cooking by the weather (and a lazy man's hint for butchering)
We've had a bit of weather blow through and more on the way. Colder weather lends itself to some very satisfying cooking- stews, soups, braises, long roasting and other slow techniques. In much the same way, some of the tougher cuts of meat are more fun to mess with. A chunk of backstrap is a wonderful thing. Sear it or grill over a hot fire, dressed only with a bit of salt and pepper, and you have a nice meal. Tougher cuts, though, that take some cooking, seasoning, and tenderizing, are both more challenging and, in some ways, more satisfying. Not that I'll be giving up (or giving away) backstrap anytime soon.
In any event, the last elk I put into practice a technique I'd been thinking about for a while. Instead of trimming the shank all the way out and turning it into stew meat or cutting out the big tendons and grinding it for burger, I used a saw cut a couple of the shank portions across the bone and froze them, bone, sinew and all, for braising. I never got around to cooking those during cold weather last spring and now it's the right weather to braise. That and we're about down to the odds and ends of that elk.
Pretty, aren't they?
Steve Bodio wrote about cooking elk shank a while back so, with that in mind and a glance at a couple of osso bucco and daube recipes, off we went.
I browned a half of a pig's foot in some olive oil first:
While it was browning, I tossed the shanks in a bit of seasoned flour:
Once the pork was brown, I removed it and browned the shanks on all sides. In turn, they were taken out and replace with a head's worth of garlic cloves and couple of onions.
A bit of browning for the veggies, then I deglazed the pot with a bottle of (inexpensive, not very good) wine. Once the wine began to boil I added a couple of cups of elk stock and returned the meat along with a bouquet garni of rosemary, sage, and oregano.
Covered, the whole thing was banged in a slow (250 F) oven for the next few hours. Once the meat was fork tender I took the lid off the pot and let things thicken up a bit, adjusted the seasoning, and added a precious half-cup of elk demi glace I'd made a while back. Meanwhile, rolls went into a much hotter oven.
Along with a nice red wine, mashed mixed root vegetables, and a green salad, a very good meal for a cold night.
The first few elk and deer I processed on my own, I didn't have access to a grinder and cut everything into stew meat. Getting enough sinew and silverskin out of the lower shanks took a long, long time and the waste about outweighed the meat recovered. Even once I started grinding my own burger, the shanks were more than a bit of a chore. You can't grind the big sinews in them and all that silverskin hangs up the grinder. This way, that connective tissue was cooked into submission and contributed to a rich, winey stew. I'll cheerfully trade a few hours of running the oven for hours of knife work, especially with such a nice result. Next time, a few mushrooms added wouldn't be amiss.