Venison & Dark Ale Pie

Venison is one of my favourite meats and I always make an effort to buy it whenever I find it because like all game the season is limited. It’s also very good value when you consider I bought a whole leg (shank and all) for €10 in FXB where a similar cut of lamb cost nearly double that. A few days later I was in Lidl and saw a rolled venison leg for €16 so don’t automatically assume a big supermarket will always be cheaper than your butcher.

Boned venison leg, I keep it intact as it's better to braise a piece of meat whole because it retains more mositure than if you dice it into small chunks before cooking.

The good thing about buying the whole joint is that the bones and trimmings left over can be used for stock, something this pie needs relies on due to the thickening effects of gelatin when reducing the braising liquid down at the end. If you were to do the same with stock cubes not only would the finished product be inedibly salty it would still have the consistency of water.

If you’ve no homemade stock, I would get rid of the cubes altogether and substitute red wine instead before thickening with cornstarch or a roux. The reason I haven’t suggested doubling the amount of ale is depending on the type you chose the bitterness inherent in beer can become very prominent when the sauce is reduced. It’s possible to counteract this bitterness with salt – not sugar as is often advised – but even that has its limits. As it happens, the ale I used is not heavily hopped but I still wouldn’t take the risk.

Despite this, I’ve found myself cooking with beer lot more over the past twelve months; I think it’s a great choice for stews and punchy sauces and with so many excellent microbreweries popping up both here and in the UK it’s nice to use a more local resource rather than relying on wines from further afield.  There’s clearly plenty of scope to experiment and it’s really just a natural extension of the long history of using stout in our dishes.

For the pastry, I’ve used the rather old-fashioned suet as shortening instead of butter as I think it makes a fabulous crust. Unfortunately I couldn’t get any fresh (you normally have to give the butcher a few days notice to get it) so I bought some Atora from Superquinn instead. Do not buy the light version as it’s basically just a hydrogenated vegetable oil akin to margarine; butter is the best option if you can’t find the proper stuff but reduce the amount of water as the shop suet is dehydrated to extend its shelf life and requires more moisture. The steps I’ve given for making the pastry rely heavily on a fabulous guide I found last month, I heartily recommend reading it if you are in anyway interested in baking as there’s a wealth of information not just on what to do but why as well.

The empty pie awaiting its contents

The filled pie awaiting its lid

The sealed pie awaiting the oven

The finished pie awaiting our stomachs!

Serves: 4-6

Ingredients:
For the filling:
Grapeseed Oil
1 haunch of venison, boned
15g butter
150g onions, finely sliced
15g tomato paste
400ml dark ale
150ml port
500ml venison stock
5ml mushroom ketchup
2.5ml Worcestershire sauce
2.5ml fish sauce
10 peppercorns
5 juniper berries
3 sprigs thyme
5 sprigs parsley
75g carrots, roughly chopped
75g celery, roughly chopped
100g carrots, in 2cm dice
250g mushrooms, sliced
2.5ml sherry vinegar

For the suet pastry:
225g self-raising flour
2.5g salt
100g suet
100ml water
1 egg, lightly beaten

Method:

  1. For the pastry, add the salt and flour to a bowl and mix thoroughly.
  2. Add the suet and rub into the flour with the tips of your fingers.
  3. When the mixture looks like course breadcrumbs add the water.
  4. Mix the water in using your fingers until it starts to come together into a viable dough – it need not come together in one big lump, as long as it’s sticking together in large clumps it’s fine (you may need more or less water for this).
  5. Pour the clumps from the bowl onto a work surface and shape into a mound.
  6. Using the palm of your hand, push the mixture away from you to smooth out the bumps and form a homogenous dough (try to minimise the amount of times you do this).
  7. Flatten the dough into a small and thick disc and wrap in Clingfilm before putting in the fridge to rest.
  8. For the filling, heat a large pan over a high heat and when very hot add the grapeseed oil.
  9. Fry the whole venison haunch in the pan until brown all over and then transfer to a pressure cooker.
  10. Using the same pan, place over a low heat and melt the butter.
  11. Add the onions and sauté slowly until golden brown (around 25 minutes).
  12. Raise the heat to medium and add the tomato paste.
  13. Fry for 3-4 minutes until it has darkened in colour, stirringly constantly to prevent it catching.
  14. Add the ale and the port and bring to the boil.
  15. When most of the alcohol has evaporated pour in the stock, mushroom ketchup, Worcestershire sauce and fish sauce.
  16. Simmer for another five minutes and then transfer all the contents of the pan to the pressure cooker.
  17. Add the peppercorns, juniper berries, thyme, parsley, carrots and celery to the pressure cooker.
  18. Bring the cooker to its high pressure setting and cook for 50 minutes
  19. While the meat is cooking, roll out the pastry into two discs, one larger than the other (one must be large enough to line the bottom of the pie dish).
  20. Put the dough back into the fridge to rest again.
  21. When the meat is done, take the cooker off the heat and allow the pressure to subside naturally (in winter I put the cooker outside to speed this up).
  22. Take the meat out of the cooker and chop into 3-4cm cubes (take the opportunity to remove any gristle).
  23. Strain the liquid from the pressure cooker through a fine sieve into a wide pan and bring to the boil.
  24. Reduce the liquid by two thirds until thickened (about five minutes from the end, add the diced carrots to soften them).
  25. Place the mushrooms in a cold frying pan with a splash of water and cook for a few minutes until the mushrooms have released their water.
  26. Pour the excess water into the reduced sauce.
  27. Increase the heat to high and add some grapeseed oil and fry the mushrooms until nicely browned.
  28. Mix the mushrooms and meat in the sauce and ensure everything is evenly coated.
  29. Stir through the sherry vinegar and correct the seasoning if required.
  30. Line a pie tray with the larger piece of pastry being careful not to stretch the dough as you do so.
  31. Add the filling to the pie and then brush the edges of the pastry with water.
  32. Place to other piece of pastry on top and press it down on the watered pastry to seal.
  33. Flute the edges, of the pie and poke a hole in the centre to allow any steam to escape.
  34. Preheat the oven to 180°C.
  35. Brush the top of the pie with the egg wash and place in the oven when it has come up to temperature.
  36. Bake for around 25 minutes until golden brown all over and the pastry is cooked.

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