When I was growing up in western Michigan, we usually processed our own deer in our garage. My father would make my two brothers and I put on white butcher’s aprons and then he’d stand over us while we trimmed away every speck of gristle or connective tissue using the same Rapala fillet knives that we used to clean perch and bluegills. Especially irksome was dealing with venison shanks, which were nearly impossible to clean to his strident gristle-free specifications. By the time we finished a shank, there’d be barely enough meat to make a mini-burger. At the time I figured that there must be a better way of dealing with shanks, though I wouldn’t realize how right I was until many years later. With this recipe, butchering shanks is as simple as pulling the skin away and then cutting them into discs with hacksaw. It’s really that easy. The ultimate creation, called osso bucco, is the perfect winter-time creation. It’s a rich and warming dish that’ll impress the hell out of friends and family.
Two whole venison shanks, sawed into discs about 1½ inches thick. A butcher’s saw, a band saw, or a standard hack saw all work great for cutting shanks, especially if the shank is frozen or slightly frozen. (When I’m butchering a deer, I wrap the whole shanks in plastic wrap and butcher’s paper and then stack them in my freezer like firewood—or rather, bars of gold. When I want to prepare osso bucco, I remove the shanks and saw them in the morning, then let the pieces thaw before I begin cooking.)
1 cup flour
3 tablespoons vegetable oil
2 tablespoons butter
1 or 2 medium onions, depending on taste, finely sliced
4 cloves minced garlic
3 medium carrots, diced into fine cubes
2 stalks celery, diced
1 tablespoon tomato paste
2 8-ounce cans of vegetable stock, beef stock, or water
1 14-ounce can crushed tomatoes
Salt and pepper
1 tablespoon each of finely chopped rosemary, thyme, and oregano (optional, but strongly recommended)
2 tablespoons chopped parsley
Set oven temperature at 325 degrees.
Over a medium-high stovetop burner, heat the oil in a heavy Dutch oven or similar sized cooking vessel. Dust the discs of venison shank in the flour. Then, working with three or four at a time, brown them on all sides in the oil. Set the browned discs aside on a platter.
Melt the butter into the same Dutch oven and sauté the onion, garlic, carrot, and celery for about seven minutes over medium heat or until softened and slightly browned. Then lay the pieces of shank flat side down over the bed of vegetables, so they form a single layer.
Pour the crushed tomatoes over the meat, along with the tomato paste. Add ½ teaspoon salt and ½ teaspoon pepper, then pour in enough of the stock or water to bring the liquid up to the top of the shanks. Do not submerge the meat, just barely cover it.
Cover the pot with a tight fitting lid and place it into the oven. Let it cook for a minimum of three hours, preferably four. Check on the dish approximately every hour to make sure the liquid level doesn’t drop too low. If it evaporates to a point that the shank pieces are only half-submerged, add some more stock or water to bring the level up to the three-quarter mark. It’s done when the meat can be picked away from the bone easily with the tip of a fork. Adjust salt and pepper to taste, and serve each disc of osso bucco over a bed or couscous or polenta (available in most any grocery store.) If you want to get fancy, add a bit of minced parsley. It’s worth the extra effort. And make sure to dig out the little bit of marrow in the center of the bone and spread that on a toast point. You’re in for a treat.
Now get hunting, and cooking!