Wild Game Recipe: Italian Short Ribs

This is an adaptation of a wonderful Italian short ribs recipe in a wonderful book, Paul Bertolli's Cooking by Hand, which would be one of my "desert island" cookbooks.

Make this wild game dish with ribs cut from a large animal — certainly elk and moose, but also the exotic red deer, nilgai, and oryx. You might be able to get away with this with a great big deer, but it would have to be a lunker.


You will want the ribs cut somewhere between four and six inches long, and either in a block of ribs or as individual ribs. Trim any excess fat off the cap of the ribs, but you do want a little fat remaining. Serves 4 and can be scaled up.


3 cups purple grape juice

6 ribs, each about 4 to 6 in. long

Salt and black pepper

4 slices of bacon

¼ cup olive oil

1 large celery stalk, minced

2 carrots, minced

2 large onions, minced

A big handful (or 1 standard package) dried mushrooms

¼ cup tomato paste

2 cups red wine

½ cup balsamic vinegar

1 sprig fresh rosemary or

1 tbsp. dried

1 qt. venison or beef broth

10 fresh sage leaves or

1 tbsp. dried & ground

Boil down the grape juice to 1 cup in a small pot. Set aside. Take out the ribs and salt them well. Preheat the oven to 350°F.

In a large, heavy, lidded pot, like a Dutch oven, fry the bacon over medium heat until crispy. Remove and chop. Set aside.

Pat the ribs dry with a paper towel and brown them in the bacon fat, adding olive oil if you need to. When you brown the ribs, do every side except for the one with the bone showing — if you brown this side, the bones will fall off the meat too soon. When the ribs are browned, remove to a plate.

Add the minced vegetables and cook over medium heat until they are well browned, stirring occasionally. This should take about 8 to 10 minutes. Crumble the dried mushrooms over the vegetables and add the tomato paste and mix well. Cook another 3 or 4 minutes, stirring often. You want the tomato paste to darken.

Add the red wine and use a wooden spoon to scrape the residue off the bottom of the pan to mix in with the wine. Boil the red wine down by half, then add the cooked-down grape juice and the balsamic vinegar. Mix well and return the ribs to the pot, bone side up. Pour in any juices that have accumulated with the ribs.

Add the herbs.

Let this cook down a few minutes, then add enough venison broth to just barely cover the ribs. Cover the pot and put it in the oven to cook for at least 2.5 hours. You want the meat to be thinking about falling off the bone, but not actually there. This could take as long as 4 hours with an old elk or moose.

When the meat is ready, gently remove it from the pot and set aside. Now you have a choice. You can use the braising liquid as-is, or you can make it smooth. I prefer smooth. To do this, you can push it through the medium plate of a food mill, use a "boat motor" stick blender, or pour everything into a blender and buzz it. Taste the resulting sauce. If it is to your liking, you are good to go. If it's too thin, boil it down until it's like a barbecue sauce. Right before you serve the sauce, add some black pepper.

Coat the ribs in the sauce. Serve with mashed potatoes or another mashed vegetable.

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