If I could shoot one animal per year for my freezer it would be a nice, youngish, cow elk. They are the perfect table fare. Tender, flavorful and ample in proportion elk are like giant whitetail deer.
With a large animal there is always scrap and trim that needs used. Cooking is not at its best with easy to use items – think backstrap – but when underutilized things are made to shine. One easy to make shine item is the shank meat. Shank meat is essentially the calf and forearm of an animal. In the fancy restaurants of my past I would serve lamb shanks in the winter like hotcakes. I would charge upwards of $35 a plate for them as well. When I started thinking back to all the shank meat on the deer and elk I had killed I realized most of it went through the grinder and into burger. A true shame.Shank meat is ungodly tough, right? What makes shank meat different is the very thing that makes it tough, connective tissue. That same tissue, if cooked long enough, melts into the most buttery and luscious sauce. What happens in the naturally occurring gelatin breaks down and incorporates into the cooking liquid. But this takes time, shanks are slow food. Mmm tasty slow food.
Anyway, enough science, how about a nice recipe?
Elk Shank with Red Wine and Rosemary
Pre heat oven to 300 degrees, or turn on crockpot to “low” setting.
1 elk hind shank, deboned, bone reserved (this should feed about four people, it will be very rich)
½ cup flour
2 tablespoons butter
Salt and pepper
1 ea white onion, chopped into large chunks
2 large carrots, peeled and chopped
10 cloves garlic
10 sprigs rosemary, 5 for the braising, 5 for the finishing sauce
2 cups red wine
2 quarts water
2 tablespoons thyme
Roll the deboned shank meat in the flour. Heat a large cast iron Dutch oven on medium and add the butter. Brown the shank meat on all sides in Dutch oven in butter. When brown add the onions and any remaining flour to the pan. Season with salt and pepper. Stir onions around to avoid flour clumps from forming.
Next add the carrots, garlic and half the rosemary. Let cook for one minute and then add the red wine to “deglaze” the pan (remove the brown bits from the bottom of the pan, those are good things). When at a boil add the remaining water, just enough to cover the meat. This can change depending on the size of the pan, but two quarts should be more than enough.
Let cook in oven, covered very tightly, for 4-6 hours or until fork tender. Fork tender is defined as tender enough to stick a fork into the center and twist, feeling little resistance. When fork tender remove the Dutch from the oven and place on kitchen counter.
The cook is now faced with a dilemma – serve hot or let cool and serve the next day. Braised meat, as a rule, is always better the next day after having time to settle and reabsorb flavors. But, in the real world, this does not always happen.
Either way when you go to eat the shank remove the meat and reduce the sauce in in the pan. When it starts to thicken add the remaining rosemary and the thyme. This will brighten up the whole dish. Serve over mashed potatoes or polenta for a great, rib sticking meal.