Hurray! It’s game season again… a chance to cook a broader range of foodstuffs. As the range of seasonal veg decreases, the blackboard at my local butcher’s is filling up with a wonderful selection of goodies. Recently venison and grouse caught my eye, so I snapped some up at Stansfields when I saw it.
I bought a few hundred grams of diced venison without a clear idea of what I wanted to make with it, but I started to entertain a growing desire to make a pasty. I love a well-made pasty, but where I live is pie country so it’s relatively rare to find a genuine, glorious example of the crust-encased pocket of goodness. I’ve made game pie before, but not pasties, so research and experimentation was called for…
Diligent homework threw up a lot of passionate and divisive opinion about pasties in general, and the Cornish pasty in particular. It was clear that under a strict interpretation of the rules this could not be seen as a true Cornish pasty: that requires beef, swede (turnip as we’d call it back home), and if you’re particularly strict, it needs to be made in Cornwall. It was becoming obvious I couldn’t label this as anything but a venison pasty. At least I was in good company: Shakespeare mentions venison pasties in the Merry Wives of Windsor.
So this was a posh imposter (with a heritage, admittedly), with a spread of ingredients which no traditionalist would entertain, but it sounded mouthwateringly good with the venison, and butternut squash as a substitute for turnip. In homage to ‘proper’ pasty making I followed the instructions on the Cornish Pasty Association website, and discounted my original idea of adding a shiitake mushroom and butter reduction over the top of the mix, as I’d read ‘proper’ pasties don’t have any pre-cooked ingredients in them.
As I was in the middle of making the shortcrust pastry for this I remember think I should’ve left baking to Miss South… it’s definitely her forté. I gave it a good go, but only after I’d mixed up the flour, egg (I used one double yolker duck egg), butter, baking soda and salt did I realise I’d have to hand-mix and rub the mix… I only have a hand-held food processor and it was starting to protest strongly at working the dough as vigourously as it needed. Still, I managed to manually get the pastry mix looking biscuity, as it was meant to, and then rolled it into a ball and bunged it into the fridge for an hour or so in some clingfilm to rise up.
To make 3 (rather large and overfilled) pasties I used around 330g venison, 200g of shallots and red onions in roughly equal measure, 300g of butternut squash, and slightly less potato. Ah well, I’ve never been a stickler for measurements anyway. I diced everything fairly small, mixed it all up with the seasoning, and a splash of oil so the flavours would mingle gently. Miss South suggested I supplement the normal seasoning with a pinch of mace: something which proved to be an inspired choice in adding warmth and old-fashioned flavour, redolent of big country house kitchens. It was only after putting the finished pasties in the oven I realised I should really’ve used up the flat-leaf parsley I’d meant to put in. Oh well…
I did over-fill the pasties (perhaps I should’ve made larger pastry circles, or doled 4 fillings out rather than the 3 I managed) so this made the distended pockets rather hard to seal (using a little egg to moisten the edges) and crimp (perhaps crimping should be left to the experts… the CPA, or The Mighty Boosh). I was amused that when I checked various references online crimping was described as a technique one couldn’t easily explain. My induction into this ancient art was somewhat therefore ignominious; and did allow more leakage than it probably should’ve, as the photos testify. I then baked the three of them at a medium heated oven for around 40 minutes, slowly being driven to distraction by the aroma filling the kitchen.
As mentioned my baking skills are not as fully honed as my sister, so in hindsight I wish I’d placed these on a better-greased tray, or even onto a wire shelf to cook. This did absolutely nothing to impact on the flavour though… these pasties were rich, warming and absolutely delicious. Autumnal heaven! Now I’ve lost my pasty cherry I’m going to make more of these with a variety of fillings… perfect for the lunchbox as a self-contained delight.