful stew. This is one of my favorite things to make during the winter. Serve it with a glass of red wine and some overly-buttered sourdough bread for the ultimate comfort-food meal.
VENISON-SHANK FRENCH STEW
2 pounds venison shank meat, cut into 1 ½ inch chunks
8 oz mushrooms (I used wild mushrooms but any button mushroom or shitake would work)
8 oz pearl onions
2 tablespoons of flour plus 2 additional tablespoons
2 tablespoons of ketchup
1 tablespoon Better Than Bouillon Beef Base, or beef granules
1 ¼ cups game stock, or beef stock
1 ½ cups hearty red wine (it should be something you would enjoy drinking)—burgundy, pinot noir, cabernet.
1 cup ruby port
½ cup dry sherry
2 tablespoons brandy
Salt and pepper
1 tablespoon sherry vinegar
Preheat your oven to 350 degrees.
Mix together 2 tablespoons of flour, ½ tsp salt, and a ¼ tsp black pepper and pour it over the cubes of meat. Toss the mixture together to make sure all the meat is covered in flour. In a heavy, oven-proof pot or Dutch oven, heat two tablespoons of olive oil over medium-high heat. Brown the pieces of meat in batches being careful not to overcrowd the pan add more oil as needed. Set the meat aside as you brown it to use later.
Once all the meat is browned, add the mushrooms and onions to the pot and cook for 2-3 minutes. Then, add the brandy to deglaze the pan. Combine the beef base, ketchup and flour and stir to make a paste. Add that mixture to the mushrooms and onions and cook for a few minutes. Pour in all of your liquids except the sherry vinegar and then add the meat back to the pot.
Cover the pot and transfer to your preheated oven. Bake in the oven for 2 -2 ½ hours, then check to see if the meat is tender. Taste the sauce and season as needed, right before you serve stir in the sherry vinegar and top with parsley.