This recipe’s a keeper: keeper’s pie
This year's Game Fair at Ragley Hall proves a magical experience to share the benefits of cooking with game, says Leon Challis-Davies
As the sun rises over the picturesque Ragley Hall estate, thousands of outdoor enthusiasts gather to celebrate the 65th anniversary of the Game Fair, a grand event dedicated to the fieldsports industry far and wide. Among the crowd, one stand is particularly eye-catching and promises a unique experience – the Eat Wild stand. Eat Wild is determined to change perceptions about game meat and promote its delicious and sustainable benefits. With mouth-watering offerings and captivating cookery demos, visitors are in for a wild culinary adventure.
The 119,378 attendees at the 2023 Game Fair are a testament to the ever-growing interest in sustainable and delicious game cuisine. This annual event not only offers a delightful gastronomic experience but also paves the way for a future in which game becomes a more integral part
of our culinary heritage.
Year after year, the Eat Wild stand has been on a mission to encourage more people to embrace game as part of their diet. Offering free samples of game dishes to taste, the stand welcomes visitors all day over the whole weekend. As the aroma of cooking game wafts through the
air, visitors find themselves drawn
to the stand.
Beyond the delectable flavours of its game dishes, the Eat Wild stand aims to shed light on the sustainability aspect of game consumption. As game is an eco-conscious alternative to traditional meats, the shooting industry ensures a balanced ecosystem and aids in preserving natural habitats. By encouraging visitors to embrace game as part of their diet, they play an active role in supporting sustainable food choices.
Some of the most rewarding aspects of the weekend are finding hundreds of people who still do not eat much game and providing more recipes for the thousands that do. Many attendees, initially hesitant about trying the samples, find themselves captivated by the exquisite dishes cooked up.
The demos become an eye-opening experience for countless individuals, broadening their culinary horizons and forging a deeper understanding of what to do with their game.
One of the most exciting elements of the weekend for me is at the heart of the Game Fair, the Wild Food Theatre set up by Eat Game (BASC’s incentive to get the public consuming more game). It has hosted some of the country’s most celebrated game chefs, from venison sausage making with Scott Rea and Rachel Green, to deer butchery classes with José Souto and JB Gill. What an experience and honour to be asked back year after year for this live stage cookery demo, with Eat Wild’s Louisa Clutterbuck and I side by side on stage, talking game, cooking game, tasting game. Magical.
We demonstrate the preparation of two classic game dishes: Louisa showcases her pheasant chilli con carne and I the keeper’s pie, a hearty combination of pheasant and venison that pays homage to the countryside and brings to light a classic British dish. I would say it’s the better tasting of its cousins, the shepherd’s and cottage pies. It’s one of my favourite ways to use up my pheasant thigh meat and some of the odds left in the freezer from the season before.
Being on stage gives me the chance to interact with people who want to ask those questions, those things they come up against during the seasons.
One stood out more than others, when I was asked if when freezing game, “Is it best to get a vac pack machine?” I asked if it was a trick question – the answer is yes and no. Of course vac packing our game meat will reduce the risk of contamination and freezer burn, also helping it to last longer, but if you don’t have one, tight layers of cling film and a freezer zip-lock bag also add extra protection on the meat while it’s frozen.
I must admit my heart races while on stage; the thrill is exhilarating. The buzz is even more when the crowd gets to try my dishes.
I get to use a proper kitchen during these demos, so this dish is well suited for the family, even shoot days too. This recipe is one you can make days in advance and just pop in the oven.
I use 250g of 4mm minced venison, 150g of 4mm minced pheasant thigh meat and 100g of 4mm minced pheasant breast. This will serve four or five healthy portions. Into the pan I brown all the meat and season with salt and pepper. In with one small brunoise (small diced) carrot, one stick of brunoise celery, half a small brunoise leek, one brunoise diced shallot, three sprigs of thyme and three sprigs of rosemary. Cook until soft and the meat is golden brown. Smash up the large lumps with a potato masher if things get clumpy.
Add one large golden ale – or you can use red wine or port, or a non-alcoholic beverage of your choice. Let the liquid cook down by half and add a litre of venison stock. Reduce down by half again – my secret is that I thicken it with Bisto – until the right consistency, then pour it into the oven dish. I pre-make 1kg of mashed potato and leave it to cool down a little. I then add three egg yolks, 50ml of double cream, salt and pepper to taste and 25g of chopped parsley.
I spoon over the mash on to my pie mix, then top with a heaped helping of grated cheddar. Then it goes into a preheated oven at 180°C for 35 to 45 minutes, until golden brown.
I did say something I’ve waited years to say, the old Blue Peter classic, “Here’s one I made earlier,” and served it up to our hungry crowd. I couldn’t have asked for better feedback, with people chasing me down all weekend asking for the recipe.