A Christmas Game Pie Recipe from Le Calabash Cooking School
Winter may still be a few months away, but that's not stopping us from thinking about what's going to be on the dinner table come Christmas time. Christmas, no matter where you are in the world, is a time of family and tradition, and there's one long standing culinary tradition -- thought to date back to Roman times -- that continues to be cooked up in the kitchen, particularly in Western Europe: game pie.
Game pies are often associated with England, and rightfully so. They were especially popular in the 18th century and many families had their own version of the savory dish. But game pies are also often the meal centerpiece come Christmastime in France too. This particular recipe comes from Chef Sidney of Le Calabash Cooking School, who is also leading a very special Christmas cooking vacation from December 13-20, 2014.
For the jellied stock
- All the bones and scraps from the game
- 4 allspice berries
- 1 blade mace
- 6 whole black peppercorns
- 1 level tsp dried thyme
- 2 bay leaves
- 1 carrot
- 1 onion, stuck with 4 cloves
- Lemon juice
- 11g (about 1/4 oz) sachet powdered gelatine
For the filling
- 1 ½ (700g) haunch or saddle of venison
- 1 small hare, jointed (or any other combination of game, provided you finish up with 2 lb. (1kg) game meat after trimming)
- 5 fl oz. (150ml) tawny port
- 2 tbsp. brandy
- ½ teaspoon dried thyme
- 1 lb. (450g) hard back pork fat
- 1 lb. (450g) lean pork
- 1 ¼ teaspoons ground ginger
- 1 ¼ teaspoons ground cinnamon
- ¾ teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
- 1 clove garlic, crushed
- 2-3 tbsp. fresh chopped parsley
- 8 oz. (225g) thin green back bacon rashers
- Salt and freshly milled black pepper
For the hot-water crust pastry
- 1 ¼ lb. (560g) plain flour
- ¾ teaspoon salt
- 1 tbsp. icing sugar
- ¼ teaspoon ground mace
- 7 oz. (200g) lard
- 8 fl oz. (250ml) water
- Beaten eggs to glaze
Note: You will need an 8 inch (20cm) round cake tin with a removable base.
1. The first stage of cooking starts the day before you make the pie itself. First trim all the game meat from the bones and cut them into quarter-inch to half-inch cubes. Any really scrappy pieces can be saved for mincing together with the pork the next day, and any sinewy bits can go in the stock. Place the cubed meat in a bowl, pour in the port and brandy, sprinkle with the thyme, salt and pepper, then stir well, cover and leave in a cool place to marinate overnight.
2. Next, place the game bones in a deep saucepan with enough cold water to cover. Add the spices and herbs for the jellied stock, together with the carrot and onion stuck with cloves. Bring to the boil and simmer gently for about 2 hours. You will need to skim the surface of the stock during the initial stages of the cooking. After that, strain the stock into a fresh saucepan, discard all the debris and boil rapidly until it has reduced to about 1 pint and has a good flavor. Taste and season with salt and lemon juice as required, then whisk in the gelatine. Cover the mixture and chill overnight.
3. Stage two of the cooking takes place the following day. Make sure the jellied stock has set and skim the surface thoroughly. Now butter your cake tin and pre-heat the oven to 150°C. Next finely mince together the pork fat, lean pork and any game scraps from the day before. Add the spices, garlic, parsley and a seasoning of salt and pepper ; mix this thoroughly, then divide the mixture into four. Shape each quarter into a flat round slightly smaller than the diameter of the cake tin.
4. Now for the pastry, prepare the hot-water crust by sifting all the dry ingredients together in a bowl. Place the lard and 250ml (9 oz) of water in a saucepan and heat until the lard has melted and the water is boiling. Then immediately pour the liquid into the dry ingredients and stir with a spoon to form a dough. Turn the dough out on a working surface and knead very lightly and briefly.
5. Now weigh 600g (1 lb, 4.5 oz) of the dough, put it in a loosely folded plastic bag, and let it cool a little before rolling it out to a round similar in diameter to that of the cake tin. Place the round of dough in the tin, then gradually work it from the center of the base and up the sides of the tin. Work your way round the tin, using your curled-up fingers as a pad, gently squeezing the dough up the side and just over the rim. Make sure the pastry is as even possible with no obvious cracks or thin places.
6. Next, line the inside of the pastry mould with the bacon rashers, cutting them level with the top of the tin. Place a round of the pork mixture in the base and pat it out to fit the interior. Now cover that with a third of the marinated game and its juices. Repeat this layering twice more and finish off with a pork mixture layer. Roll out the rest of the dough to a round suitable for a lid, glaze the inside of the dough with egg and press into position on top of the pie. Squeeze the edges together and trim down with with scissors to give an edge of about ½ inch standing up proud. Next turn the edge firmly over inwards, pressing it down with the prongs of a fork. Make a steam whole in the top, then re-roll the pastry trimmings and cut out diamond-shaped leaves to decorate the lid.
7. Lay a sheet of foil over the top and bake for 2 ½ hours, then remove from the oven. Leave the pie for 30-45 minutes to firm up, then turn up the oven temperature to 190°C (375°F). Carefully remove the pie from the tin and brush the pastry all over with egg. Return the pie to the oven and as the pastry continues baking it will firm up and all the pastry will brown – it will take approximately 30 minutes. As the top will brown before the sides, it will need to be protected with foil while the sides finish browning.
8. When the pie is a glowing golden color remove from the oven, leave to cool, then cover and chill. Meanwhile, have the jellied stock warmed slightly, then cool it to the syrupy stage and pour it into the pie gradually via the steam whole. Chill again to give the jelly a chance to set and then, believe it or not, it’s ready to serve.
Learn more French Christmas recipes with a trip to Le Calabash Cooking School this December.
By Liz Hall