This is a timeless recipe from Jane Grigson that is as good as it is easy to prepare, especially if you take a legitimate shortcut and use storebought frozen puff pastry. Beef is a workable substitute for the venison; it makes a good pie, just not as good a pie.
- 1 ½ lb venison or beef (chuck, or better, flank steak), cut into ¾ inch pieces (or, in the case of beef flank, tiles)
- flour seasoned generously with mace, pepper and salt
- about 4 Tablespoons unsalted butter
- about 2-3 oz red wine
- beef stock
- about ¾ cup chopped onion
- 1 Tablespoon flour
- puff pastry
- 1 egg, beaten
Preheat the oven to 435°
1. Dredge the meat in the seasoned flour and shake off any excess flour.
2. Melt half the butter over medium-high heat and turn the meat in the butter just barely to brown it: You are not trying to cook the meat; all you want are some seared stripes to add flavor.
3. Add the wine, reduce it by half, then add the onion and enough stock just to cover the meat.
4. Simmer the filling until the meat is fork tender. The cooking time varies a lot, from about 40 minutes to a couple of hours for old deer.
5. Melt the remaining 2 tablespoons butter in a heavy skillet over medium heat and whisk in the tablespoon of flour until it barely colors.
6. Ladle some of the cooking liquid from the venison into the roux, whisk to combine them and deglaze the skillet, and then add the slurry to the venison. Mix it well.
7. Cut a circle of puff pastry about ¾ inch greater in diameter than a standard 8” pie pan (disposable aluminum is fine; nonstick reusable is better).
8. Use a slotted spoon to put the meat and onions into the pie pan. Mound the meat slightly in the center, then add enough of the liquid to reach a level about 3/8 of an inch lower than the rim of the pastry. You should have some extra liquid: Keep it to reheat and serve it separately on the side with the pie. If you have a pie bird this is a good place to use it (see the notes).
9. Brush the rim of the pan with a little of the beaten egg then lay the disc of pastry onto the pie and crimp the edges with a fork at right angles to the rim.
10. Cut a vent about ½ inch in diameter at the center of the pastry and decorate the lid with the scraps of puff pastry that remain after shaping the lid of the pie. Paint the pastry with the beaten egg.
11. Bake the pie until the crust turns golden brown, usually about 20-25 minutes.
- The Editor has learned the hard way (see “Pizza Delivery” in the lyrical ) that it is vital to remove any yellowish fat from wild venison; it has a rancid pungency that is revolting.
- Thawed frozen puff pastry is extremely forgiving. It is easy to roll out to a thinner, wider shape, and if the pastry tears, the fissure may be repaired simply by pinching it back together.
- A pie bird, or little ceramic funnel that allows steam to escape from the filling and also supports the pastry as it cooks, is particularly helpful to prevent liquid from overflowing the vent and making the pastry sodden.
- The stock incorporating red wine is particularly compatible with venison. If, however, you use beef, then the substitution of ale for the wine is an appealing variation. We also add a scant teaspoon of dried thyme with the onion at Step 3 when using beef.
- As usual, we agree with the judgment of Mrs. Grigson about this pie: “One of the best of English dishes. It cannot fail to be a success, as the cooking of the contents is done separately beforehand: This means that tenderness and seasoning can be assured.” (Jane Grigson’s English Food, London 1974, 236)