Nothing like rainy days — days and days of rain — to bring out the braised meat urge in me. Storms slow us all down, and there must be some sort of aromatherapy going on when you fill your home with the smell of slowly cooking goodness. On such days, braised deer shank really does it for me.
There is nothing quite like a shank, whether it be lamb, beef, veal or, yes, deer. For the hunters out there, we all know that we really shouldn’t waste a deer shank, but shanks have so much sinew and connective tissue there really isn’t much to do with them. So most of us grind it for burger meat.
This is a shame, as my shank-eating friends will attest. Shanks, frankly, suck if not cooked slowly and for a long, long time. The only other thing you can do with a deer shank besides braise it is to put them in a stock, or the classic Taiwanese beef noodle soup. But well-browned deer shank, bathed in aromatic juices and served falling off the bone? Seriously good stuff.
Shanks always need a good sauce, but which sauce?
You need something bold for a shank, and I immediately thought about a shank recipe from my friend David Leite in his book The New Portuguese Table. Leite’s recipe has includes a lot of warm spices — cloves, cinnamon, allspice — as well as molasses. I love molasses.
Naturally I can’t leave well enough alone, so I modified Leite’s recipe by adding chiles and juniper berries, doubling the red wine called for and by finely pureeing the sauce at the end. Why puree? Because you can use the leftover sauce to dress pasta.
Typical sides for a braised deer shank would be a mashed thing and a green thing. Why mess with the formula? I really like mashed celery root, maybe with a couple tablespoons of mascarpone cheese and a knob of butter — if you’ve never done the mascarpone and mashed veggie thing, try it! Heaven. And for the greens, any greens you like; lambsquarters are my favorite.
The sauce is sweet-savory-spicy-hot-rich (did I mention there are four ounces of pureed, simmered homemade bacon in it?). The deer shank you can eat with just a fork — no knife needed. Silky-smooth and super flavorful.
Could you do this recipe with a lamb shank? You bet, although it will not be as flavorful because the animal was young. If that’s what you have, I suggest making my Greek venison shank recipe instead. This recipe works better with a hunk of beef shank, or the shank from a hog. Hunters, don’t hesitate to use this recipe on wild boar or elk shanks, too.
If you want to go another, lighter route, try my recipe for braised venison shank with garlic.
Braised Venison Shanks, Portuguese Style
- 4 small deer shanks, or 2 large ones
- 1 teaspoon black peppercorns, cracked
- 1 teaspoon allspice berries, cracked
- 1 teaspoon juniper berries, crushed
- 8 cloves
- 1 cinnamon stick
- 1 hot dried chile
- 2 bay leaves
- 4 ounces bacon, cut into chunks
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 2 yellow onions, minced
- 1 head garlic, cloves peeled and chopped
- 1 bottle red wine
- 2 cups beef stock or venison stock
- 2 tablespoons molasses
- Salt shanks and set aside. In a heavy pot with a lid (a Dutch oven will do), put spices and herbs in with the wine and molasses. If your bacon had the rind on it, put that in, too. Turn the heat to medium-low. Preheat the oven to 300°F.
- Pour olive oil into a second pan set over medium heat. Fry the bacon slowly, turning all sides to get crispy. As each piece crispifies, toss it into the pot with the wine. Do not let the wine pot go past a gentle simmer. When the bacon is done, brown the shanks on all sides except the one with the bone; this helps the shank stay together after long cooking. Take your time on this one, and do this over medium heat. It could take 20 minutes. Move the shanks to the wine pot, bone side sticking up.
- Put the onions in the frying pan and turn the heat up to high. Toss to combine. You will notice the onions will deglaze the pan. After about 3 minutes like this, add the garlic and toss to combine. Continue cooking until you hear the sound change: That’s onions losing enough moisture to begin browning. Cook another minute or two.
- Pour in the stock and mix it well with the onions. Bring to a furious boil and make sure you’ve scraped everything off the bottom of the pan. Add to the wine pot, mixing in with all the other ingredients. Make sure the shanks are still bone side up. Cover and cook in the oven for 3 to 4 hours. Venison, being wild, is difficult to gauge doneness — you might have shot an old deer, or a yearling. Each will require different cooking times.
- When the meat is almost falling off the bone, remove it gently and tent it with foil. Fish out the bay leaves, cinnamon stick and as many cloves, peppercorns, allspice and juniper berries as you can in a few minutes. It’s OK if you don’t get them all.
- Puree the sauce in a blender or pass it through a food mill set on a medium setting. It should be thick. Pour over the shanks and serve at once with mashed root veggies and something green.
Michael Herr says
This meal is amazing. The ingredients can be difficult to find depending on your location, but they are worth it. This meal will make a shank lover out of any hunter!
Thomas, just shorten up the bone to fit your pot, that’s how I do shanks that have not been cut into medallions. Just don’t toss any of the meat!
Hank, any suggestions on how to fit these in a oven-proof pots? Just saw off the bone that has no meat to make it shorter, or would putting it in a pan and covering with foil work?
I’ve made this a few times and it’s ridiculously good. Finely slicing or chopping onions seems to work just fine, as grating them is a major time suck and not fun. Also, 45 min prep time is a little more accurate, but it’s absolutely worth the effort.
Jason Hedlund says
Never again will I be grinding shanks into burger. This recipe was phenomenal. I took mine out at exactly 3 hours, and it was perfect! What wonderful and unique flavors! Just a faint glow of heat from 1 dried pepper; I’ll be adding a 2nd next time.
Wow. I just cooked this exact recipe. It was really amazing! Truly one of the best venison meals I’ve ever eaten…and I’ve eaten quite a few.
I can’t believe I’ve killed/eaten at least 12 deer in my life and this is the first time I’ve tried the shanks. Due to my ignorance of this, I’ve wasted 9 deer worth of shanks by grinding them up into burger, cooking as stew meat or making jerky.
My daughter and wife loved it so much they want to have it for our yearly Christmas meal!
I’ll never ever ever grind or cut up another shank.
If you haven’t tried this, you need to!
Welll I’ve been eyeing this since before deer season this year. It looks so good!
I have two rear shanks in the oven now. It makes the whole house smell wonderful. We’re just going to have some of my wife’s famous mashed potatoes for the side. I can’t wait to tase this dish. Now if I remember to come back and post how I like it. I’m sure it will be great though.
Craig guy says
hank, that was truly an amazing recipe! I’m in Australia, and I made it with some sambar shanks I shot a few weeks back. It was spot on! Had it with roast fennel and dirty rice. I ll be talking about it for weeks, and I reckon our guests tonight will be too! Made me look like a chef ? . I’m not great with the computer, but if you can get me details on how to get your recipe book, it’s as good as sold! Thanks again!
After an absence from shooting for 15 years I have just returned to the sport my Father taught me from the age of 6.
I currently have a Roe doe in the freezer and I have kept the shanks, I will try your brazed shanks and let you all know how they come out
Rod Hassler says
Quick question: I’m making these now, but my shanks are a bit big for the dutch oven. How much of the meat needs to be covered by the liquid while cooking?
Hank Shaw says
Rod: You’d want at least half the shanks under the liquid. Make sure the meat end is facing down, so it gets best contact with the liquid. And you might want to turn them over once while you are cooking. And be sure to keep the lid on the pot.
Kirk Edwards says
Thanks Hank for the shanks! Or shanks for the memories!
My girlfriend and I loved this recipe so much that I saved my last whitetail shanks of the season to have for our Valentines Day dinner. I happened to see some very ripe plantains in the local grocery when I was shopping. A light bulb appeared above my head and I thought, these would be a great compliment with this dish. I used to live in Key West a long time ago and I remember how well ripe plantains went with a rich cuban meal. And I was right. The plantain slices slowly pan fried in a little butter, crisp on both sides and soft in the middle, were wonderful with these shanks. I highly recommend the combination to anyone who can come by the plantains when they are going to try this wonderful recipe. We did oven roasted beets and steamed beet greens with it last time and they were good too. But I liked the plantains better, with mashed potatoes and asparagus. Any way you do it, this will remain my go to way to cook venison shanks from now on. Thanks Hank.
Just made this recipe tonight and it was AWESOME. Thanks so much for posting. I’ll be making this again when I get my hands on some more shanks next fall.
Gillian mason says
I’m looking for a venison hock terrine recipe do you think if I cooked them as above I could press the meat afterwards or would it be to dry without the sauce ?
Just made this with a single shank from a Colorado mule deer buck. Fed three with sides of mashers and kale and lots of wine. In this case, 8 hours with a little extra water seemed to be ideal: 6 hours at 300 degrees two days ago, then a day in the fridge while I figured out who to invite, then a 2-hour reheat at 275 degrees this evening.
It’s ridiculously good, and I’ve got 3 cups of the blended sauce to pour over a more traditional roast, or just to sop up with good bread. I like backstraps like everyone else, but I’ve begun to covet the shanks and give them the white glove treatment when butchering. There’s a little bit of magic as the tendons and silver skin disappear into a moist, delicious chunk of meat. Warning: this is a gateway recipe – you’ll start to reconsider your venison cut hierarchy, and you may just have a lot less burger and chili to contend with when the next hunting season comes around.
Just tried this recipe with some medium sized doe shanks and they were fantastic. I’ve always loved lamb shanks and these tasted very much like the best I’ve ever had. They took exactly four hours in the oven to get tender. I served them with wild rice and mixed greens (kale, mustard, and turnip) and they were a huge hit. It’s great finally finding something to do with the shanks other than just grinding them up (and having them bog down my grinder in the process). Thanks for the recipe. By the way, I’m on my third copy of your book. I’ve loaned it out twice and have never been able to get it back, which is either an indication of the high quality of the book or the low quality of my friends.
Thanks for this awesome recipe, We enjoyed this one last night with gnocchi in the sauce. I overdid the molasses, but added the dregs of coffee (steeping all day in the french press) to bring back the sweetness and to make up for not having any stock.
John Carroll says
I was just introduced to this site by a friend. A few weeks back I had asked the butcher to save the shanks from my deer rather than grind with sausage meat. I can’t wait to try this. than you.
Hank Shaw says
Christian: They freeze just fine. Wrap them in plastic wrap, then butcher paper. They cannot be easily vacuum sealed unless you have a heavy duty model. The shanks I made this recipe with were frozen…
Hank, how well do the whole shanks freeze? Any problem with freezing shanks for awhile before braising them? I’ve always been frustrated trying to separate the shank meat from the “compartments” of silver skin on small to mid size deer.
hank, your pic looks frenched. Any technique to this? french from bottom up?