Venison Nihari (Slow Cooked Shanks)

This is a request from one of my readers and a dish I hadn’t tried to cook before.  Luckily, I also hear from one of my friends than deer season opens soon in parts of the US, so getting a venison dish in, is quite timely.  This is a slow cooked, rich tasting stew that derives a lot of its flavours from both the shank meat and the special Nihari masala.  I looked at dozens of recipes for Nihari masala and, to be honest, they all had very similar ingredients to garam masala, just with more cloves, peppercorns and more aniseed.  So, rather than trying to combine 12-15 ingredients to make a masala spice rub for one dish, I’m cheating and using a high quality garam masala, to which I’ll add in a little more kick from some star anise, cloves and peppercorns.  The dish becomes far simpler than many of the other Nihari recipes out there.  Of course, making a spice mix from scratch will always have a superior taste, but few people carry all the ingredients necessary for homemade mixes, but finding a high quality garam masala is much easier and accessible to people without a bevy of Indian whole spices.

Ingredients:

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4 venison shanks (Lamb also works extremely well)
1 cm ginger, grated
12 cloves
3 star anise (can also use 1 tsp fennel seeds)
6-7 peppercorns
1 tbs high quality garam masala
2 tsp red chilli powder (or smoked paprika for a milder hit)
1/2 tsp crushed Kashmiri chillis (optional)
3 cloves garlic, crushed
Salt to taste
2 medium onions, finely sliced (used to garnish the dish)
2 tbs of atta flour (plain or wholemeal flour are fine, too, if you don’t have atta – used to thicken the dish)
2 tbs oil or ghee for cooking
6-8 cups of water

Method:

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Start by grinding your whole spices in a mortar and pestle or in a spice grinder.  Try to get the spices to a fine powder.

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Heat the oil in a pan to a high heat to sear your shanks.  I’m doing all my cooking in my slow cooker – but this can easily be done on the stove top, too – the slow cooker just means I can leave it without worrying.

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Make sure you get a nice sear on all sides of the shanks – this adds to the flavour of the meat and dish.

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Once seared, drop to a medium heat and add in your garlic, ginger and salt and fry off.

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Next, add in your ground spices and coat your meat.

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Allow the meat to develop a nice crust of spices, all over.

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Add in your water.

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Make sure your meat is well covered by the water – it doesn’t have to be completely submerged, but you may need to turn the meat, so as to make sure it doesn’t dry out. Bring to the boil and then turn down to let the dish simmer/slow cook.  I left my dish for about 6 hours on a very low heat, but you can easily cook this on a moderate heat for 1-2 hours.

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About 20 minutes before serving, you want to check the consistency of your gravy – you’ll see that the marrow makes the gravy quite oily – this is flavour, so you don’t want to lose it, but it can also be a touch unappetising.  Time to use the flour to thicken the dish.

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Take about 1/2 cup of the broth/stock and add to the flour to make a paste. Try to get out as many of the lumps as possible.

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Pour your stock and gravy back into the pot and stir it around.  Allow the dish to simmer and thicken until the desired consistency is found (about 20 more mins for me).  The dish will start to thicken and form more of a gravy, rather than a stock.  This seems to be the way most recipes teach you to thicken Nihari – while, when I make more western stews, I’d flour my meat before frying and that flour helps thicken from the start – not sure if there’s a reason for thickening late in the cooking process, though.

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While the dish is thickening, fry off your sliced onion on a high heat – traditionally they’re deep fried, to give the onion a crispy bite – I actually quite like slow frying the onions to caramelise the onions – either way, make sure they’re rich in flavour.

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You can see that the dish is much thicker and the fat is less separated, now – you can always thicken it further, if you wish.

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Serve up your Nihari (including marrow – that’s the best part!) topped with fried onions and some fresh herbs (my herb garden is all out of coriander, so I’ve gone with humble parsley).  Enjoy!

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