The Intrepid Eater - Venison Shank Sagamité Recipe

Sagamité is a meal of broth thickened with cornmeal, often made to celebrate hungry newly arrived guests by the eastern and Great Lakes indigenous tribes.

  • Adam Berkelmans
  • Jan 11, 2023

My holiday meal plans were dashed this year after a fruitless wild turkey season, so I was forced to come up with a new plan for Thanksgiving dinner. 

Wanting to still incorporate some sort of wild game, my thoughts turned to venison. Though I was unsuccessful in my turkey hunt, I had been fortunate enough to harvest a whitetail deer this season. 

How would I create the perfect venison-based showcase for the table? An extravagant meat pie? A perfect Frenched bone-in loin roast? Some new and exciting take on venison Wellington?

While pondering about what to make, my thoughts strayed to the origin of Thanksgiving and what the holiday really means. 

Moving away from showy Thanksgiving centerfold fare, I instead decided to make a dish of what very well may have been eaten at that original Thanksgiving; a dish that has been eaten on this continent long before the Mayflower ever arrived.

This dish would embody my gratitude for a full freezer after a season of hard work.

That dish was sagamité, a meal of broth thickened with cornmeal, often made to celebrate hungry newly arrived guests by the eastern and Great Lakes indigenous tribes. 

Venison Shank Sagamité Recipe

There are many variations of this dish, but they all seem to include hominy so I worked from there. I used handmade Kanyen'kehà:ka (Mohawk) hominy purchased from the Tyendinaga Territory, beans I grew in my garden, and venison shank from my whitetail. I added a small amount of bacon as a nod to the change in foodways brought on by European settlers (sagamité was often made with salt pork) and for its gentle smokiness, but you could leave it out. 

Feel free to use canned hominy and pinto beans instead of dried. Be sure to share with your favourite people!

Venison Shank Sagamité Recipe

Serves: 4-6 people

Time: Takes about 4 hours to prepare

Ingredients:

1 rear venison shank (or 2 front)
Spruce salt, or regular salt
2 tablespoons bear fat, duck fat, or sunflower seed oil
1 medium onion, chopped 
2 tablespoons tomato paste
8 cups venison stock or beef stock
2 crushed juniper berries
2 slices bacon, chopped (optional)
1/2 cup dried beans, soaked for 6-12 hours, or 1 can of pinto beans
3/4 cup dried hominy, soaked for 6-12 hours, or 1 can of hominy
1 small squash or pumpkin, peeled and cubed (about 2 cups)
3 tbsp cornmeal or corn grits
Maple syrup to serve

Preparation:

1. Preheat oven to 350°F.

2. Season shank generously with spruce salt. 

3. Melt bear fat in Dutch oven over high heat. Add venison shank and brown on all sides for 10 minutes or until very browned. Reduce heat to medium and remove shank, set it aside. Add the chopped onion to the pot, and cook until browned, about 5-8 minutes. 

4. Add the tomato paste cook it until it breaks apart and begins to brown. 

5. Add the shank back to the pot along with the juniper and bacon if using, then add the 8 cups stock. Bring to a strong simmer, cover, then transfer to oven. Cook for 1 hour. Remove lid, add soaked beans and hominy (if using canned, add in the last 30 minutes of cooking). Put back in oven uncovered, cook 2 hours, or until the shank is falling apart tender. 

6. Pull the shank out and set it aside to cool. Add the squash and cornmeal to the pot and increase the oven heat to 400. Cook for 15 minutes or until squash is nice and tender. 

7. Shred the shank meat off of the bone and add it back to the pot. Taste for salt and add more if necessary. Ladle into bowls, drizzle with a bit of maple syrup, and serve alongside wild rice, bannock, or on its own. Enjoy! 

The Intrepid Eater, Adam Berkelmans, shares all of his knowledge and experience through recipes, workshops, recipes, instructional videos or articles.

Venison Shank Sagamité Recipe

Venison Shank Sagamité Recipe

Venison Shank Sagamité Recipe

Learn More

Get Involved

The Great American Outdoors Act will fully and permanently fund the Land and Water Conservation Fund while investing in a backlog of public land maintenance, providing current and future generations the outdoor recreation opportunities like boat launches to access fishable waters, shooting ranges, and public lands to hunt as well as the economic stimulus we need right now. 

Tell Congress to Pass the Great American Outdoors Act and Fully Fund LWCF!