My recipe for moose shoulder ragù and some essential tips and techniques when working with moose meat in the kitchen. This rich and savoury sauce can be eaten on its own like a stew or served atop pasta, potatoes, squash, or polenta. The moose shoulder can be substituted with other tougher cuts of venison or even just beef.
A moose shoulder recipe ragù that transforms a tough cut of meat into something meltingly tender, savoury with a hint of sweetness that is so very rich and satisfying.
This is a low and slow recipe that simmers for a long time to get the desired results and requires some advanced planning too, but it is mostly hands-off and very simple in execution.
I got my first crack at moose shoulder recently, and I was very obsessed with doing right by the deep red-coloured, tough cut of wild meat I was fortunate enough to be gifted with.
Like the ruffed grouse I previously got to experiment with, I was scared of messing up.
I figured a traditional stew or ragù recipe would be a safe choice to make use of this cut. It was important to me that I could taste the meat — that the recipe didn't seek to cover it up in any way. I thought of doing a moosey version of coq au vin, but then I settled on my own variation of a traditional Osso Bucco type preparation instead.
The results were exactly what I wanted. The ragù was rich, deeply flavoured, savoury with a hint of sweetness. It was exactly what I wanted.
The Difference Between Ragout & Ragù
Okay, so what is ragù? And how does it differ from ragout, if at all?
In Italian cuisine, ragù is a heavily meat-based sauce that is commonly (but not always) served with pasta.
The Italian culinary society, Accademia Italiana Della Cucina, has documented several ragù recipes — Bolognese being a popular variation of ragù and probably the most well-known around the world.
A lesser-known ragù variation is something like Ragù alla Barese which is also sometimes made with horse meat.
Alongside the meat, other commonly shared characteristics of ragù can include: minced vegetables like celery, carrot, and onion, diced pancetta, some amount of tomato sauce, white or red wine, beef bone broth, and occasionally milk and/or cream. But these are not hard and fast rules and depend on the recipe and tradition.
The etymology of ragù is from the French ragoût and it seems to have reached Italy in the 18th century. The Italian tradition of meat-based sauces goes back considerably further than that, but they were not called ragù nor was there any particular tradition of serving these meaty sauces with pasta.
Ragout is actually incredibly similar, beyond being pronounced the same. Ragout is regarded as more of a stew, and although it is frequently heavily meat-based, it can also be made of fish or even all vegetables (although bone broth would still be a classic component).
Ragout can be eaten on its own or with other sides and accompaniments, whether they be pasta, bread, potatoes, polenta etc.
And both terms are derived from the verb ragoûter, which means “to stimulate the appetite” which gives us a big hint that this type of dish is intended as the first or second course, after the soup course.
To me, it seems that the primary difference is that ragù is considered as a pasta sauce whereas ragout is seen more like a stew, although looking at the culinary history, this seems to be a relatively recent distinction making it more a culinary splitting of hairs.
I called my recipe, a moose shoulder ragù, although you can see in my photos I'm serving it with Blitva (a traditional Croatian potato dish) which would technically make it a ragout? Especially since I mostly ate the rest of it on its own?
But the meat is shredded more like a ragù? And you could easily serve this with pasta if you wanted?
You know what? Whatever.
Moose Meat Is Better Aged and/or Frozen First
While it doesn't prompt as many comparisons to grass-fed beef, it is mild and easily approachable. The flesh is heavily grained and coloured a deep rich red. It is generally a tougher, chewier meat than whitetail deer. It's a good practice to age your moose meat for a week or so before butchering. If you can't do that, you can let your butchered cuts rest in the freezer for a few months. You'll find that the meat gets better and better as time goes by.The MeatEater, Steven Rinella
While the meat was frozen, I didn't know if the moose shoulder was aged so I kept it in the freezer for another week.
Would it be enough time? I figured that letting it fully defrost and then dry-brining with a heavy salting would be the best course of action.
Salting or Dry-Brining Your Meat In Advance
Please don’t skip this step, it’s crucial.
I do this with all meat as soon as I bring it home, but it is especially important for a tough cut like a moose shoulder.
All you need is kosher salt.
I recommend dry-brining three days in advance for this recipe, but 24 hours will do.
Dry-brining is superior to wet-brining and the benefits go beyond simply giving the meat a more deeply flavoured seasoning. Dry brining gets deep into the proteins to dissolve and relax muscle fibres.
You can easily substitute many wild game meats for the moose shoulder used in this recipe.
I highly recommend a nice tough cut though because that type of meat really shines in a long-simmered recipe like this one.
Tough cuts of meat are loaded with collagen and require a long cook time to allow all that collagen and gelatin to slowly render and melt out into the stew or sauce. The end result is pure magic as these tough cuts when prepared correctly, are legitimately some of the absolute best.
So do not use lean or prime meat here. Do not use tenderloins and filets or backstraps. Use the gristly, tough, muscles from parts of the body that get a frequent workout.
With that said, feel free to use deer, elk, and even good old beef for this recipe if you don't have access to moose meat. Shanks or oxtail would be a lovely substitute.
Moose Shoulder Ragù Tips, Tricks + Best Practices
- Pancetta is a nice addition, but I would not call it a must-have.
- Dice your vegetables finely.
- Starting your vegetables off in a cold or just warmed pan is best as it will help them to melt and emulsify into the sauce.
- Don't overdo it on the tomato. Tomato is intended to be a background flavour here.
- If you don't have homemade beef broth, you can use chicken.
- You can add diced liver into this ragù at the end for a huge boost of nutrition with no liver-y taste.
- You can add a bit of milk or cream at the end as well.
- My optional additions of cinnamon, coffee and grated nutmeg will not be noticeable in the finished product. They add a subtle flavour enhancement.
- You can stir in peas at the very end as well, just as you've removed the pot from the heat.
- This sauce keeps for a week, tastes better after the first day, freezes incredibly well and is a filling and nutritious choice for meal-prep.
Moose Meat Nutrition
Like other wild game and red meat, moose meat is a nutrient-dense source of so many different macro and micronutrients.
Like other red meat, moose is going to be packed with highly bioavailable protein and heme iron. Being a ruminant animal, the muscle meat is also going to be a tremendous source of Vitamin B12.
The organs like the liver will have a similar superfood nutritional profile of beef liver and be an incredible source of bioavailable Vitamin A in the form of Retinol (only found in animal foods) as well as Vitamin C (which is also highly concentrated in the brains of animals).
Moose shoulder will be a great source for collagen and glycine which is essential for joint and skin health, amongst other things.
The Omega 3 to 6 ratio will be optimal in moose meat, the way it is in pastured grass-fed cattle. Moose is also a great source for many B Vitamins, Vitamin D3, Phosphorous, and Potassium.
Moose living in pristine wilderness with access to their natural, wild diets are a great source for nutritious meat.
Recommended Side Dishes
Pasta, polenta, squash or "zoodles" are nice, I like this moose shoulder ragù on its own, but I also recommend the following side dishes:
- 1 moose shoulder cut 3-4 lbs.
- 2 large onions diced
- Tomatoes. I used can but these are your options: 1 450g can, 5 medium fresh, or 7 medium smoked tomatoes
- 2.5 cups diced carrots
- 2 cups diced celery
- ½ head of garlic minced
- ½ cup fresh diced lovage optional but recommended
- ¾ cup of diced pancetta
- 1 cup red wine
- 3 tablespoons tomato paste
- 3 bay leaves
- 2 tablespoons off butter
- 1.5 cups beef bone broth
- Salt & freshly ground pepper
- ½ teaspoon of each: coffee grounds cinnamon, nutmeg
- 1 tablespoon Worcestershire Sauce or Red Boat fish sauce
- 1 tablespoon coconut amino acids or Soy or Tamari sauce
- Allow 3 days to dry brine the moose shoulder. Use kosher or sea salt, keep your hand about 6-10 inches above the shoulder, and liberally salt the flesh until it is coated but not crusted with salt. You can avoid over-salting by dividing your salt into a ¼ cup. How much you use will depend on the size of your cut. Do not rinse off the salt after the 3 days and do not add anymore salt into the recipe until you have tasted it at the end.
- Cut the shoulder into approximately 1-inch cubes. If there is bone present, don't worry, just cut away as much as you can. The meat will be shredded off of it at the end.
- In a large heavy-bottomed pot like the enameled French oven pictured, over medium heat, add the diced pancetta ad allow the fat to slowly render out. Remove and set aside.
- Turn the heat up to medium-high and add about one-third of the cubed moose meat, do not crowd the meat in your pan. If you need some more fat in the pan, use a bit of ghee, lard, tallow, or olive oil. We will only be browning some of the meat to get that fond.
- Allow the meat to get a nice sear, flipping and turning as necessary. Remove and set aside.
- Turn the heat down to medium, add the diced onion, scrape up any bits of fond and allow the onion to become transculescent (about 10 minutes).
- Add the carrot, celery, and fresh lovage (if using lovage). Stir occassionally and allow to become lightly browned at the edges.
- If you need to add more fat during the vegetable stages, add some throughout the cooking process.
- Add the tomato paste, stir for 1-2 minutes, letting it caramelize.
- Add the garlic, stir until fragrant (about 1 minute).
- Add all of the cubed moose meat,the wine, tomatoes, the beef bone broth, the cooked pancetta.
- If you have moose shoulder bone fragments with meat attached, add that too.
- Add the bay leaves and some freshly cracked black pepper.
- Turn the heat up to medium-high until the liquid starts to boil, then reduce to a simmer on medium-low, stir to combine. The liquid does not have to entirely cover the moose meat.
- Partially cover the pot.
- Continue to simmer slowly for anywhere from 3-5 hours, stirring occassionally, like every 45 minutes or so.
- After 3 hours, check the meat for tenderness and taste. If it is suitably tender, add the coffee grounds, cinnamon, nutmeg and stir in the worcestersire or fish sauce and the cocoonut amino acids or soy/tamari sauce. Cook for 30 minutes more and taste again, adding salt only if necessary to taste.
- If it is not tender, allow it to continue simmering, checking every 30 minutes and then repeating the above step. Do not add any extra salt until the meat has tenderized and then only salt to taste.
- Once the meat is tender, the ragu is finished. Remove it from the heat and set it aside until it comes to a temperature that can be safely touched by your bare or gloved hand.
- Wearing disposable food-safe latex gloves, or using your bare (washed) hands, shred the meat cubes and any meat from any additional moose bones in the pot until it resembles the texture in the picture. Dispose of any bones once the meat is off.
- When all the meat has been shredded, stir your sauce thoroughly, and place it over medium heat to warm up again. At this point you may want to add a little more beef stock or even water to the pot if sauce is too concentrated.
- Serve your sauce as desired, although you may want to wait until the next day when the flavours will be greatly improved.