St. Patrick's Day is right around the corner and I've been celebrating by cooking everything in beer. This one is a bit on the indulgent side, but it's worth every bite. Stout beer is full of flavor and body, making it the perfect base for a wild game gravy. The beauty of this recipe is that if you don't have shanks, you can use any cut of meat (bone-in or out) that will fit in your dutch oven! Although I do recommend a bone-in cut for flavor and to enhance the body of the gravy.
What is a Shank?
The shank is the portion of the leg below the knee of a hooved animal (deer, elk, pronghorn, moose, you name it!). They're made up of highly used muscles and are full of connective tissue. I mean, look at those tendons. Those things are intense! A lot of people toss them into the grind pile because they don't know what to do with them. But, if you cook them low and slow in a lot of liquid, they may just become your new favorite cut of meat. If they're cooked properly, the meat will fall off the bone effortlessly. Wouldn't you rather do that than try to cut through all that tissue just to grind it?
How Do You Cut Shanks?
I like to leave my shanks whole but a lot of people cut them into smaller pieces for osso buco. Start by using a bone saw to remove the bottom portion of the leg right where the muscle begins. From there, you can decide how much meat you want on your shanks. Front shanks will have less meat and hind shanks will have more. The shanks pictured above are from the front quarters of a buck antelope. I usually go for right above the knee but it's really about preference. Wherever you'd like to make your cut, take a sharp knife and cut through the muscle all the way around the bone. Then, use your saw to cut through the bone and you have yourself a shank! If you'd like to take it one step further and make osso buco, you essentially use the same process as you did for cutting the top of the shank, but you cut it into more pieces.
How to Braise Shanks:
As I mentioned before, shanks are full of connective tissue. Because of this, I love to cook them low and slow. It makes them so much easier to process and all of that tough connective tissue melts away after cooking all day. It's really a very simple process of browning the meat in lard, cooking some vegetables, adding in your liquid of choice, some herbs and spices, and letting it do its thing in the oven all day.
I love to use my dutch oven because I'm a big fan of cutting down on dishes. In this recipe, you sear the shanks, sauté the vegetables, braise the meat, and simmer the gravy all in one dish. I love that it can go from stovetop to oven and back to the stove without dirtying any more dishes. However, the mashed potatoes are a bit of a different story...
Sage Brown Butter Mashed Potatoes:
Doesn't that sound delicious? Yes, these potatoes take some more work than your standard mashed potatoes, but the reward is worth it. The classic combination of sage and brown butter bring these mashed potatoes to the next level. I start by heating the butter and frying the sage leaves in it. Once the butter is full of sage flavor, I let it cook on very low heat until it gets that perfect browned butter color. Then I add that buttery goodness with some cream, salt and pepper, and a bit of fresh nutmeg to some Yukon gold potatoes. The hint of sage with the nuttiness of the butter all cozied up in some ultra creamy mashed potatoes is pure magic.
Putting it all Together:
Ok, I've sold you on the shanks and potatoes (I hope) but let's talk about that gravy. Sure, you could use stock alone for your liquid. But, I encourage you to switch it up and add some delicious stout beer instead. It's delicious on its own, but cook some bone-in meat in it all day, and it makes the perfect gravy. It's rich, silky smooth, and a little bit decadent. Pour it over tender pieces of meat on top of the best mashed potatoes and you have yourself a gourmet meal made with a cut of meat you might have thrown away! Oh and remember that sage we fried up? Don't forget to place it on top for a beautiful and delicious garnish. Enjoy!
Stout-Braised Pronghorn Shanks over Sage Brown Butter Mashed Potatoes
- 2 bone-in shanks (or any bone-in or out cut of meat that will fit in your dutch oven!)
- 2 tbso lard, divided
- 1 onion, diced
- 2 cups carrots, diced
- 1 cups celery, diced
- 8 cloves garlic, minced
- salt and pepper, to taste
- ¼ cup flour
- ¼ cup tomato paste
- 24 oz stout beer
- 2 cups stock
- 4 fresh thyme sprigs
- 3 bay leaves
- 1 ½ lb Yukon gold potatoes, peeled and cubed
- 4 oz Irish butter
- 1 ½ cups half and half
- 20 fresh sage leaves
- ¼ teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
- salt and pepper, to taste
- Preheat oven to 250°F. Season shanks all over with salt and pepper. Heat 1 tablespoon lard in dutch oven. Sear on all sides until browned. Remove to a plate.
- Heat remaining 1 tablespoon lard in dutch oven. Add in onion, garlic, celery, and carrots. Cook until slightly softened, stirring occasionally, about 5 minutes.
- Add in tomato paste and flour and stir until vegetables are coated. Cook another 2-3 minutes.
- Add in stout and bring to a boil. Let simmer 5-10 minutes.
- Add in stock, thyme, bay leaves, and shanks. Bring to a boil. Cover with lid and place in oven. Cook 7-8 hours or until tender. Add in some water if any portion of the meat gets above the level of the liquid.
- Remove bay leaves and thyme sprigs and discard. Remove shanks to a plate and shred into bite-size pieces, discarding any connective tissue.
- Bring sauce to a boil over medium heat. Simmer until thickened and reduced slightly, about 20 minutes.
- Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Add in potatoes and cook until tender, about 20 minutes.
- While potatoes are cooking, melt butter in a medium saucepan over medium-low heat. Once butter starts bubbling, add in sage leaves. Cook until crisp, about 2-3 minutes. Remove sage leaves to a paper towel. Continue cooking butter until browned, 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), nutmeg, and salt and pepper. Using a hand mixer or stand mixer, mix on medium-low speed until fluffy, about 5 minutes.
- Spread mashed potatoes onto plate or bowl. Top with meat and vegetables. Drizzle gravy over meat and potatoes. Top with crispy sage. Enjoy!