Think of this as “pulled venison”, a simple but wonderful way to show off one of the least respected cuts. It’s a guaranteed hit, even among folks that aren’t too sure about wild meat.
It works just as well with shanks. Try this just once and you’ll never again bother with the cutting and trimming needed to break a shoulder down into separate cuts.
I consider every undamaged shoulder a prized piece of meat, and they all get cooked whole. If there is broadhead damage consider using it whole if the damaged meat can be completely trimmed away first. But if it is bullet damage, especially to bone, don’t use that shoulder whole.
Trim shoulder well, aggressively removing any shot-damaged areas.
If dry-brining (see description above) rub meat surface with kosher salt.
Otherwise, apply a coat of olive oil and apply salt-based rub liberally—don't be shy. I enjoy Cavenders or Slap Ya Mama.
Wrap in cellophane and refrigerate overnight in something to hold leaks.
Next day, preheat oven to 400°F
Unwrap your shoulder, and if you dry-brined with just plain salt, apply your favorite salt-free rub. Don't be shy.
Place the shoulder directly on the bottom of a greased roasting pan (bacon fat would be nice). If the whole shoulder won't fit your pan, separate the shank by working a knife through the joint. No need to make it pretty - you'll soon be pulling the meat off the bones anyway.
Toss the mirepoix (onion/carrot/celery) and mushrooms in a little olive oil, then arrange it around the shoulder in the pan.
Place in oven uncovered. Check and turn occasionally until nicely browned on both sides. Should take an hour or so — a bit less if using a convection oven.
Lower oven to 200°F.
Add braising liquid to ≈1 inch depth, or about halfway up the meat. No need to be precise, but two things you should NOT do: completely submerge the meat, or run out of liquid while cooking.
Cover pan tightly with a lid or aluminum foil and return to oven.
After 2 hours raise oven to 250°F
Check every hour or so to see if more liquid is needed. If it is getting low add a bit of boiling water. Also check the meat consistency. When it is fall-off-the-bone tender, it's done. It should take about 5-8 hours depending on the size and/or age of the deer. If using domestic rather than wild meat the cooking time may be shorter.
Remove the bones, which should freely pull away clean (see the video above). Cover the meat in foil and set aside, keeping warm.
— Make the gravy!
The braising liquid is now supercharged with meaty flavor. Making a sauce is a great idea with any braised meat—but doubly so with lean game meat.
Strain the liquid. I "rescue" the mushrooms for a scooby snack or to serve on the side. The rest of the mirepoix has done it's job and can be discarded.
Remove visible fat by ladling off or using a fat separator.
Mix well 1 tbsp cornstarch with 1 tbsp. cold water to make a thin, pourable paste. Slowly whisk into the braising liquid.
Simmer, stirring occasionally, until thickened a bit.
Season sauce to taste (it will have lots of your rub in it already) and either serve on the side, or pour over pulled meat and lightly toss. If necessary return meat to oven covered, to bring it back up to serving temp.
An alternative to making sauce is to save and freeze the strained and de-fatted braising liquid. Use it to braise your next venison shoulder. The flavors will intensify with every generation. But freeze it right away—it's highly perishable.
If you aren't making the sauce, consider adding a little fat (lard might be best) to coat the current batch of pulled venison before you toss.
Best kept hot and served right away. It refrigerates and freezes fine, but venison can be dry when reheated and may benefit from some liquid or fat tossed in.
The best stock for braising liquid would be venison or beef. Home made is best.
If you don't have that much stock handy, "Better Than Boullion" base (beef or pork or vegetable) is a fine substitute. It's cheap and good and, yes, way better than bouillon. Most grocery stores have it in the soup aisle.
The recipe is also perfect for shanks and heels from the hindquarters—tough cuts with LOTS of connective tissue. They are transformed from a grinder-clogging annoyance into a lip-smacking treat. I freeze them whole (no fussy trimming - yay!) and toss a couple in with the shoulder if there's room.