Game pies for Christmas and beyond…

Sorry, there’s quite a lot of work involved, so it’s not really a spoonie-friendly recipe – it’s a 6-spooner – get someone else to do it! Even though I spread it over several days, it still wiped me out.

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At this time of year, as I don’t celebrate Christmas, I like to stretch my culinary boundaries by creating a new recipe entirely off the top of my head, something, fortuitously, I have a knack for. That’s the only way I can explain it – I know, in advance, how the ingredients I propose to combine are going to taste, and I’m usually right. Not always, but too often for it just to be chance. I can’t tell you how I know this, it’s not something I learned, or was taught – it’s innate, and a knack is the best way I can describe it. Whatever the mechanism involved, I’m very happy to have it.

Traditional game pie is wall to wall game meat, bound with sausage meat and finished with jelly, the only thing not meat-based, and there’s animal fat in that, is the pastry holding together this carnivores’ wet dream. This is my much lighter, fruitier, take on it which I’ve just made and, damn, it’s good, harking back to the fruity pies of a much earlier era, and it has gravy, too, plus an equally untraditional suet crust which I shall probably flavour with Stilton and a little parsley.

Where a product is specified by name, below, it’s for reasons of quality and flavour. Go with it or not – your choice. Am I good to you or what? 😉

Ingredients (makes 6 fillings each of approximately 450g):-

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Game (venison, partridge, pheasant – a mixed pack from Waitrose/Ocado, about 400g when trimmed)

Meatballs (made with 6 – a pound or so – of outdoor-reared pork sausages, or whatever type you favour)

Echalion Shallots, peeled and chopped

Carrots, Imperator, from Tesco, or Sweet Spear from Sainsbury’s, peeled and sliced

Celeriac, a healthy chunk, well trimmed and chopped fairly small (If you are unfamiliar with celeriac you’ll find that, like aubergines, it’s blotched with brown marks throughout – perfectly normal, and they’re harmless)

Stock (1 Kallo organic veg cube plus Knorr Touch of Taste Chicken and ToT Beef concentrates – a tablespoon of each to start, adjust later if needed – and Marigold veg stock powder, to taste, say 2 teaspoons). You can’t, as far as I know, buy game stock, or game cubes/concentrate. Not where I live, anyway, so I make my own. I doubt it’s remotely authentic but it provides a savoury, tasty, base that gets the job done.

Geo. Watkins Mushroom Ketchup, a good splash

Sharwood’s Rich Soy Sauce, a tablespoon (This won’t add soy sauce taste, but it will add depth)

A tablespoon of ground cumin

Plain flour – I use bread flour, but go with whatever you have

Fresh Rosemary – an acquired taste which many people, including the late Elizabeth David, seem positively afraid of; I like a lot of it, but it must be fresh. I mix the leaves with olive oil, put them in plastic bags, roll into cylinders and freeze. Then all I have to do is cut off a piece when needed, and chop it while still frozen, as the oil melts quickly and is messy.

Clementine peel (optional), finely chopped

Black Olives, pitted, about 200g

Cherries (a mix of sweet and sour), a packet, from here

Deglet Nour Organic Dates, pitted, 200g, from here (A small date, not overly sweet – I cut each into 3 pieces)

Butternut squash, peeled and roasted, half a fresh one (I used frozen, which disintegrated – oh well, and least it added flavour)

Maldon Sea salt and black pepper to taste

To be topped with a suet crust, flavoured with Stilton and parsley. Atora Beef Suet gives the best results, but for some reason I could only buy the veggie version.

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First, prep the game. In the reviews, someone complained that it took him forever to remove all the bits of fur and feather (apparently he picked it out bit by bit – my way is better).

Simply tip the meat into a bowl of cold water (it’s vacuum packed, which always stinks, so I added a good splash of cider vinegar to the water, to freshen up the meat). Give the meat a good slosh around to flush out the blood – get your hands in there and feel for any shot while you’re at it – and any fur and feathers will float while the meat will sink. Not exactly rocket science, now is it? Pour off, rinse well, tip into a colander and leave to drain. Dry off any residual wetness on kitchen paper, trim up the meat, removing excessive connective tissue (far too much of it in my view; others complained too), and cut into small pieces. Set aside.

Skin the sausages and form each into 3 or 4 balls, depending on size. When you’ve done them all, fry them off in a reasonable depth of oil, until browned as close to all over as you can get. Drain on kitchen paper and set aside.

I used my usual 3-litre, spoonie-friendly, stainless steel casserole for this – it was just big enough.

Spoon some of the oil that the sausages were cooked in, avoiding the inevitable debris that all sausages seem to give off these days – no point in wasting that flavour** – into the casserole, and fry off the meat at a high temperature (mine appeared to have quite a lot of added water*** – not impressed – and, fried at a lower temperature it all leaked out. The higher temp won’t stop that, but it will evaporate it so that the meat browns more easily.

**The rest, strained, is in a jar in the fridge – never throw flavours away if you can avoid it. Oil, and other fats, will keep for a month or so, tightly covered in the fridge.

***Meat can have up to 10% added water without it having to be declared. And no, it wasn’t because I washed the meat, it wasn’t in the water long enough to absorb it, and anyway, it was drained and dried – this water was deep within the meat.

So, anyway, fry off the meat and set it aside in a bowl or on a plate, to catch any juices that leak out, while you prep the veg.

Start with the butternut squash, and cut it into bite-sized pieces, removing the skin as you go. I’ve seen some cooks on TV claiming you can cook and eat the skin – you might as well cook and eat old boots – don’t do it! Toss in olive oil, tip into a roasting tray – don’t season it – and roast at 200C until lightly charred on the edges. Remove from the oven, and set aside. (NB: The main point of roasting it is to reduce the moisture content and concentrate the flavour.

While the squash is roasting, prep the shallots, carrots and celeriac, and gently sweat off the shallots in a little of the sausage oil, until soft but not coloured. Stir in the cumin – add more oil if it’s too dry, and cook off for about 5 minutes.

Add everything else on the list up to and including the olives, add sufficient hot  water to just cover, bring to the boil then move to the lowest heat, put on the lid and simmer until the carrots are not quite soft.

Then add the fruit and the squash, bring back to the simmer, and cook until the carrots are fully soft. Carrots take longest of the veg to cook, so are a good benchmark for checking doneness.

Remove from the heat and set aside to cool. When cold, refrigerate overnight to give all those disparate flavours time to snuggle up in the dark, and get to know each other really well.

Next day, set a colander over your largest pan and tip everything into it to drain off the gravy. There won’t be a lot, as much of it will have been absorbed overnight,

Add as much hot water as you think necessary – you want the finished filling to be wet but not swimming – and add more Touch of Taste and maybe Marigold, to taste, and adjust the seasoning too (do that last). Then whisk in sufficient flour to thicken the gravy well, bearing in mind that it will thin out when poured back into the bulk of the filling, due to the retained liquid in it, cook out the flour for about 10 minutes, then gently stir it into the rest of the filling, then set the whole thing over a low heat, and bring it just up to simmering point, then remove from the heat.

To portion it I use Tesco’s small foil trays, with lids, and doing so while it’s hot is essential, and if you do it cold, when you reheat them they’ll expand and overflow. There should be enough filling for 6 trays.

Put on the lids, crimp to seal and leave to go cold. Label, date, and consign to the freezer.

To use, defrost thoroughly, in the fridge, then remove the lid and open out the crimped edges of the dish to support the crust. I favour a suet crust, and will probably flavour it with a little Stilton and parsley, as I said, but feel free to top it with whatever you fancy – mashed potato is probably the easiest option.

Enjoy! And whatever you do, as it says on commercial versions, be sure the filling is piping hot!

And remember – this isn’t supposed to be traditional – it’s just my take on the pie-making habits of a bygone age, when combining meat and fruit was the norm and, for me, at least, it works extremely well. It’s not that long since your jar of mincemeat actually contained minced meat (it still has suet in it), and, I believe, in the US, it sometimes still does.

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VEGETARIAN OPTION:-

Replace the game with, I’d suggest, a mix of Quorn chicken-style pieces and Quorn sausages – premium varieties – cut into chunks and slices, and use veggie stock (not, for pity’s sake, Marmite, it’ll swamp everything else!**). The rest of the recipe is veggie-friendly.

**Trust me on the Marmite – I was a veggie for about 20 years.

 

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