Who doesn’t love a pie? There’s no limit to what tastes good baked in a dish and topped with pastry. You can push the boundaries with rabbit, snail and wild garlic leaves, or stick with classics like chicken and ham hock.
I love serving pies at my dinner parties; if you saw the BBC’s Great British Menu in 2007 you’ll remember my rabbit and crayfish stargazy pie really caught the attention of the judges. I’ve made the same pie with chicken and lobster, which goes down a treat with guests, particularly when you stick the lobster’s head in the middle of the pastry.
It’s crucial to get every single element spot-on when cooking a pie, and it goes without saying to use only the finest ingredients. Your pastry crust will hide a few sins, but it won’t conceal a bad filling.
1kg venison, coarsely minced
Splash of vegetable oil for frying
2 medium onions, peeled and finely chopped
2 sticks of celery cut into small, rough dice
2 large carrots, peeled and cut into small rough dice
2 cloves of garlic, peeled and crushed
1 tsp chopped thyme leaves
1 tbsp flour
1 tbsp tomato purée
1 ltr hot beef stock
1 tbsp Worcester sauce
2 glasses of red wine
200g parsnips, peeled, trimmed and roughly chopped
2 servings of firm mashed potato
I’ve often made this gamey version of a shepherd’s pie when I’ve had a bit of venison or some game trimmings knocking around, it’s a great way to use up some of the less tender joints of meat. Shoulder of deer is a good cut to use, since it needs to be cooked very slowly.
Season the minced venison with salt and black pepper. Heat some vegetable oil in a heavy-based frying pan until almost smoking and cook the meat in small quantities turning it with a wooden spoon, then drain in a colander to remove any fat.
Meanwhile, in a thick-bottomed saucepan, heat a little more oil and gently cook the onion, garlic, celery, carrots and thyme for 2-3mins, stirring every so often until they soften.
Add the meat, dust with the flour, add the tomato purée and continue stirring on a low heat for a few minutes.
Slowly add the red wine, Worcester sauce and hot beef stock, bring to the boil and simmer for about an hour until the liquid has thickened and the meat is tender.
Remove from the heat, check the seasoning and leave to cool.
Meanwhile, cook the parsnips in boiling salted water for 10–12mins until soft.
Drain into a colander and return to the pan on a low heat for 1min or so to evaporate any excess water. P
urée the parsnips in a food processor, or mash them smoothly with a potato masher, and mix with the mashed potato.
Preheat the oven to 200ºC/gas mark 6. To assemble the pie, put the meat into a large serving dish, or individual dishes, and top with the potato/parsnip mixture, using a piping bag or with a fork. Bake for 35–40mins until the topping is golden. Serve with sprout tops, winter greens or root vegetables.