Game pie

Serves 4-6

You can use any type of game - hare, venison, pigeon and pheasant - but you will find that the various cuts have different cooking times. For example a piece of venison leg could take three or four times as long to cook as a piece of pheasant. Make sure the pieces are more or less the same size, though the darker meat that needs longer cooking will shrink so could start off in larger pieces. I'd recommend that you start by browning the different types of game separately and then adding them at different stages of cooking, so that they each get the length of time they need. Allow at least 2 hours for venison haunch, 11/2 hours for rabbit legs and 1 hour for game birds, so add them for the last 45 minutes to an hour of cooking.

1.5 kg trimmed game meat, cut into 3-4 cm chunks and kept separate
750ml good red wine
2 cloves of garlic, peeled and crushed
3 juniper berries crushed
1tsp thyme, leaves removed and chopped
1 bay leaf
Vegetable oil for frying
60g butter
2 onions, peeled and finely chopped
3tbsp plain flour
1/2tbsp tomato puree
11/2 litres dark meat stock
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

for the pastry

225g self raising flour
1tsp salt
85g shredded beef suet
60g butter, chilled and coarsely grated
1 medium egg beaten

Put the venison, and if you're using it, hare, into a stainless steel or ceramic bowl (keeping the birds separate) with the red wine, garlic, thyme, juniper and bay leaf. Cover and marinade in the fridge for two days.

Drain the meat in a colander, reserving the marinade, and dry the pieces on some kitchen paper. Heat the vegetable oil in a heavy frying pan, lightly flour the meat with a tablespoon of the flour, season with salt and pepper and fry the meat on a high heat a few pieces at a time until nicely browned. Then cook the rabbit. Keep that separate from the dark game meat. Then do the same with the lighter coloured unmarinated game birds such as pheasant.

Heat the butter in a large, heavy-bottomed saucepan and gently fry the onions for a few minutes until soft. Add the flour and tomato purée and stir over a low heat for a minute. Slowly add the marinade stirring constantly to avoid lumps forming. Bring to the boil and simmer until it has reduced by half. Add the meat stock and the pieces of game that will take longer to cook (ie. the venison), bring back to the boil, cover with a lid and simmer gently for about 11/2 hours until the meat is fairly tender. Add the rest of the game and continue to simmer for an hour. It's difficult to put an exact time on cooking braised meats: sometimes an extra half an hour may be required. Test the meat to check that it is not too tough.

Once the meat is cooked, the sauce should have thickened sufficiently. If not, dilute a little cornflour in some water and stir into the sauce and simmer for a few minutes. Transfer the meat into a large pie dish and leave to cool.

Meanwhile make the pastry: mix the flour and salt with the suet and grated butter. Mix in about 150-175ml water with the egg to form a smooth dough and knead it for a minute. Roll the pastry on a floured table to about 1cm thick and cut out to about 2cm larger all the way round than the pie dish, or dishes, you are using. Brush the edges of the pastry with a little of the beaten egg and lay the pastry on top, pressing the egg-washed sides against the rim of the dish. Cut a small slit in the top of each pie to allow steam to escape, and brush with beaten egg. You can put a trim around the edge of the dish with a strip of leftover pastry. Leave to rest in a cool place for 30 minutes.

Pre-heat the oven to 200C/gas mark 6. Bake for 45 minutes, or until the pastry is golden. Serve with greens or mashed root vegetables such as celeriac or parsnip and/or small boiled parsley potatoes.

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