Supermarkets often sell packs of prepared mixed game which are handy for this recipe, but the best results are obtained by visiting your butcher for a mixture of rabbit, venison, pheasant and pigeon breast, wild as you like. In either case, casserole your game a day or so in advance – it tastes even better reheated and freezes brilliantly. Add a few wild mushrooms if you like, browning them lightly first and adding about 20 minutes before the end of the cooking time.
- 1kg assorted game, off the bone and cut into chunks
- 250g smoked lardons or bacon bits
- Rapeseed or sunflower oil, to supplement the bacon fat
- 2 large English onions, diced
- 2 large carrots, scrubbed and chopped
- 2 sticks of celery, finely sliced
- 1 large leek, white and palest green parts, washed and finely sliced
- 1 heaped tsp juniper berries, crushed in a pestle and mortar
- A bouquet garni of fresh thyme, parsley and bay
- 500ml fruity red wine
- 2 tsp Dijon mustard
- Salt and pepper
- 250g puff pastry, to serve, thoroughly defrosted if frozen
- A tablespoon or so of beaten egg
Heat the oven to 180°C/Gas 4
In an ovenproof casserole with a lid, fry the bacon until it renders its fat. Lift it out with a slotted spoon and set aside while you brown the meat well in the fat. Remove that too.
Add a little oil to the pan and add the onions, carrots, celery and leek. Don't let them brown. When they are translucent, return the game and lardons to the pan along with the crushed juniper berries and the herbs. Stir the mustard into the wine, add to the pan and bring to the boil. Season well with salt and pepper, transfer to the oven and cook for an hour and a half.
When cooking is complete, fish out and discard the bouquet garni and transfer the mixture to a large pie dish (or three smaller ones for two). Taste the cooking liquor in the pan and reduce if necessary over a brisk heat to concentrate the flavour, which varies according to the mix of game. Adjust the seasoning and strain over the meat to remove the spent juniper berries. Cool completely and refrigerate, or freeze for later use.
To serve, bring the meat to room temperature. Roll out enough pastry to cover the top of the dish. Brush the perimeter with beaten egg and top with the pastry. Trim to fit and press firmly along the sides with the back of a fork to keep it in place. If you are feeling creative, cut some pastry leaves or stars as decoration. Cut a couple of slits in the pastry to let out the steam. Brush the top of the pie with the rest of the egg wash, add your decorations and brush those too. Bake for 35 minutes at a preheated 200°C/ Gas 6, until the pastry is burnished.
Serve with leafy greens and a pinot noir of your choice.
This recipe accompanies Janet's Food for Thought article – The Retirement Game