Today’s Venison Pot Pie is a loving, and decidedly more edible homage, to the age-old game pie. If you’ve ever watched a BBC period piece, you’ve probably spotted one at some point or another. Although game pies date back to the Roman Empire, they were at their most ornate during the Victorian era. In fact, “ornate” does not even begin to cover it. These pies were built in elaborate molds and decked out in leaves, roses and scroll work rendered entirely in pastry. Honestly, they boggle my mind. And it’s not just the flourishes found on these pies that astound me, it’s the height of them. Vintage game pies are shining examples of excellence in pastry architecture. But apparently, they were not shining examples of palatability.
Back in the Middle Ages, the pastry of a traditional meat pie was referred to as the “coffin” and it was as edible as the name suggests. The pastry was thought to be more of a container for the meaty goodness inside rather than part of the meal. This was largely due to the lack of fat in the pastry itself. The more fat you have in a pastry, the more prone it will be to breaking.
Traditional game pies are made with a hot water pastry. If that sounds ludicrous to you, I completely understand. Here, in North America, we favor the chilled, flaky pastry dough that envelopes the ubiquitous Apple pie. As the name would suggest, hot water pastry does not require a cool climate. It requires boiled water and likes to be handled, and these preferences are part of the reason it’s so good at keeping its shape. It does not form the flaky layers of what we in North America think of when we think pastry. Hot water pastry is more uniform and therefore has fewer points of weakness where it’s structural integrity might be compromised.
In the past, most hot water pastries were flour and water affairs with little far-too-precious animal fat mixed in. So, they were even more rigid and capable of structural feats you would never think pastry would be incapable of. Today, hot water pastry crusts are better acquainted with the likes of butter and lard and taste much better for it. They may not be as indestructible or as capable of reaching the same heights as their ancestors, but today’s hot water pastries are happily something to be relished rather than avoided.
In my Venison Pot Pie, I opted for a hot water pastry flavored with unsalted butter and shortening. I also mixed in some peppercorns I smacked around a bit. The interior of the pie is filled with a rich stew studded with morsels of venison stewing meat, chunks of rutabaga (the coziest root vegetable of them all), Yukon Gold potatoes, pearl onions, carrots, and celery. The stew is seasoned with more red wine than is sensible, a healthy dose of rosemary, and, of course, bay leaves. I generally cook the stew for two hours and then let it sit overnight to improve the flavor and the consistency. So, for best results, start your Venison Pot Pie a full day before you need it. If you fear your stew is still too runny, whisk a few tablespoons of flour into a small amount of water and stir it into your stew once it comes to a boil.
I can think of no better way to usher in the holiday season than with a cozy slice of Venison Pot Pie. It has all the charm of a pie fresh from the pages of A Christmas Carol but tastes much better.
- 3 cups all-purpose flour
- 10-15 black peppercorns
- 3/4 teaspoon salt
- 2/3 cup cold vegetable shortening, chopped
- 1/2 cup cold unsalted butter, chopped
- 1/2 cup boiling water
- 1 lb (0.6 kg) stewing venison
- 1 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 4 cloves of garlic, thinly sliced
- 2 celery stocks, roughly chopped
- 2 carrots, peeled and roughly chopped
- 170 g (6 oz) pearl onions, halved
- 2 small Yukon Gold potatoes, peeled and roughly chopped
- 1 small rutabaga, peeled and roughly chopped
- 1 cup red wine, divided
- 4 cups water
- 2 bay leaves
- 4 sprigs rosemary
- Salt and pepper to taste
- 1 egg
- 1 tablespoon water
- Place peppercorns in a small ziplock bag and crack them with a mallet.
- Combine flour, salt and cracked peppercorns in a large mixing bowl. Add the butter and the shortening to the flour mixture and toss to coat.
- Pour in the boiling water and work the butter, shortening and water into the flour mixture using a pastry cutter or two forks.
- Once the dough starts to resemble a coarse meal, start kneading it until it forms a ball. Cut the ball in half and form each half into a disc. Cover in plastic wrap and refrigerate for an hour or overnight.
- Pat venison dry with paper towel and place in a large ziplock bag. Add the salt and shake.
- Heat olive oil over medium-high heat in a large heavy-bottom pot. Once the oil is shimmering, add the venison and brown on all sides. Place venison on a plate and set aside.
- Add the onions to the pot and sauté until just translucent. Add the garlic and sauté until fragrant.
- Toss in the carrots and celery and sauté until softened slightly. Next, add the potatoes and the rutabaga and give them a quick toss. Be sure to add a sprinkling of salt with each addition.
- Pour in 1/2 cup of the wine and give everything a quick stir, scraping the bottom of the pot with your spoon. Add the water and a pinch of salt.
- Tie the rosemary sprigs and the bay leaves into a bundle using butcher twine and toss them into the pot.
- Bring the stew to a boil, then reduce the heat to a simmer. Leave the stew to cook for an hour, stirring occasionally.
- When an hour has passed, add the remaining wine and leave to cook for another hour.
- Taste the stew and season accordingly.
- Cover the stew and leave it to sit for a few hours, preferably overnight. The stew should be nice and thick at this point.
- Preheat the oven to 400 F.
- Place a disc of pastry on a well-floured surface. Let the dough come up to room temperature. Once the dough is pliable, roll it out with a floured rolling pin on a marble slab, piece of parchment or a silicon mat. Line a 9-inch springform pan with the rolled out pastry.
- Spoon cooled venison stew into the pastry shell until it is 3/4 of the way full.
- Roll out the second disc of pastry and place on top. Trim and crimp the pastry to seal the pie. Create a vent in the middle of the pie.
- In a small bowl whisk the egg wash ingredients together. Using a pastry brush, coat the top of the pie with the egg wash.
- Bake the pie for an hour or until golden brown.
- Allow to cool slightly, then slice and serve with a side salad.