With fall upon us, hunting season is coming into full bloom. As the flowers are disappearing, shotguns are being cleaned, and sights are being prepared for one of Northern Nevada's most popular times of year - hunting season.
At this time of year, many of my friends and customers "pick my brain" for various ideas on cooking wild game, whether it be birds or mammals.
This year, I thought I would put a recipe in my column for a wild-game dish.
The first thing you need to know about cooking wild game, and even sometimes the farm-raised variety, is that cooking time and patience is of the utmost importance. The wild variety spends its time foraging in the mountain areas for food sources so the meat is generally lean and can be somewhat tough or chewy if not cooked properly. Also, the fat content is always very low so the meat can be very dry.
I find braising the various cuts of wild game a very tasty way to enjoy the little nuggets of your work.
Seasoning is also very important. I don't like to over season wild game, but sometimes the meat can be rather, let us say, "gamey." Always use kosher salt, fresh-ground black pepper, fresh garlic, lots of red wine, sweet onions, peppers, carrots and crisp celery.
The point I am making is that the freshness of these products is especially needed in cooking wild game because the flavors must stand up to the strong flavor that comes from most wild-game dishes.
Note when cooking this recipe that when done correctly, it has a perfect balance of subtle flavors of the vegetables that will complement the stronger flavor of elk and not overpower it.
Braised Elk Shanks
3 each red bell peppers, seeded, cut into strips
3 each green bell peppers, seeded, cut into strips
2 large yellow onions or 3 medium yellow onions
1 cup carrots, finely chopped (half inch)
1 cup celery, finely chopped
12 cloves garlic, roughly chopped
6 whole cloves
6 juniper berries (found on the dried-spice aisle)
1 - 14.5 ounce can good-quality stewed tomatoes, lightly crushed by hand
1U2 cup water
3 cups red wine, burgundy style
Step 1: In a heavy brasier pan, place about half inch of cooking oil. I like to use bacon fat or pork fat, rendered. Put on medium-high heat and place the four elk shanks, floured and seasoned with salt and pepper, in the pan. Brown carefully on all sides.
Step 2: Remove elk shanks and drain half of the oil. Add the garlic and cook for about 1 minute. Then add the elk shanks, onions, peppers, carrots, celery, juniper berries, cloves, stewed tomatoes, water (use the water to rinse the remaining juices out of the can) and red wine. Cook, stirring frequently (once every 3 to 4 minutes) for approximately 15 minutes.
Step 3: Cover and place in a pre-heated (350 F-degree) oven for 2 hours. Remove from oven and check shanks to see if the meat is getting ready to fall off the bone. Handle very carefully. If done, set aside while you finish the sauce.
There are two ways to serve this dish at this point. One is to drain all of the juices from the pan and serve with just the natural sauce. The other way is to serve with the cooked vegetables, like you would a pot roast. Either way, it is an incredible dish.
If you decide to serve the elk shanks with a demi-glaze style sauce, you need to make a roux.
1U4 pound butter
3 T. flour
Salt and pepper to taste
Remove the shanks from the pan and drain the liquid away from the vegetable medley into a separate dish. Set aside. In a saucepan, make the roux by cooking the butter and flour, whisking continuously, over medium-high heat until it is slightly brown. The texture should be creamy, slightly firmer than a pudding. If you have to add more flour, go ahead. When brown, start adding the reserved liquid slowly and carefully, whisking vigorously the whole time. When all the liquid is added, cook for another 15 minutes on medium-low heat. The sauce should have a light to medium texture. If it is too thick and looks like a gravy, add more wine and cook longer to thin it.
At serving time, place the shanks on a serving platter and pour the sauce through a fine strainer over the top of them. Pour just enough sauce to cover the shanks and make a nice presentation on the platter. Place the remaining sauce in a bowl to pass around the table. Garnish the elk shanks with finely chopped scallions.
If you decide to serve the dish in the typical French country-braised style, place the vegetables and elk shanks on a platter and carefully ladle the natural sauce over the top. This is a more "brothy" style and is also an excellent way to serve the meal.
My recommendations for a beverage to accompany the elk shanks, no matter which way you choose to serve them, is a Karly zinfandel, Pokerville 2000 or a Fess Parker syrah 2000. These are both great choices and will complement the dish.
Charlie Abowd is the owner and chef at Adele's. He and his wife, Karen, have lived in Carson City for 22 years. Charlie is a fourth-generation restaurateur, and Karen is a licensed interior designer.