The weather in England has been horrible for weeks. It’s not been particularly wintry, but boy has it been wet. The kind of weather that makes you want to stay inside and make something like this.
For six people: 1kg of diced stewing venison, four pheasant breasts, one bottle of red wine, three onions, two sticks of celery, two large carrots, four bay leaves, three cloves of garlic, a stalk of rosemary, a handful of dried porcini mushrooms, two tablespoons of plain flour and a tablespoon of redcurrant jelly.
It’s also worth getting a pie bird – this is the little porcelain bird you see poking out of the top of the pie in the picture. It holds up the pastry in the middle of the dish, and helps it to get crispy and light by letting the steam out when the pastry cooks.
Slice the celery, onion and carrots and sauté in olive oil on a medium heat for 20 minutes or so until soft and caramelised. Add the venison and cook for a few minutes until it takes a little colour. Add the garlic, and then the flour, stirring well to coat the meat. Season with salt and pepper and add the bay leaves, the finely chopped leaves of the rosemary and the bottle of wine. Turn the heat as low as you can. Cover, and leave it to cook for a couple of hours. You want the bubbles to barely break the surface of the liquid.
While this is cooking and making your whole kitchen smell wonderful, make the pastry. You could buy a good ready-made puff pastry, but it’s actually really easy to make your own.
For the pastry: 400g plain flour, 400g unsalted butter at room temperature, half a teaspoon of salt, 200ml of ice cold filtered water.
Combine the flour and salt, and then add the cubed butter. Roughly rub the two together until you have big crumbs. Add the water a bit at a time – you may not need all of it – until you have a firm dough.
The trick with this pastry is not to work it too much. Turn it onto a floured surface, form it into a rough oblong, and roll it out in one direction only. Imagine dividing the long piece of pastry into three equal parts, and fold the closest one over into the middle, and then the furthest one over on top of this. Turn the pastry 90°, roll it out again, and fold it in again. At this point you want to put it in a ziplock bag and chill it in the fridge for half an hour. Then bring it out – roll – fold – turn 90° – roll – fold – and put it back in the fridge. After another half hour resting it will be ready to roll out and use.
After about two hours, add the porcini mushrooms to the venison, and the diced pheasant breast. Cook for another 30 minutes to one hour. You want the meat to be falling apart into fibres when you touch it with a fork. Finally add the redcurrant jelly, and adjust the seasoning.
Fill your pie dish by lifting out the meat and vegetables and arranging them around your pie bird. if it needs a bit of encouragement, use a couple of forks to break down the big pieces of meat so they really absorb the sauce. If the remaining liquid is too thin, bubble it up until it has the consistency of a thick gravy, and ladle in enough to come up to the top of the meat.
Roll out the pastry, lift it onto your dish, and poke through the pie bird’s beak. Trim round the dish, and make a pattern round the edge with the back of a fork. Brush with egg and cook at 180°C until the pastry is cooked and golden – about 40 minutes.
This was the second game pie of the winter – the first made a Christmas Day dinner so fine that you’d never want to eat turkey again. Venison is cheap and sustainable, and cooked like this there’s little better to eat when it’s cold and wet outside.