20 August 2015

The best Game Pie, made for Farmer's Choice (Free Range) Ltd

Tucked away - nay, nestled - in our freezer for the last few weeks has been a pack of mixed diced Game, (being venison, rabbit, pheasant, partridge and wood pigeon), just waiting for the stars to align and for me to come up with a recipe.

Those lovely people at Farmer's Choice (Free Range) Ltd were kind enough to respond to my promise of a good Game Pie recipe and very obligingly supplied the necessary, for which, my thanks.  (Follow the link here which will take you to the relevant page of their website).  However, none of us quite reckoned on just how good this good Game Pie recipe would be.  It was more than good - it was (to quote my hubby) "a triumph".

Now bear in mind that I'm a bit of a novice when it comes to Game.

Yes, I've cooked several wild rabbits with success in the past, I've had a very bad experience with someone else's pheasant dish that was so high it was inedible and consigned two Mallards to the bin that just didn't even bear description.  So I think you could considered my experience somewhat chequered.

Undaunted, however, I had a vision of a Game Pie in my imagination and that vision was just busting to be made real.  Not a raised Game Pie (a sort of wild meat version of a pork pie) but a good old fashioned country style, hearty, stick to your ribs kind of pie.  One with a golden crispy crust that hides the cornucopia of deliciousness below.  All I can say is that I just wish I had this kind of vision more often, as the actuality exceeded expectation by a factor of many - and the expectation was pretty darned high to begin with!
I dare you to identify any one piece ... lol
I had the picture of the pie mapped out in my head from an early stage.

What I was lacking, were the links and balances between ingredients which would result in a great combination.  My starting point is always "what does the primary ingredient taste like?".  Now I have tasted venison before, but only in a sausage.  Rabbit I'm well versed in, pheasant - not so much, partridge was a new one and wood pigeon I've had once previously and loved.  So I had an idea of how the meats would taste, but only an idea.  (Incidentally, I had no compunction in eating wood pigeon having had many tubes of niger seed go down their gullets instead of into the intended goldfinches.  I considered it payback).  I knew I wanted BIG flavours, flavours that were easily accessible by most home cooks and a nice selection of herbs.  After that, it was open season.

A couple of rashers of smoked bacon were a definite, so the next question was what vegetables would go nicely and look appealing in the pie?  Good old favourites onion, garlic, carrot and celery always make a great start to a good flavoured gravy and sliced carrots add colour.  Mushrooms are excellent for flavour and baby button mushrooms look delicious, too.  I knew I wanted to use red wine, so I was looking for something to combat the acidity that the red wine would bring.  Carrots were a good start, but I needed something that would echo the earthy, whilst balancing the acidity with sweetness.  Something that would go well with Game.  Something like ... chestnuts.  Having had the chestnut idea, it led on to considering prunes.  Prunes - just a few cut in half - would lend their deep sweetness, fruity flavour and dark colour to the equation perfectly.

It was all coming together nicely.

The last question was regarding herbage.  My dislike of thyme is well documented and I felt it was too easy to just opt for that.  It's rapidly becoming today's Herbes de Provence.  Way back in the eighties, that hideous stuff was in just about every Delia Smith recipe that had been documented and as such I'm sick to death of it.  The same goes for thyme and .. whoops, narrowly avoided an anti-thyme rant.  *phew*

I remembered my two front-door herbs, rosemary and bay.  (So called because they are either side of my front door).  Both would be perfect with the wild flavours of the Game and I liked the idea of those straight away.  My mind was wandering along pine nut routes when I suddenly remembered Juniper berries.  They would provide a gorgeous aromatic quality, along with a subtle citrussy fruitiness that would be hard to pin down but very "there".  Oh yes, it was all coming together beautifully.

The pastry was an unspoken given, in that I would be using my superb (and it IS superb, I kid you not) butter/suet pastry.  Just the sheer fact that it contains suet qualified it for the job, but the deliciously crisp lightness of the end result was absolutely spot on.

I added a few more ingredients over the course of the cooking process - the spoonful of tomato puree both for colour and fruitiness, the Knorr stock pot for its invaluably deep, dark colouration and excellent flavour - and I can safely say that each and every ingredient became as important as the next in the production of the pie.

Yes, it is basically a day-long labour of love to make this pie - but oh my gosh it is worthwhile.  Taken in stages, the process becomes an easy matter which I grant you is time consuming, but not difficult.  If you're looking for a dish with which to impress (and you could easily prepare the pie filling ahead of time and freeze it - which would make things a whole lot easier) you don't need to look much further.

"The nicest pie - both filling and pastry - I've had in many a long year" was my hubby's verdict. I think he liked it.

Perhaps not surprisingly, I have a few Cook's Tips for you.

The most important thing is not to rush this pie.  Give yourself a complete day in which to produce it if you're intending on making it all in one day, as it does take time.  Cutting the oven time short will only result in a potentially tough or undercooked filling that has none of the deep, developed flavours that a long oven bake will bring.

Don't make the pastry until the filling is made.  That way the pastry has a shorter time to wait and won't deteriorate in the fridge.

Don't be tempted to add the pastry to the pie until the filling is, at worst, luke warm or at best, stone cold.  Any significant heat will instantly melt your pastry, which will dissolve distressingly before you can get it into the oven.

Lastly, don't be scared to add a good deal of black pepper.  It gives a lovely warmth to the sauce that lingers on the tongue like a delicious echo.

You're also in luck that August is currently within Game season  - so invest in some mixed Game and tuck it away for a rainy day that can only be salvaged by the application of delicious Game Pie.  Your family will thank you.

GAME PIE     (Serves 3-4)

Ingredients :

1 tbsp olive oil
10g butter
500g mixed Game, diced  (I used venison, rabbit, pheasant, partridge & wood pigeon)
sea salt & freshly ground black pepper
1 large onion, finely chopped
1 large garlic clove, finely chopped
1 large carrot, half finely diced, half sliced small
1 stick celery, finely diced
2 rashers back bacon, diced
10 small round shallots
150g small button mushrooms, left whole
3 bay leaves
1 tsp fresh rosemary
8 juniper berries, crushed well
200ml red wine
1 heaped tsp tomato puree
1 Knorr rich beef stock pot
500ml water
10 semi dried prunes, halved
100g chestnuts.

For the pastry :

150g plain flour
50g vegetable suet
50g cold salted butter
sea salt
freshly ground black pepper
Carbonated mineral water as necessary.

1 egg yolk to glaze.

Method :

In a deep frying pan, heat the olive oil and add the butter.  When the butter is frothy, add the game and sear over a high heat with a tiny pinch of sea salt and a good pinch of black pepper.  Just get two or three sides of the meat coloured, then remove to an ovenproof casserole dish, using a slotted spoon.

Add the chopped onion, garlic, carrot (both sizes), celery and bacon to the pan.  Season with a small pinch of sea salt and black pepper.  Fry over a moderate heat until the onion is transparent and the bacon fat has begun to render.

Add the whole shallots and button mushrooms and increase the heat under the pan.  Fry until everything has gained a little colour - around five minutes, or so.

Add the bay leaves, rosemary and crushed juniper berries and stir through.

Add the red wine and tomato puree, stir through and allow to boil rapidly for 2-3 minutes, then reduce the heat to moderate and add the beef stock and the water.  Stir through again to ensure the stock has melted properly.

Simmer the pan contents for 10 minutes, then taste for seasoning and add more salt or pepper, as necessary.

Add the prunes and chestnuts.

Decant into the casserole dish and gently stir to mix the game through.

Cover the casserole dish and place into a pre-heated oven at 180degC/350degF/Gas 4 for 2 hours.

Once the cooking time is up, decant the casserole contents into your pie dish, cover lightly and set aside to cool.

Make the pastry by gathering all the ingredients except the water (and egg) into a large bowl.  Using your fingertips, rub the butter into the flour and suet, until you have a cross between breadcrumbs and cornflakes.  Add around 100ml of water and stir with a knife.  You will probably need a little more water, but what you are looking for is that the pastry dough just clings together and is damp, not wet.  Do not knead the dough at all, just pat and push it together then place onto a sheet of cling film and wrap tightly.  Rest in the fridge for at least 30 minutes before using.

When your dough is rested and your filling lukewarm, roll out the pastry to just bigger than the size of your pie dish.

Using a pastry brush, brush egg yolk around the lip of the pie dish.

Carefully lift the pastry on top of the pie, so that it overhangs the edge.  Using the tip of a knife, press down all around the edge then trim off the excess.

Brush all but a small amount of the remaining egg yolk over the surface of the pastry, taking care to go right to the edges.

Cut out some leaves or other decoration from your leftover pastry and lay them on top of the egg wash.  Brush egg onto the leaves.

Take a sharp knife and cut some holes into the pastry to allow the steam to escape.

Place into a pre-heated oven at 180degC/350degF/Gas 4 for 35-40 minutes until the pastry is crisply golden and the filling is bubbling hot.

Serve with buttered new potatoes and vegetables of your choice.

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