Medieval Venison Pies
“Such food Bran had never seen… venison pies chunky with carrots, bacon and mushrooms…” -A Clash of Kings
Modern Venison Pies
In a slight break from our usual style, I’ve actually stayed true to the medieval recipe, not adding the extra ingredients detailed in the book; the medieval recipe is just so quirky and specific that I wanted to try it as it was meant to be eaten. In the modern version, however, I’ve added in the carrots, bacon, and mushrooms to match the description.
The medieval version is quite strange. However, take a delicious meat, and smother it with butter, and there’s only so much that time can alter. The spices are quite a bit sweeter than those in the modern version, and go well with the butter. The rye crust, we decided, is like many medieval crusts, and is meant more as a container than it is meant to be eaten. I’d be curious (and may try it at some point) just how long it would keep, as it is essentially potted venison in a pastry container.
In contrast, the modern version is savory, bursting at the seams with venison, veg, and bacon. With such a variety of ingredients, each bite is different from the last in composition. The crust is wonderfully delicate and flaky, making it as enjoyable to eat as the filling. To be fair, though, this isn’t the best way to showcase venison, as it is just an element of the pie instead of the star of the dish. Also, rather than make a whole venison pie, we opted for this recipe to make several smaller hand pies. They might not fit in as well at a feast in Winterfell, but they’re ideal for snacks and lunches.
The Winner? I’d give it to the modern pasties, but the old version is fun to try.
Elizabethan Venison Pies
Bone your Venison, and if it be a Side, then skin it, and beat it with an Iron Pestle but not too small, then lay it in Claret wine, and Vinegar, in some close thing two days and nights if it be Winter, else half so long, then drain it and dry it very well, and if lean, lard it with fat Bacon as big as your finger, season it very high with all manner of Spices and Salt, make your Pie with Rye Flower, round and very high, then lay store of Butter in the bottom and Bay Leaves, then lay in your Venison with more Bay leaves and Butter; so close it, and make a Tunnel in the middle, and bake it as long as you do great Loaves, when it is baked, fill it up with melted Butter, and so keep it two or three months, serve it in with the Lid off, and Bay Leaves about the Dish; eat it with mustard and sugar. -Queen-like Closet
Cook’s Notes: This recipe gave us a bit of trouble, but we persevered because it is such a strange and detailed description. In particular, the consistency of the pastry dough makes it difficult to seal well, if you plan to invert your pie as we did. Ours fell apart a bit when we took it out of the bowl, so the dough might need some tweaking to make it more durable.
- pastry dough
- 2 cups rye flour
- 1 egg
- 3/4 stick butter
- cold water
- ~2 lb. venison, cut into 1″ cubes
- 1/2 cup wine vinegar
- 1 cup red wine
- bacon grease
- 1/2 tsp each pepper and ginger
- 1 tsp. poudre douce (optional- a mixture of sugar, cinnamon, ginger, galingale)
- 3 Tbs. butter
- 1/2 stick’s worth clarified butter (learn how)
Make your pastry dough by first rubbing in the butter to the flour, then adding the egg, and a bit of cold water at a time until it has a cohesive rollable consistency.
This part is tricky. We didn’t have the right size pan, so we rolled out half the dough and carefully laid it in a grease ovenproof bowl. If you have a smaller-than-normal pie pan or springform pan, that should also work.
Drain the venison and pat it dry. Sprinkle with spices and pepper. Using your hands, spread about 1 Tbs. butter on the inside of the shaped dough. Place 3 bay leaves on the bottom, then add the seasoned venison. Spread the remaining 1 Tbs. butter on top of the meat, followed by the other bay leaves.
Roll out the other half of the dough, and cover the meat. Seal in whatever decorative way you like best. If using a pie pan (i.e. not planning to invert), cut a small hole in the middle of the top.
Bake at 350F for 30 minutes.
When the pie is out of the oven, let cool completely in the fridge before inverting if taking that approach. Take a funnel and gradually pour your clarified butter into the hole in the top of the crust, stopping every so often to let it saturate the spaces between the meat. Learn how to clarify butter here.
Modern Venison Pasties
Makes about 10 hand pies.
- 3 1/2 cups flour
- 2 sticks butter
- pinch of salt
- 1 egg
- Heavy Cream
- 1 medium onions, finely chopped
- 1 small sweet potato, peeled and cubed small
- 1 medium white potato, peeled and cubed small
- 1/2 cup chopped mushrooms
- 1/2 cup diced bacon
- ~ 1/2 cup finely chopped venison
- red wine
- salt and freshly ground black pepper
To make the pastry dough, mix the salt with the flour, and rub in the butter. Add the whole egg, and just enough cream to make the dough stick together. Set aside while you make the filling.
In a large skillet, melt 3 Tbs. butter. Add all of the chopped vegetables and bacon and stir to ensure they are coated. Allow to cook for several minutes, then pour in the wine and cover. Simmer until the vegetables are soft. Remove from heat.
Season the venison with salt, pepper, and savory, then toss with flour until all the pieces are covered. Brown the meat in another skillet, then add to the vegetables and bacon. Allow to cool until it can be handled.
Roll out the pastry dough, and cut it into 6″ circles. Fill each circle with filling, being careful not to overfill such that the sides won’t meet. Brush the inside edges with some extra heavy cream, then fold the dough in half and press the seam shut. Crimp with a fork, and place on a baking sheet. Repeat until all dough and all filling is used up. Brush the pasties with cream.
Bake for 20-30 minutes at 350F.