Hunter’s Pie

My culinary background is like my family’s equivalent of a trust fund (still not giving up, by the way, on some secret nest egg somewhere, though) – it is rich and has been generously passed on to me and my sister. My mom is Zimbabwean through British descent, which means I’ve been exposed to many different cooking styles and dishes. Southern African cooking also includes a very strong Indian influence. I’ve described my mother’s family’s cooking as “tropical British foods with a spice kick.” The foods that they eat, and that I have eaten while in Africa, are amazing. They have access to so many fresh, unique produce options but they often use them to make dramatic (and even unintentionally healthy) improvements to traditional British comfort-food dishes. 

It is in this vein that I came up with the recipe to use the second-last portion of deer meat that I had in my freezer.  I wanted to use it up to wish BF good luck as he heads out into the deer woods again this weekend. Now we are almost out, but we have a new favorite recipe and thus a motivation for BF to get us more fresh venison. (Note: I know many are opposed to hunting for sport, but we have actually eaten the entire deer, save the one-pound bag of deer meat that I still have. That means that his “sport” fed us over 100 pounds of deer. You can still be opposed to hunting, I just wanted to let you know that we have used every part of that buck and thoroughly enjoyed him). 

You’ve heard of the Shepherd’s pie (minced lamb) cottage pie (minced beef), both hearty dishes with mashed potato crusts. But I would like to introduce you to Hunter’s Pie. Hunter’s pie is a recipe I have adapted from a recipe published in Gourmet in 2006 for Spiced Beef Corn Bread Cobbler.  I have made many changes to the recipe, including incorporating the mashed potatoes needed to make this a true “pie,” in the British, savory sense. I served this recipe to rave reviews at a family dinner. 

You will need:
  • 2 medium onions, finely chopped
  • 1 tablespoon minced garlic
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 pounds of ground venison (or I suppose another ground meat would work, but then it wouldn’t be my Hunter’s Pie, would it?)
  • 1 16 oz. can of diced tomatoes, not drained
  • 2 teaspoons powdered sugar
  • 1 tablespoon cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • 1 teaspoon red pepper flakes
  • 1 teaspoon ground cloves
  • 1 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • 1 teaspoon black pepper
  • About 2 cups of mashed potatoes (I had leftovers on hand because this year am I committing myself to using all Thanksgiving leftovers productively!)
For the crust:
  • 1 1/3 cups yellow cornmeal
  • 2/3 cup all-purpose flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 2/3 cup whole milk
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 1/2 cups grated sharp Cheddar
  • 2/3 cup yellow corn
  • 2 teaspoons olive oil
  • 2 teaspoons parsley (no fresh parsley on hand, but I would recommend it, if you have any, instead of dried)
  • Salt and pepper, to taste
Method
  • Preheat the oven to 400. 
  • Cook onion and garlic on medium heat in the olive oil until they are fragrant. 
  • Add the deer and break up any clumps, for five to seven minutes, until no longer pink. 
  • Stir in sugar and all spices, mixing well to combine. The cinnamon smells amazing with the meat at this point, breathe it in. 
  • Add in the tomatoes with juice and cook until the juice begins to reduce, stirring occasionally, for about 10 to 12 minutes. You may need to reduce the heat if it’s boiling too much. Here’s how mine looked at this point, I only regret that I can’t post the smell as well:
  • While the beef simmers, make the cornbread crust. Stir together the cornmeal, flour, baking powder,  salt and pepper in a medium sized bowl. 
  • Whisk together the eggs, milk, cheese, corn, olive oil and parsley separately. 
  • Gradually stir the milk mixture into the dry ingredients, be careful not to over-combine. 
  • To assemble: first lay down a base layer of mashed potatoes. Then spoon the beef mixture over the potatoes, and top with the cornbread mixture. Remember that the cornbread will spread and rise as it bakes. I served these in individual ramekins for a dinner party, and they looked quite fancy for such a comfort food dish: 

  • Bake for 10-20 minutes (depending on whether you use ramekins or a larger pie or casserole dish), until a toothpick inserted into the center of the cornbread comes out clean. 
  • Not the prettiest presentation ever, but your tastebuds will think it’s a keeper. 
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