What can you do with deer shoulder? Lots of things, but it all depends on the deer. I shot a Coues deer recently, and, as you may know, they are very small deer. So small I decided to slow cook a whole shoulder in one shot.
I love doing this. When you have a cut of meat small enough to fit in a pot or roasting pan, you really owe it to yourself to leave it on the bone and cook it whole. Why? You get the benefit of all that connective tissue, and the meat stays moister when it’s on the bone. Still, with venison shoulder, you need to cook some sort of pot roast.
Slow, moist cooking is the way to go because it will melt all that connective tissue in a deer shoulder without drying out the meat. This process takes hours.
Which route you take is up to you. I already have a fantastic venison pot roast recipe, that uses Polish cuisine as a base. But I prefer to use venison neck for that recipe. While deer shoulder can certainly be used for that Polish-style dish, I decided to look more south for inspiration this time. Really far south. As in Africa.
Senegal, to be exact. Before you click away, thinking this must be too weird to even try, it isn’t. Senegalese food is heavily influenced by France, which was the country’s former colonial overlord. And while there are some cool Senegalese touches you can add to make this more “African,” the basic recipe is easy to make.
You salt a deer shoulder and then jam garlic cloves into it. You then smear it with a mixture of Dijon mustard, cumin, and black pepper. Slice a bunch of onions to serve as a bed for the deer shoulder, then sprinkle dried thyme on them. Set the meat on the onions, pour over a little stock, seal the whole shebang and cook very slowly until tender.
In Senegal, this is called dibi-style lamb. Normally done with young lambs at a very low temperature, you need to modify it for deer shoulder. I got my inspiration for this recipe from Chef Pierre Thiam’s cookbook Senegal: Modern Senegalese Recipes from the Source to the Bowl, which is a great introduction to one of the most interesting cuisines of Africa.
Notice that there are no “weird” ingredients yet? You can “Africanize” this by using red palm oil instead of peanut oil, and intoxicatingly aromatic selim pepper instead of regular pepper. But it’s not necessary.
Lamb or venison shoulder can then be served with Senegalese tamarind Kani Sauce, which is essentially a tomato sauce with tamarind and Scotch bonnet peppers in it (recipe below). But many Senegalese just serve it with more Dijon mustard.
What to serve it with? Well, good bread is normal. You can also serve your deer shoulder with rice, or with sweet potato-plantain fritters. Or really whatever you’d like.
Everything in this recipe is simple, although, as I mention above, you can add a few West African ingredients to make this a bit more exotic, if you want. Unrefined palm oil can be had in major supermarkets or health food stores, as can tamarind; tamarind is very common in Latin or Indian markets, too. Remember to only do this recipe with smallish deer shoulders, ones that can fit into a pot or roasting pan.
- 1 large onion, sliced thinly root to tip
- 1 head garlic, cloves peeled but whole
- 2 teaspoons dried thyme
- 1 1/2 cups broth or stock, any kind
- 1 deer shoulder
- 4 cloves garlic, cut into little batons
- 3 tablespoons melted palm oil or peanut oil
- 3 tablespoons Dijon mustard
- 3 tablespoons ground cumin
- 2 tablespoons freshly ground black pepper, or selim pepper
- 1 tablespoon peanut oil
- 1 small onion, chopped
- 2 cloves garlic, chopped
- 6 plum or paste tomatoes, chopped
- 1 or 2 habanero or Scotch bonnet peppers, chopped
- 1 bay leaf, crumbled
- 3 tablespoons tamarind paste, seeds removed (some brands still have seeds in them)
- 1 tablespoon sugar (optional)
- 2 to 3 tablespoons Vietnamese or Thai fish sauce
- Salt and black pepper to taste
Line a roasting pan with lots of foil, overlapping so it's reasonably watertight. You will need to completely wrap the deer shoulder, so have enough foil to do that.
Scatter the sliced onion and garlic cloves in the pan, then sprinkle with the thyme. Pour in the stock.
Using a thin knife, stab the venison in various places and shove the batons of garlic inside. Coat the whole deer shoulder with the oil. Salt it well. Mix the mustard, cumin and black pepper together and smear this all over the deer shoulder, getting it into every crevice.
Seal up the shoulder and set in a 200F oven. Roast until tender, which should take at least 3 hours, and as many as 10. With normal deer, start checking after about 5 hours. You want the meat to lift off the bone easily.
If you're making the sauce, do this while the venison cooks. Heat the peanut oil in a large pan over medium-high heat. Cook the chopped onion until translucent, but not browned, about 5 to 8 minutes, stirring often. Add the garlic and chopped habanero chiles and cook another minute.
Add the remaining sauce ingredients, mix well and simmer for about 15 minutes. Turn off the heat and puree in a blender. The sauce should be thick like ketchup.
To serve, give everyone some deer shoulder with some of the juices from the pot, stewed onions and garlic, and serve with the tamarind kani sauce on the side. Crusty bread, rice or sweet potato-plantain fritters are a good accompaniment.
Depending on the age of your deer, cooking can be done in as little as three hours, or as long as 10.If you think you have an older animal, increase the temperature to 225°F.