In Chapter Nine of Fowled, Mick takes Marie-Claire to a country pub for dinner. It’s not supposed to be a date, so she feels uncomfortable with Mick paying for her meal. When she tries to order the least expensive thing on the menu, Mick takes it out of her hands and tells the waitress:
“Two gamekeepers pies, love, and a loaf of bread if it’s fresh.”
The waitress winked at Marie-Claire. “Hope you’re not on a diet.”
Soon the golden pies were placed before them, accompanied by a fragrant loaf of bread and crock of butter.The gamekeeper’s pie was indeed delicious, filled with venison in a rich, red wine sauce and topped with a steaming mashed potato crust that tasted of parsnips as well. They both ate hungrily.
When the manuscript went to the copy editor, she emailed me that the scene made her so hungry for gamekeepers pie that she wanted to try it. Did I have a recipe? As luck would have it, I did.
The first time I had gamekeepers pie was in Portsmouth, England, at the home of friends. A red wine sauce complimented the strong flavor of the venison perfectly, while the parsnips added a mild sweetness to the mashed potatoes. The secret to the dish, it turned out, was to use venison sausages instead of the more common steaks, which can be flavorful but tough. While I’m lucky to have a father-in-law who provides me with excellent venison sausages, you can find them online at Steaks and Game in the United States and The Wild Meat Company in the UK.
Try Gamekeepers Pie tonight
Gamekeepers pie is a relatively easy dish to make. It pairs well with beer (like Mick and Marie-Claire did) or a nice red Cabernet Sauvignon.
This recipe is reproduced from The Wild Meat Company. I prefer their venison sausages to the minced venison, and red wine in place of the cider, but both versions are delicious. Include a hot loaf of bread and some butter and you’ve got a dinner fit for a love story.
Marina's Gamekeepers Pie
A hearty evening meal of game meat stew topped with savory and sweet mashed potatoes. Featured in Fowled.
- 35 ounces (1 kg) coarsely minced venison, coarsely minced venison sausages, or a mixture of coarsely minced game
- 3 tbsp olive oil
- 3 medium onions, peeled and finely chopped
- 2 garlic cloves, peeled and crushed
- 4 juniper berries, crushed
- 1 tsp thyme, dried or minced fresh
- 1 tbsp flour
- 1 tbsp tomato paste
- 1 tbsp Worcestershire sauce
- 8 fluid ounces (200 mL) red wine or cider
- 4 cups beef stock or broth (I use Better Than Bouillon)
- 1 tbsp Worcestershire sauce
- 2-3 large potatoes, washed, peeled, and quartered (a yellow like Yukon Gold work well)
- 7 ounces (200 gr) parsnips, peeled, cored, and roughly chopped
- 14 ounces parsnips, washed, peeled, and cubed.
- 3 tbsp butter
- 3 tbsp milk (more or less to taste)
Set oven rack in bottom third of oven and Preheat to 400 degrees.
Season the minced venison or other game with salt and pepper.
In a dutch oven on the stove top, heat the olive oil. Add the meats for a few minutes, turning until browned. Drain in a colander to remove fat.
Add the onions and juniper and saute about 8 minutes until soft. Add the garlic and thyme and cook for 1 minute longer. Return the meat to the pot.
Stir the flour into the meat-vegetable mixture and cook for 1 minutes. Add the tomato paste, wine or cider, Worcestershire sauce, and beef stock. Lower heat to a simmer and cook with the lid off for about 1 hour, stirring occasionally. It is done when the meat is tender and the sauce has thickened. Adjust seasonings to taste.
Meanwhile, bring a large pot, filled halfway with salted water, to a boil. Add the potatoes and parsnips and cook until very tender, about 20 minutes. Reserve 1/4 cup of the water, and then drain in a colander. Return the potatoes and parsnips to the pot, add back in the 1/4 cup cooking water, and mash. Add the milk and butter. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
Pour meat into an oven-proof casserole dish. Pipe or spoon the mashed potatoes on top. Bake for 35-40 minutes until the top is golden brown and the sauce is bubbling.