Wish I Tried This Venison Shank Recipe Sooner
I have a terrible confession. While growing up hunting, our family never used the venison shanks (essentially the lower leg if you’re unfamiliar). They were simply discarded with the bones. When I asked why we did it, the answer was, “there’s just no meat on them.”
As I got older, it really started to bother me. So I started trimming the meat off of the silver skin and sinew to get a measly handful of meat to add to the burger/sausage pile. Honestly, it did seem silly, but I didn’t want to just toss it out either.
You probably already know, but I try to utilize more of the deer each year I take one. Mostly I do that by continuing to try new venison recipes.
- I’ve always loved cooking the heart with onions.
- I made my first batch of venison bone broth one year ago, which actually did use some shank meat.
- This year, I also saved the caul fat (from around the stomach and intestines) to wrap meatballs and meatloaf with.
Well, I finally also set my mind to making an awesome venison shank recipe. And it seriously changed my approach forever.
Why Are Venison Shanks Tough?
First, why are the deer shanks such a tough part of the animal to prepare? The deer shank is a powerful muscle that they use constantly to get around. Located on the bottom section of their front and hind legs (think forearm and calf muscles on us), it is a workhorse of a muscle. To be so strong, there are several thin sheets of muscle sandwiched between layers of connective tissue (sinew and silver skin).
In cross section, it looks like you could easily trim them clean. But it’s a losing battle that takes forever for minimal return. And we hate adding all those tough membranes to our sausage/burger simply because it binds up the grinder. So where do you go from there?
Obviously, the Internet
Luckily, I actually found a lot of venison shank recipes in short order. In fact, I felt embarrassed I hadn’t tried one sooner.
I’ve mentioned it before, but I love watching MeatEater (i.e., I binge watch it on Netflix). I was inspired by a clip of Steven Rinella talking about preparing venison shank adobada. The recipe is covered in his brand new cookbook, The MeatEater Fish and Game Cookbook. He also discusses venison shank osso bucco in several videos.
Similarly, Hank Shaw has a ton of great wild game recipes, including several ways to cook venison shank. I looked through a few to get a general feel for the preparation and process. Unfortunately, I was almost paralyzed about which venison shank recipe to use, since they all sounded amazing!
The common consensus is that the best way to produce a great venison shank recipe is to braise it slowly in liquid. So, I got the crock pot/slow cooker out and got busy. In the end, I think I kind of averaged a bunch of recipes out, using the principles from several to create my own simple dish. But it was anything but simple tasting – it was phenomenal!
Slow Cooker Venison Shank Recipe
First, let’s talk about how to cut venison shanks. I simply separated the shanks at the joints (from a deer I killed this fall) and froze them whole. As they unthawed, I realized it was far too large to fit into my slow cooker. So I used a hatchet to chop them in half – it’s what I had on-hand, but a saw would produce a much nicer-looking cut. I also took my time to look for bone fragments just so it wouldn’t end up in the stew.
I then heated some butter and oil in a Dutch oven on the stove top and browned the venison shank pieces on all sides. After browning, I moved them into the crock pot/slow cooker, and turned it on the high setting. Into the still-hot Dutch oven, I cooked my onions and carrots for about 8 minutes, adding chopped garlic, fresh rosemary, and salt and pepper for the last minute. I added a heavy pour of red wine (I used a Cabernet Sauvignon) and turned the heat off.
After adding some small red potatoes on top of the shank pieces, I dumped the Dutch oven concoction into the slow cooker. To this, I added two jars of my homemade venison bone broth and one can of beef broth so that the shanks were covered in liquid (necessary for braised venison shanks). Oh, I also tossed in some bay leaves, more salt and pepper, and a little Worcestershire sauce.
Seven hours later (all on the “high” setting), I took a section of the shank out to inspect it…
And…How Did It Turn Out?!
Here’s what you’re really wondering, right? Let me just say, braised venison shank is literally fall-off-the-bone tender. I would have never expected that from such a tough cut. The weirdest part for me was that all the sinew and membranes turned into a gelatinous and mellow substance, still sandwiched between the layers of tender meat. I picked it all apart and added the meat back into the stew. Literally, it made pulled pork look tough. Did I say it was tender?
While I was really happy with the end result of this venison shank crock pot recipe, it also made me feel a little ashamed. All my life, I’d ignored this cut or spent a ridiculous amount of time cleaning it for a fraction of the total meat present. And yet, it made some of the best venison stew I’ve ever had. I can honestly say, this venison shank recipe will become a mainstay in my wild game cooking, and I look forward to all the additional meals I will get from each deer in the future.
So if you’re in a similar situation as I was and looking for some easy venison slow cooker recipes, this is a fantastic one to try with a cut that often is ignored or mistreated. Enjoy!