Friday, December 04, 2009

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.


Mike Spies said...

Looks delicious, Mike. Cold weather does stir the appetite.

danontherock said...

Fantastic post and pictures. that last picture looks very good. I process my own meat and I ground the shank with a powered grinder. I am sorry for doing so looking at this post


Wandering Owl said...

That is way mouth-watering. I'm not a big braiser, but that looks awesome.

Terry Scoville said...

Looks really good. It's getting down to the single digits and below here this weekend, time to start making a pot of stew. Thanks for the inspiration!

mdmnm said...

Mike, Wandering Owl, Terry- Thanks!

Dan- Moose shank would probably feed four or five! I hope you give it a try next time and let me know what you think.

Trout Caviar said...

Folks who think that a beef tenderloin is the height of cuisine are simply those who've not encountered the beauty that is a braised shank or hunk of pork belly. The pig foot made me think of Fergus Henderson, the British chef who has led the revival of "nose to tail" eating. His books "The Whole Beast" and "Beyond Nose to Tail" are both worth looking into. Thanks for that extremely appetizing report~ Brett

mdmnm said...


I checked Henderson's book (which I really like) before starting on the shank. Also, Bodio used a bit of pig foot. While the braise was nice, it got really good after a couple of days in the refrigerator, then being re-warmed.

jrblack94 said...

I really enjoyied your post pictures they are in great taste.

Hunter Angler Gardener Cook said...

Nice dish, and yes, you are right about it needing mushrooms. This works with all venison shanks, BTW, and you can leave smaller ones from antelope or does whole -- they are the same size as a lamb shank.

One tip I can offer on the searing: Don't sear the side of the shank with the bone exposed. If you do, it weakens the membrane holding the whole thing together, making the shank far more likely to fall to pieces once braised.

Henrique Abrantes said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
mdmnm said...


Thanks for the tip with regard to searing! I was surprised the shanks came apart, as that is some really tough connective tissue.

EcoRover said...

Thank you very much for the link to the shank recipe--saved deer & elk shanks for the first time this year (usually trim them off for sausage) and looking forward to the meal.

We butcher all our own meat, grind our own sausage. Elk ribs we usually save for summer BBQ, but deer & antelope ribs get shaved right down to the bone. The ravens & coyotes are always dissapointed when I recycle the carcass.