Game of Thrones Date Night: Pheasant Pie

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Ok, I've mentioned this many times -- Schmandrew and I love to stay in and do a date night in our living room. A favorite show, a killer meal, a fantastic bottle of wine (or artisanal beer) and we can enjoy the comforts of home, in our pj's, having our own sort of "carpet picnic" while the kids sleep upstairs. It's a cost-effective way to spend time (no babysitter fee!) and sometimes just more fun (no need for that fancy make up!).

So, one of the shows we're obsessed with is Game of Thrones. I recently was given a couple of pheasants by our friend Phil, who's friend hunts them. I knew straight away I had to make a pheasant pot pie for one of our Game of Thrones date night. The result? Uh-fucking-mazing. I got a lot of inspiration from medieval cooking flavors, using a combination of black pepper and grains of paradise along with fresh herbs (primary sage and rosemary). I used a classic mirepoix (onions, carrots, celery) for the base of the stew, and added garlic and bay leaf to round out the savory notes. Sautéed leeks, carrots, and an economical dash of dried currants added the sweetness to balance out the flavors perfectly. The pheasant is gamey -- it yields itself very, very nicely to savory and woodsy flavors like root vegetables, stronger herbs like sage, woodsy notes like mushroom and truffle. Pheasant flavor is strong, so don't be shy about using a heavy hand with other flavors.

I kept the crust simple -- buttery and flakey with a crunch from sea salt right on top. It matched perfectly with the tender, flavored powerhouse underneath it's buttery canopy.

I made the pie in a pie dish -- I love my Emil Henry artisanal dish from Williams-Sonoma -- and laid the pie dough right on top. Baked in the oven until golden brown, we could not wait to dig in and so we did. The above picture of the last piece I had to literally fight Schmandrew for so I could provide you all with some sort of visual for this posting. It was promptly consumed also. This is a great dish to make year-round, especially in fall, winter, and the remaining chilly spring nights we're having as we transition into summer. Make a night of it, adding your favorite bottle of red and toast to your favorite house. Personally, I'm Team Dany. Enjoy!

Pheasant Pie
1 whole pheasant (skinned and cleaned inside and out; your butcher or good friend can do this for you)
salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 Tbsp olive oil
1 large carrot, peeled and chopped small
1 small white onion (about 1/3 cup's worth), chopped small
1 celery stalk, trimmed and chopped small
1 smaller leek, cut in half and washed, then sliced thinly
2 cloves garlic, smashed and roughly chopped
1 bay leaf
1/2 tsp grains of paradise, ground
smallest pinch (about 1/8 tsp) ground clove or allspice
1 Tbsp fresh sage, roughly chopped (or leaves torn by hand)
1 tsp fresh rosemary, roughly chopped (or you can leave it whole also)
2 cups chicken broth (recommend: Swanson's brand)
1 Tbsp dried currants
good splash of heavy cream or half n half + a little more for brushing crust

for the crust:
1 cup all purpose flour
1 stick unsalted cold butter, cut into cubes
pinch of fine salt (like kosher or fine sea salt)
4 Tbsp ice water (this means water with ice cubes in it, that is very, very, very cold)
course sea salt (for finish)

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

Take the pheasant and rub about 1 tablespoon of olive oil all over it. Season with salt and pepper, then place in a roasting pan or appropriate dish. Roast until meat is tender, about 30-40 minutes. Let stand to cool, then when cool enough to work with, remove the meat off the bone and shred with hands or fork into larger bite-sized pieces. Set aside.

Now, make the stew.

Heat the remaining olive oil in a large sauté pan (that has a lid). Add the carrot, onion, and celery and season with a little salt and pepper. Cook on medium heat, stirring occasionally until softened, about 10 minutes. Add the leek, garlic and bay leaf and cook another few minutes. Stir often so the garlic doesn't burn (and lower heat if necessary). Add the broth, a little at a time at first, and stir to mix everything to combine. Add the spices and fresh herbs, the pheasant meat you previously se aside, and the currants and stir to combine. Bring to a simmer. Cover with lid, then lower heat to continue to simmer for about 10-15 minutes so flavors can combine. Remove lid and see how much liquid was absorbed; you want about half of the broth to have absorbed into the meat and vegetables. If it hasn't yet, continue to cook with the lid off until the consistency is reached. Taste and adjust seasonings to taste. Add the cream and stir to combine. Turn off heat and let stand to cool.

To make the pastry crust, place the flour, butter, and salt in the bowl of a food processor and pulse until the butter is the size of peas. With the processor on, add the ice water one tablespoon at a time through the feeder tube, and mix until the dough comes together in a bowl. It will happen in seconds. Stop the processor just as the ball is formed. Turn the dough out onto a floured working surface and press it into a flat disk. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate at least 30 minutes.

[Why do we refrigerate? A necessary step...the key to a flaky pastry dough is cold butter. You used cold butter to make the dough, but the processor warmed it up when it got cut into the flour and combined with the water. Chilling the disk for 30 minutes helps the butter get back to optimal cold state, so when the dough is introduced to the oven, the small flecks of butter will melt and infuse the dough, creating that desired flakey texture we love about pastry! Don't skip this step!]

At this point, you can make the dough in advance, and the filling in advance.

When you're ready to put the pie together and cook, simply preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Butter your pie dish and pour the stew into the bottom of the dish. Place it on a baking sheet (in case the filling bubbles up and over, it's easier to clean a baking sheet than the bottom of your oven!).

Take the dough out of the fridge and roll it out until it's wide enough to comfortably fit over your pie dish, with a little overhang for decorative purposes. Transfer the dough right on top of the stew. Make sure you have enough dough to cover up and over the sides of the pie dish, at least halfway. Conversely, you can decoratively crimp the edges as you would a dessert pie if you wish.

Brush the top of the dough lightly with some cream (or you can use an egg wash as well), and sprinkle a little course sea salt on top. Take a knife and cut a small slit in the middle of the pie -- this will help steam escape.

Bake in oven about 40-45 minutes, or until top is golden brown. Let stand five minutes before serving.

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