I blame the lingering recession / bank crisis / political ineptitude (pick whichever one you fancy) here in Ireland for young families following so many from previous generations and emigrating. Back then, it was a big thing. Children left and lost all contact with parents. It was a real life sentence. Nowadays, there’s a lot of emotional claptrap spoken about this, usually by people who like to look backwards into our fraught history rather than forwards into a brighter future. With low-cost air fares, Skype and generally improved living standards, the long journey is not the trauma it once was. The other end of the world, yes. But not the end of the world.
My big emigration problem is that my friend the Wicklow Hunter (WH) has taken his brood and departed for Perth. My venison supply has disappeared along with him. The result – I had to buy these venison shanks! I’m not used to that. I know my friend has a primary responsibility to look after his family’s welfare but this is just too much to bear.
So, while WH is sipping laté and walking on the beach, we are hunkering down for the long Autumn and Winter ahead. What better way to do it than to cook a Venison Shank Casserole with Celeriac Mash.
- 6 venison shanks
- 250 gramme piece of pancetta
- 500 ml robust red wine
- 500 ml chicken stock
- 3 to 4 carrots
- 3 onions
- 4 sticks of celery
- 16 to 20 mushrooms
- 1 small handful of juniper berries
- 3 cloves of garlic
- 1 bunch of thyme
- 1 dried chili
- 2 bay leaves
- salt and pepper to taste
- flour for dusting
- 1 celeriac
- 5 or 6 potatoes
Side note on the emigration in this dish: The juniper berries came from my sister in Norway (she emigrated three decades ago). The wine came from Uruguay. The pancetta came from Italy. The garlic from France. The chili from Texas, USA. The black pepper from Vietnam.
There is a fair amount of preparation. The good news is that you can do this early in the day as this dish takes six hours in the oven. First chop the pancetta.
Then fry the pancetta off in the bottom of the casserole dish (Dutch oven).
There is very little fat in the rest of the ingredients. The pancetta supplies plenty. Remove the lardons. Dust the shanks in seasoned flour and brown in batches in the pancetta fat.
Use the browning time to chop the garlic, onion, celery and carrots.
Sweat the vegetables in the remaining fat on a low heat until soft. Add the shanks and then the juniper berries.
Then the bay leaves, the thyme, the pancetta and the stock.
Then pour in the wine, keeping enough back to have a glass for yourself.
Next, place the lid on the casserole and put it in the oven at 130º C for six hours or so.
After 5 hours, it will look something like this.
Time to add the mushrooms and return to the oven.
Use the time to peel the celeriac and potatoes.
Soak the potatoes to remove some starch. Get the chopped celeriac into boiling salted water for about 15 minutes. Then add the potato. Boil until both are soft. Drain, add some milk and butter, then mash until smooth. Get your timing right so they coincide with the shanks.
After 6 hours, remove the shanks from the dish, spoon a couple of tablespoons of the gravy over them and put them back into the oven.
Place the casserole on the stove top and reduce the remaining gravy by about one-third. Serve the shanks with a couple of big spoonfuls of the vegetables, mushrooms, pancetta and gravy.
This is a fantastic Winter favourite. Venison is meat from which many of us shy away. If you aren’t planning on leaving the country any time soon, give it a go. Next time WH is back to visit, I might just cook it for him.
At the risk of looking like an obsessive, here’s a few other venison recipes:
Enjoy them, we certainly did.