Elk osso buco is a meal that sounds fancy (because it is) but is actually pretty simple to make and mostly hands-off. It's truly magical that you can take a tough cut of meat like a shank and turn it into a tender, succulent culinary masterpiece. Paired with brown butter mashed potatoes and the velvety smooth gravy created from the braising liquid, this meal is sure to impress even the toughest wild game critics. If you're tired of trying to trim shank meat to put in the grind pile, this recipe is for you!
What cut of meat is osso buco?
Osso buco is Italian for "bone with a hole." It is cut from the shank of hooved animals. Traditionally, osso buco is made from veal, beef, or lamb but it is an excellent preparation method for wild game as well. The shank is the cut of meat and leg bone below the knee. It is often trimmed and thrown into the grind pile or thrown away altogether. It can be very difficult to trim the meat well enough to avoid sinewy pieces in the ground meat. But, slow cooking turns the tough connective tissue into smooth gelatin that melts away into the meat and creates a deliciously smooth gravy.
How to cut shanks for elk osso buco:
To cut shanks for osso buco, you'll need two pieces of equipment: a boning/filet knife and a bone saw. The number of pieces you cut the shank into will depend on the size of the animal. Each piece should be at least 3-4" thick. For a small deer or antelope, that may end up being 2 pieces. For larger animals like elk, moose, etc., you may cut it into 3 or 4 pieces. Start by removing the shank from the hind quarter. Trim the meat around the knee until you get to the joint. Then cut through the ligaments inside the joint to separate the two leg bones. Next, use a bone saw to cut the knuckle off the top. Knuckles are great to add to stock so don't toss them!
Keep the lower part of the shank bone attached for now. It makes a great place to hold onto while sawing. Using the boning knife, score the meat where you intend to cut it based on the size of osso buco you want. Next, cut all the way through the meat until you get to the bone. Cut in a circle around the entire bone. This exposes the bone and makes for a cleaner cut. Repeat on other sections. Once you've cut through the meat, use the bone saw to saw through the bone. Repeat on other sections and saw the bottom part of the shank to remove it. Again, don't forget to save the bones for stock! Rinse the bone remnants off the meat and pat dry before cooking. If you plan to vacuum seal and freeze the osso buco, wrap them in parchment paper before vacuum sealing to prevent puncturing of the bag.
How to cook elk osso buco:
There are 2 important steps to creating tender, flavorful osso buco: sear the meat first and braise low and slow. Searing the meat caramelizes the outside and adds to the rich flavor of the dish. Braising the meat low and slow turns the collagen in the meat into gelatin and tenderizes even the toughest cuts of meat. This recipe uses a combination of wild game stock and red wine as the liquid to create a delicious gravy to serve with the meat.
Start by heating a dutch oven over medium-high heat. Season the osso buco all over with salt and pepper. Melt some lard (or other cooking fat) in the pan. Sear all sides of osso buco, working in batches to avoid crowding. Remove the meat and add some butter to the pan. Add in some diced vegetables and cook until fragrant. Stir in tomato paste and then flour. This will help make a gravy while the meat braises. Add in the red wine and cook until bubbly. Pour in stock and add some herbs and spices. Add meat back to dutch oven. Cover and cook in a low heat oven (250°F) for 7-8 hours. A lot of recipes suggest 2-3 hours of cooking time but 7-8 hours seems to be the sweet spot for ulta-tender and flavorful meat.
How to make brown butter mashed potatoes:
Brown butter mashed potatoes are exactly what you'd expect them to be. They're like regular mashed potatoes but using brown butter adds a special nutty and sweet flavor to them. Browning the butter is a simple step that really takes your mashed potatoes to the next level. Add some good quality salted butter to a small pan. Heat over low heat until butter is melted. Continue cooking on very low heat, stirring occasionally, until butter is browned but not burned. This usually takes around 20 minutes.
While butter is browning, boil potatoes. My favorite potatoes for mashed potatoes are Yukon golds because of their buttery flavor. Use a potato ricer to mash the potatoes. This is optional but leads to a more consistent texture compared to a traditional potato masher. Once butter is browned, strain it through a fine mesh strainer and add it to the riced potatoes. Using a stand mixer or hand mixer, mix butter, salt, and pepper into potatoes. Warm up the half and half before mixing into the potatoes. Add half and half a little at a time to the potatoes, continuing to mix as you pour it in. Use enough cream to get the potatoes to your desired consistency. You may not need all the cream that is in the recipe. Continue to mix potatoes for 5 minutes or until fluffy.
Putting it all together:
Once your meat is perfectly tender and potatoes are light and fluffy, you're just about ready to serve! Remove the shanks and herbs from the dutch oven. Bring the sauce to a simmer on the stove and simmer for 20 minutes or until thickened. While gravy is simmering, you can remove the meat and connective tissue from the bones or you can serve pieces whole for a stunning presentation. Spread mashed potatoes in the bottom of your serving bowl. Place meat on top of potatoes and drizzle with gravy and vegetables. Don't forget to scoop out that delicious bone marrow for an extra rich treat! The flat side of a seafood fork works great to scoop it out. Serve and enjoy!
Elk Osso Buco with Brown Butter Mashed Potatoes
- 2 elk shanks, cut into thirds (or 2 moose shanks, 4 deer shanks, etc.)
- salt and pepper, to taste
- 2 tablespoon lard
- 4 tablespoon butter
- 1 ½ cups carrots, peeled and ½" diced
- 1 ½ cups celery, ½" diced
- 1 ½ cups onion, ½" diced
- 10 garlic cloves, smashed
- 6 oz tomato paste
- ¼ cup all-purpose flour
- 2 cups red wine
- 4 cups wild game stock or broth (or beef stock/broth)
- ½ teaspoon salt
- ½ teaspoon black pepper
- 2-3 sprigs fresh rosemary
- 2-3 sprigs fresh thyme
- 3 bay leaves
- 10 cups peeled and diced Yukon gold potatoes (about 4 lb)
- 1 cup salted butter
- 2 cups half and half, warmed
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1 ½ teaspoon black pepper
- Preheat oven to 250°F. Heat a large Dutch oven over medium-high heat.
- Season shanks all over with salt and pepper. Add lard to Dutch oven and swirl to coat the pan. Add in shanks, working in batches. Cook for 2-3 minutes per side or until browned.
- Move shanks to a plate and set aside. Reduce heat to medium-low.
- Add butter to Dutch oven and swirl to coat the pan. Add in carrots, celery, onion, and garlic. Cook for 5-8 minutes, stirring frequently, until vegetables are fragrant but not browned and have absorbed most of the liquid in the pan.
- Add in tomato paste and stir to coat vegetables. Cook for 1 minute.
- Add in flour and stir to coat vegetables. Cook for an additional 1-2 minutes.
- Add in wine and stir to combine. Cook for 2-3 minutes or until thick and bubbly. Add in stock or broth, salt, and pepper and stir to combine. Add in rosemary, thyme and bay leaves.
- Add shanks back to pan. Make sure they are completely submerged in the liquid.
- Place lid on Dutch oven and bake for 7-8 hours or until tender.
- Remove shanks to a plate. Remove thyme, rosemary, and bay leaves and discard.
- Bring sauce to a boil over medium heat. Simmer until thickened and reduced slightly, about 20 minutes.
- You can remove the meat and connective tissue from the bones before serving or serve the meat with the bone still attached.
- Serve over mashed potatoes (see below) and pour sauce with vegetables over the top. Don't forget to scoop the marrow out of the bones for an extra treat!
- Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Add in potatoes and cook until tender, about 20-25 minutes.
- While potatoes are cooking, melt butter in a medium saucepan over medium-low heat. Continue cooking butter until browned, stirring frequently, about 20 minutes.
- Once potatoes are tender, place them in potato ricer, working in batches. Rice the potatoes into a large mixing bowl. You can rice them twice for extra creamy potatoes.
- Once butter is browned, strain it with a fine mesh strainer into the mixing bowl. Add in half and half (a little at a time, you might not need all of it) and salt and pepper. Using a hand mixer or stand mixer, mix on medium-low speed until fluffy, about 5 minutes.
- Keep warm until ready to serve.
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