The venison pie, a family favourite, started life as a simple version, but over the years I’ve modified it to reflect the seasons and our changing tastes. The recipe for this on my blog still attracts the highest number of hits, and I find it appearing on overseas websites as diverse as food history and game shooting.
Venison is a sturdy meat that can be matched with robust aromatics, and like other game has a tendency to toughen and tighten up. To avoid this, slow cook the meat and use cuts from the shoulder or the rump, which fall apart with cooking, delivering a rich and gamey pie.
The Maggie Beer shortcrust pastry is the only pastry I put with this pie. The richness of the sour cream and the butter is a perfect match for the boldness of the meat. If you are a novice at pastry making, this recipe is very forgiving.
You might need to order venison from the butcher, and it’s wise to check availability ahead of time. If you can’t get your hands on deer meat, use beef.
This pie has an incredibly rich, complex and balanced set of flavours, and is an exceptional special-occasion meal. You can serve it with a creamy mash or my new favourite, creamed cauliflower. Broad beans or green string beans with a bit of butter and nutmeg work beautifully too. The wine match is a rich pinot noir.
If you avoid cooking duck because you believe it will be difficult, this traditional Asian method of red braising will give you sweet and succulent meat with a deliciously crispy skin.
Braising produces some prized masterstocks, with recipes often handed down by families over generations. I picked up my masterstock recipe many years ago from Darren Ho, who was chef at Terroir, in the Hunter region. Ho is from a line of chefs and restaurant owners, and his grandfather bestowed the family masterstock recipe on him.
My masterstock is more than a decade old and, like a good red wine, has aged gracefully, with its well-balanced flavours bearing testament to many meals. I have named it Mao, as the erstwhile chairman of the People’s Republic was said to like his food cooked this way.
Preparing your first masterstock is simply a matter of combining the ingredients in a large stockpot and simmering. If you follow some basic rules, the stock will keep in the refrigerator for years (freeze it if you're not using it regularly). Before refrigerating, it should be strained and brought to a rolling boil for a few minutes after each use, to keep it free from nasty bacteria. The complexity and depth of flavour continues to grow, based on the accumulated meat and vegetable infusions.
The flavours in masterstock are incredibly versatile and are a base for sauces, soups or gravy. It can be reduced to a glaze for pork or ham, and it makes an easy stir fry sauce or a natural enhancer for casseroles instead of using stock cubes.
Duck legs or marylands, are best for this recipe. The skin can be crisped under a hot grill before serving. I like to serve the duck with a fresh Asian-style salad of mint, coriander, lychees and ginger to cut through the richness.
If you are cooking for a special occasion and you have a large enough pot, a whole red braised duck is an impressive dish – just make sure you make enough stock to cover the bird in the pot. Cook slowly for three and a half hours on top of the stove on a very low heat. Double the recipe quantities to cook a large piece of meat. Pork belly can also be braised in this way, adding some onion, cloud ears (black fungus) to the stock.
For your initial batch of masterstock, prepare it a day before you are ready to cook your duck, so the flavours will have time to infuse. Each time you use the stock, you can add to it by replenishing the ingredients to ensure you keep enough quantity for next time.
Mao duck with ginger and lychee salad
The quantities are approximate; you can adjust based on your taste. The ingredients are available at Asian grocery stores.
2 litres water
250ml Shaoxing wine
125ml light soy sauce
75ml dark soy sauce
100g yellow rock sugar of palm sugar
3 cumquats or 3 pieces orange peel
2 cinnamon quills
4 star anise
1 knob ginger, roughly chopped
4 cloves garlic, peeled
5 dried Chinese mushrooms
4 duck marylands or 8 duck legs
full recipe quantity masterstock
2 spring onions, chopped
12 lychees, peeled and chopped or tinned
½ cup mint leaves
½ cup coriander leaves
½ a red chilli, chopped
2 tbsp ginger, peeled and finely chopped
4 kaffir lime leaves, finely shredded
juice of half a lime
To make the masterstock, bring all the ingredients to boil in a large stockpot and simmer for half an hour. Strain. This recipe makes about two and a half litres. Any leftover stock can be refrigerated for up to two weeks or frozen for longer periods (if you're using it regularly you don't need to freeze it).With regular resuscitation, rejuvenation, boiling and refreezing, your stock can be made to last for generations.
To prepare the duck, preheat the oven to 160C. Trim any excess fat from the duck, and for marylands slit the joint using a sharp knife to release the tendon between the leg and the thigh joint of the duck to keep it flat.
Place in a baking dish, skin side down. Bring the masterstock to the boil in a saucepan and pour over the duck pieces so they are almost submerged.
Cover with a lid or aluminium foil and place in the oven. Cook for one and a half hours.
Remove the lid or foil and turn the duck over to skin side up. Cook, uncovered, for another 45 minutes until the meat is almost falling from the bone.
Remove the duck from the stock and refrigerate until needed. Completely chill the masterstock in the refrigerator and then remove the fat that has accumulated on the top. Place two cups of masterstock in a saucepan, bring to the boil and reduce by half.
The duck pieces can be either reheated in the reduced stock or, for a crispy skin, placed in a shallow pan, skin side up and reheated in a 180C oven for 10 minutes, or under a hot grill.
Make the salad by combining the ingredients in a bowl and tossing.
Transfer the duck pieces to a serving bowl and pour over the reduced stock, then pile the lychee and ginger salad on top.
Venison pie with cumquat and star anise
4 tbsp olive oil
1.3kg cubed venison
¼ cup plain flour
10 golden eschalots, diced
2 cloves garlic, chopped
1 tsp juniperberries
½ tsp ground cinnamon
½ tsp ground cloves
250g speck, diced
300ml beef or veal stock
375ml red wine (pinot is good)
5 whole cumquats, halved and deseeded
4 star anise
2 sprigs rosemary
2 tbsp tomato paste
6 large mushrooms, sliced
extra stock, if needed
salt and pepper to taste
Trim the venison of sinew and dice into small pieces. Roll it in plain flour, shaking off the excess. Set aside.
Heat the oil on medium heat in a large saucepan, then add the eschalots and garlic, frying until transparent. Bruise the juniper berries, cinnamon and cloves in a mortar and pestle, add to the pan and mix well. Add the diced venison and speck cooking for about eight minutes, until browned.
Add the stock, wine, cumquats, star anise, rosemary, tomato paste and mushrooms and cook on medium-high heat until bubbling.
Reduce the heat to low, place the lid on the pan and cook for two to three hours, stirring occasionally until meat is tender and sauce is thick and dark. Add seasoning to taste and set aside to cool. Prepare the pastry while the filling is cooking (see below for the pastry recipe).
Place the cooled filling into the greased pie dish, filling to about one centimetre below the rim. Rollout the dough until it is about 5mm thick, then carefully folding the dough back over the rolling pin,place it over the filled pie dish and press to seal the edges. Cut three slits in the top of the pie to allow the steam to escape.
Chill the filled pie for about 20 minutes, which will reduce shrinkage. Remove the pie from the refrigerator and coat the pastry top with beaten egg. Cook the pie for about 45 minutes until warmed through and the pastry is lightly golden.
Maggie Beer’s pastry
200g chilled unsalted butter, chopped
250g plain flour
½ cup sour cream
1 beaten egg
Preheat the oven to 200C. Grease a 23cm deep pie dish. Place the butter and flour into the bowl of a food processor, then pulse until the mixture resembles coarse breadcrumbs. Add the sour cream and pulse again until the dough just forms a ball. Carefully wrap the dough in plastic film and leave to rest in the refrigerator for 15 to 20 minutes.