Eat Wild: Venison Osso Bucco

Turn a underutilized cut into a unforgettable meal.

I have to admit, I came to preparing venison shanks pretty late in my hunting and wild game eating career. Over my 25 years of deer hunting, the shanks (the shin and forearm on a human), were treated in a way common to deer hunters, the meat was stripped from the bone and sinew and tossed in the trimmings pile to be ground to burger. Don't get me wrong, I love venison burger and we eat at least 2 pounds of it a week, 52 weeks out of the year in our home. That said; after cooking this dish for the first time, a shank will never see the grinder again in my shop and I'd be willing to bet you will feel the same way if you give this recipe a chance.

Ossobuco (or osso buco, osso bucco) is a 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 with veal shanks, the recipe works wonderfully with the shanks of wild ungulates like deer and antelope.

Although the dish appears "fancy" by most modern American standards, it has always been a working mans meal. Shanks were cheap and easy to obtain; the osso bucco was traditionally served over risotto, another cheap and easy to make rice dish.

Although it can be enjoyed year around, the rich dish is best saved for the late fall and winter months, preferably shortly after a successful deer hunt.

My take on ossobucco is adapted from recipes provided by Steven Rinella of MeatEater fame as well as the classic LL. Bean Game and Fish Cookbook, which is a great place to start if you are new to wild game cooking. Long out of print, hardcover copies can be found for pennies on Amazon.

INGREDIENTS:

Two whole frozen venison shanks, sawed into 2 inch disks. A standard hack saw works great for this task. I tend to wrap the shanks whole in paper while butchering the deer, freeze them and then saw them into discs while frozen, letting the individual disks 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  

2 medium onion

1 small bag baby carrots

2 cloves garlic

2 stalks celery

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.

METHOD:

Roll shanks in flour seasoned with salt and pepper.

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, brown them in multiple patches of 3-4 if necessary. Set shanks aside.

Add butter and sauté onions, garlic carrots and celery for 5-6 minutes over medium heat or until slightly browned.

Add crushed tomatoes, tomato paste, Italian seasoning and ½ your beef broth and wine. Reduce heat and simmer for a few minutes.

Add shanks on top of the bed of veggies and enough wine and broth to submerge ¾ of the shank disks.

Simmer covered for 3 hours, checking periodically to add additional wine or broth should the liquid evaporate too much.

Serve over polenta, risotto or even mashed potatoes. Add a bit of the minced parsley on top for added presentation points.

Delicious and super easy make, if your hunt results in a harvest make sure to save those shanks for this most excellent dish.