I’m always looking for new wild game recipes and methods for cooking the meat that fills my freezers, particularly at this time of year when I’m trying to finish up last year’s harvest. Sometimes I stumble upon a fabulous recipe that’s just exactly what I’m looking for, just what the doctor ordered, so to speak. More often than not, though, I have to adapt a promising recipe to fit my needs, skill set, grocery list, and/or level of motivation and/or stamina. I’m guessing that most of you do the same thing. That’s why you’re reading this post.
Most recently, I’ve been enamored of the sous vide cooking method because of the way it can be used for preparing all cuts of venison, elk, and nilgai from tender pieces that require a precise 131 degrees fahrenheit for a perfectly medium rare presentation to tougher cuts that must be cooked for a long time to allow the tough sinew to break down into tender, gelatinous, USABLE meat.
I came across a number of recipes for tougher cuts that required 24-48 hour cooking times using the immersion method (sous vide) but I was reluctant to try them. I have to admit that I was skeptical. Would the longer cooking time actually be a time saver if I had to check in on it periodically? Would it produce the “fall off the bone” result that I was looking for?
I relied on David Draper’s Venison Osso Buco for guidance regarding the 24 hour sous vide cook time, adapted it to suit my level of expertise (none) and difficulty. The recipe called for shanks, cross-cut into one-inch sections (the picture looked like 2-3 inch chunks, but never mind that). I had lots of shanks in the freezer. However, I wanted a recipe that allowed me to use whole shanks without having to cut them into rounds. So, technically, what I intended to make wasn’t osso buco since “osso buco” translates to “bone with a hole” or marrow bone which is acquired by the cross-cut shank. In an attempt to make the recipe a bit easier to put together, I wanted to see if it would work with whole shanks. A single shank with sauce on a bed of pasta would serve at least two people. While an authentic osso buco with cross-cut shanks creates a stunning presentation, ease of preparation certainly has its place in the wild game culinary realm.
I followed Mr. Draper’s recipe for the sauce, adding a bit of oregano, thyme, and salt to taste. I prepared the recipe twice, the first time with two smaller shanks and the second with one larger one, tweaking my method along the way. The smaller shanks and sauce were divided and fit easily into 1 gallon zip bags which I attached to the side of the pot with clothespins after the water had reached 176 degrees fahrenheit. My second attempt used a larger shank was too long for a one gallon zip bag. I had to use a vacuum bag custom-cut to the length I needed for my shank plus the sauce. Rather than heat-sealing the vacuum bag, I pushed most of the air out of it, folded over the end, and taped it closed using packing tape. I attached the bag to the side of the pot with plastic clips, once again after the water had reached 176 degrees fahrenheit.
Using the immersion method for such a long period of time presented a problem with evaporation. During my first attempt, the water level dropped several times, causing the machine to turn off. Luckily I caught it before the water temperature had dropped so much that cooking stopped. I tried to balance the lid atop the pot, using a potholder to tip the lid so that collected water was redirected back into the pot. I still needed to check the water level and add water two times. For my second try, foil was placed over the pot with the center of the foil slightly punched down to redirect condensation back into the pot. I still had to add water a couple of times.
A great thing about using the sous vide method is that it’s incredibly forgiving. I knew that the meat wouldn’t be overcooked, dry, or tasteless. The long cook times for tougher cuts to fall off the bone are approximate, even within a few hours. I began the shanks the evening before I was to serve them. Because I was new to the long overnight cook time, I was apprehensive so the “ease of preparation” aspect didn’t pan out. I think I will become more comfortable with practice. The result was wonderful, though. The meat fell off the bone!
Honestly, I felt the the whole shank, bone-in, made an impressive presentation in and of itself.
Over all, I would recommend the sous vide for shank and other cook-all-day cuts of venison, elk, nilgai, etc. There are specially made sous vide containers on the market that have lids that fit around the device preventing evaporation. They are available online and at restaurant supply stores. I will probably be picking one up. This method enabled me to prepare a recipe that I would otherwise have overlooked until much cooler weather had I required a long cook time in the oven.
Go for it. Save those shanks this season. Let me know how it goes.