The Wild Side

Serratto chef Tony Meyers teaches us to embrace big game with a hearty winter dish.

By Benjamin Tepler December 16, 2011 Published in the January 2012 issue of Portland Monthly

Venison osso buco cza67e

Image: David Reamer

SOME KIDS dream of becoming an astronaut or a firefighter. Growing up, chef Tony Meyers had an earthier aspiration: to become a meat man. Raised on a small family farm in California’s Sierra Nevada mountains, Meyers was introduced to the life, death, and the culinary hereafter of livestock before he could walk. He kept pet sheep, watched butchers carve subprimal cuts, and tasted raw ground meat.

But when Meyers moved to Portland in 2003 and discovered Oregon’s wealth of big game, he embraced an even wilder side. At the Italian-inspired eatery Serratto on NW 21st Avenue, Meyers stocks his walk-in freezer with hunks of venison, elk, whole halves of boar, and an impressive stash of antelope every day. “It’s a lot more interesting than a big slab of beef,” says Meyers. “You get more petite cuts that taste better because they are raised naturally in the wild.”

To soften the untamed edge of such cuts, Meyers riffs on a familiar Milanese classic, osso buco—literally “bone with a hole”—a braised, cross-cut shank with a giant bone in the middle. Instead of the traditional veal shanks, Meyers slow-cooks marrow-filled venison bones from Oregon’s top game importer, Nicky USA, for a healthier, richer, and more flavorful braise. It’s a perfect one-pot meal for the winter, guaranteed to cling to your ribs but exotic enough to satisfy the adventurous eater in you.

Venison Osso Buco

 (Serves 6)

  • 6 two-inch antelope, venison, or elk osso buco shanks*
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • ½ Bunch fresh thyme
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1 tsp whole black peppercorns
  • 4 juniper berries
  • 1 cup onion, diced
  • 1 cup celery, diced
  • 1 cup carrot, diced
  • 6 whole garlic cloves
  • 2 tbsp tomato paste
  • 1 ½ Cups red wine
  • 2 ½ Cups chicken stock
  1. PREHEAT oven to 350 degrees. 
  2. SEASON shanks well with salt and pepper; dredge each with a light coating of flour, making sure to tap off the excess; and set aside. 
  3. WRAP thyme, bay leaves, peppercorns, and juniper berries in a sachet with a small piece of cheesecloth. 
  4. HEAT vegetable oil in a medium saucepan and sauté onion, carrot, celery, and garlic over medium-high heat until soft and brown. 
  5. ADD tomato paste and continue to cook for a few more minutes.
  6. DEGLAZE with red wine, scraping up any bits of vegetable stuck to the bottom of the pot. 
  7. ADD chicken stock and the sachet, and bring to a simmer. 
  8. HEAT vegetable oil in a sauté pan over medium-high heat and add the osso buco shanks one at a time, browning each side for about 1–2 minutes. 
  9. TRANSFER to a dutch oven or a 4-inch-deep roasting pan, pour over the braising liquid until it covers the shanks, and cook, covered, for 3 hours, or until the meat comes away from the bone easily. 
  10. PULL shanks out of sauce and set aside, discarding the sachet. 
  11. REDUCE sauce on the stovetop to desired consistency, and season with salt and pepper to taste.
  12. SERVE over the starch of your choice. (Meyers recommends spätzle with sautéed mustard greens, garnished with hazelnut gremolata.)

*Wild game can be purchased at most specialty markets and butchers, such as Zupan’s, Pastaworks, Chop, and Laurelhurst Market. Be sure to call at least two days in advance.

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