The Pheasant season ended on the 31st January but I was lucky enough to be given a brace from a local shoot by the Landlord of the Pub. He made out they were a thoughtful gift, but I am pretty sure he didn't know what else to do with them and wanted them out of his garage!
The two birds in question had taken quite a peppering of shot and were not pretty enough to be roasted, so a long slow braise into a juicy pie filling was the order of the day. This pie falls somewhere between a gravy laden and a game pie. It will be juicy when eaten warm, but sets to sliceable solidity when chilled.
A small footnote on baking tins: it really is worth investing in heavy anodised aluminum cookware. The heat of the oven is conducted extremely efficiently through cookware of this sort and you always end up with crisp pastry and evenly cooked cakes. I use the 'Mermaid' brand which gives great results and, although expensive, will ultimately last a lifetime.
Plain flour - 400g
Cold butter - 200g
2 medium eggs
1 more egg for glazing, beaten
Pinch of salt
A brace of pheasants, gutted, plucked, skinned and portioned (ask your butcher to do this)
Pancetta - 200g, cut into small chunky lardons
Prunes - 200g
1 medium onion - sliced
A knob of butter
Reduced chicken or game stock - 100ml
Double cream - 50ml
A couple of sprigs of thyme, leaves picked from the stems
Salt and pepper
Season and braise the pheasant portions in a slow cooker (or in casserole dish set in a low oven - 150c) with the stock until falling off the bone - this will take approx. 2 hours. Allow to cool then pick the meat from the bones being vigilant to remove all bones, gristle and any shot pellets. Pass the pan juices through a sieve and reserve.
Gently fry and pancetta and the onion together in the butter until the onion is soft and turning golden and the pancetta is giving up it's fat. Deglaze the pan with the reserved pan juices and reduce to 100ml or so. Add the cream and thyme and return the pheasant meat to the pan with the prunes. Taste and season well with salt and pepper. Chill until required.
In a food processor, blitz the butter into the flour and salt until completely incorporated. Add the eggs and run the machine until the mix just starts to come together - don't over work or the pastry will become tough. Tip the mix onto a work surface and bring together into a ball by hand. If the mix is a little dry add a tiny splash of milk. Cling and refrigerate for 30 mins.
Cut the ball into 2 portions, one 2/3, the other 1/3 of the whole. On a floured surface, roll the larger portion until 2mm thick and use to line a deep 8 inch loose bottomed sponge tin. Fill with the chilled filling making sure the pie is packed to the brim (you may have filling left over depending on the size of the birds). Roll the smaller pastry ball to the same thickness. Egg wash the rim of the pie and lay on the lid. Crimp, trim and use a fork to make a neat pattern around the edge. Egg wash the pie top and make a large hole in the centre to allow steam to escape.
Bake at 180c for 40 to 50 minutes - glazing again half way through cooking - until the pie is deeply golden and crisp. Allow to cool for 10 minutes before serving.
Tip: To extract the pie from the tin, ensure the rim of the pie is released by using a small knife. Upturn a coffee mug on the work surface and place the pie on the cup. Gently tease the edge of the pie tin downwards so the ring falls to the work surface and the pie remains perched on the cup supported by the base of the tin. You can now lift the pie clear and release the pie from the tin base using a palate knife.