I got the idea for a pheasant and leek pie via Scottish Cock-a-leekie soup, or cockie leekie (circa 1598), which probably came from a French chicken and onion dish. Old recipes included beef shin and prunes, but I thought a thickened version, minus cows and fruit, with pheasant as a substitute for chicken would taste good under pastry. You will note that I also dispensed with barley, which in my humble opinion is better suited to a broth.
Using a cast iron casserole, brown a large pheasant in olive oil, to caramelise the sugars in the meat and skin.
1 large pheasant
6 pieces garlic (peeled and bruised)
3 leek tops
1 large carrot
1 stick of celery
a bouquet garni of 2 bay leaves and a sprig or two of rosemary, sage and thyme
10 black peppercorns
6 crushed juniper berries
ground sea salt
2 pints water
When the pheasant is a nice golden colour, remove the olive oil and save for later. Fill the pot with the stock ingredients listed above – use the tops of the leeks for the stock and save the lower, better parts for the pie filling. Bring to the boil, skim off any scum, put the lid on and remove to a preheated oven at 150º C for 1 hour. Turn the bird half way through.
When done, remove the pheasant and allow to cool. Strain the stock and throw away the depleted vegetables. When the bird has cooled, remove the meat from the skin and bones. Chop the pheasant up into bite sized pieces.
While the stock is cooking in the oven, make some pastry (recipe here) and allow it to chill in the fridge.
Pheasant and Leek Pie recipe (serves 4):
1 large pheasant (poached and chopped into bite sized pieces)
3 slices smoked streaky bacon (chopped)
3 leeks (sliced)
1 stick celery (chopped)
6 pieces garlic (finely chopped)
1 large carrot (chopped)
1 1/2 pints pheasant stock
2 large squirts anchovy paste
1 dessertspoon tomato purée
1 dessertspoon plain flour
2 teaspoons sherry vinegar
2 heaped teaspoons French mustard
2 bay leaves
lots of cracked black pepper (to taste)
Sea salt if required
Using the reserved olive oil, fry the chopped bacon until it goes crispy.
Add the leeks, which I sliced quite thin (about 5mm).
Cook the leeks gently for 20 minutes or so, until they become soft and sticky. Attentive stirring is required.
Mix in the carrot, celery and garlic.
After 5 minutes stir in the flour to make a roux.
Pour on about 1 1/2 pints of stock and combine with all the remaining ingredients (except the pheasant) – mix well.
Finally add the meat and bring the dish up to a simmer. Put the lid on the casserole and remove to a preheated oven at 150º C for an hour.
The casserole should have thickened up well, do taste and adjust the seasoning at this point.
Allow the pie filling to cool before rolling out the pastry – this will be quicker spread out in the pie dish, but do rub it with butter first. I’m only using a pastry lid for the pie (that’s sufficient carbohydrates for me), but should you feel inclined, make twice as much pastry and make sure the filling is cold before pouring it on the bottom layer of dough. I thoroughly recommend making your own pastry – it tastes incredible in comparison to the palm oil and margarine muck they sell in supermarkets. If you have a food processor, it only takes about 2 minutes to make – it’s very easy!
Take the pastry out of the fridge and roll it out on a clean dry surface. A smooth piece of marble or granite is ideal, but a bread board or work top will work equally well. Sprinkle plain flour onto the board and rolling pin to stop it sticking. When the pastry is roughly the right size (slightly bigger is best), roll it around the rolling pin, lift it onto the pie dish and roll it back out. I’m sure listening to Bob Dylan or the Rolling Stones helps! Trim the dough to fit the dish and pinch all the way round with your fingers to make a nice crimped edge. Poke a couple of holes into the top to allow hot air to escape. Decorate with any leftover pastry. Paint the top with milk and a splash of water or use beaten egg and water – both aid in browning.
Bake the pie in a preheated oven at 200º C for 45 minutes or until golden brown. Allow to cool for 10 minutes and serve with seasonal vegetables, such as Brussels sprouts.