Comfort food, my favourite kind! With the world as it currently is, upside down and full of uncertainty, it is so pleasant to just throw a few simple ingredients together and come up with a dish of warm, nostalgic, comfort.
For me, this pheasant and asparagus pot pie definitely serves that purpose, tender pieces of pheasant, a slight crunch from the asparagus, a subtle smoky saltiness from the bacon, all enveloped by a creamy white sauce and topped off with a puff pastry lid.
As a child, pheasant never even registered on my radar, and I doubt I would have been able to identify one if it were to clatter over my head in a whirl of feathers, as I now know they so love to do! However frozen chicken and asparagus pies most certainly did, 20 minutes in the oven and my favourite meal would be done, ready to put the world to rights in a few bites. Once I had separated the gooey underlayer of pastry and dug out the chunks of asparagus to save for last. Whether it was numb toes from a day at the yard, stresses of school work, or the dreaded teenage heartbreaks, this pie could solve anything.
It is the epitome of comfort, one that really warms the cockles, and a great one for adults and children alike, it is filling without being too heavy and full of flavour without being overly rich. Replacing the chicken with the more flavoursome pheasant is such a small change, but one that really lifts this dish further towards Godliness, as the beautiful protein so often does. This is generally the easiest way to bring any traditional chicken dish up a notch, and a great way to introduce game to the menu.
To keep this recipe super easy and time friendly I do cheat slightly with the puff pastry and buy-in pre-made. I mean, unless you fancy yourself as a Mary Berry, there really is no need to spend hours making it, but this is purely down to personal preference and patience levels, the latter of which I have in very limited amounts, and am not going to use up folding in slabs of butter. If you are gluten-free like me, ‘Just-Roll’ do a pretty decent GF puff pastry which is also dairy-free.
Now, here’s for the slightly controversial part, yes, pies can be quite controversial. You can either do just a lid, or you can line the bottom of your dish with pastry, and blind bake before filling. Personally, I love it either way, but for the sake of avoiding the pie police, I am doing the extra step of creating a base. So just skip the shortcrust and blind bake if you only want a lid.
- Pheasant meat from 2 birds (Approx. 400-500g), thigh and breast meat cut roughly into 1cm cubes. No bones.
- 4 Rashers smoked back bacon, cut into half cm squares (optional, can be swapped out for capers, see notes)
- 250g Asparagus, snap-off bottoms, cut into roughly 2cm long pieces
- 1 White Onion diced
- 50g Butter, plus some extra for cooking with.
- 50g Plain Flour (I use Doves Gluten Free)
- 500ml Chicken or Pheasant stock
- 270ml Double Cream (I use Emlea plant-based double)
- 1 tsp capers chopped roughly (optional, see notes).
- Small handful fresh parsley finely chopped (or 2 tsp dried in a pinch)
- 1 Roll of Pre-rolled puff pastry (I use the Jus – Rol Gluten Free)
- 1 Roll/ pack of shortcrust, or see notes for my go-to recipe from The Hairy Bikers.
- Don’t worry about getting your asparagus totally cooked whilst in the frying pan, it will do most of its cooking under the pastry in the oven.
- If you aren’t a fan of bacon, or simply don’t have any in, I find capers work really well and add a lovely slightly smoky, salty, sharp flavour. Just drain out the brine from about 2 tsp, and chop them roughly, then add into your white sauce just before adding the asparagus etc. I wouldn’t advise using both bacon and capers though, as it seems to be a salt overload!
- Easy shortcrust- 275g Plain flour, 1/4tsp salt, 60g butter, 60g vegetable shortening or lard. Sift the flour and salt together into a large mixing bowl. Dice the cold butter and vegetable shortening and rub them into the flour until the mixture resembles fine breadcrumbs. Mix in just enough cold water to form a stiff dough. Turn this out onto a lightly floured surface and knead gently to form a smooth ball of dough. Wrap in clingfilm or place in a plastic bag and chill for at least 30 minutes.
- If, like me, you’ve never gotten round to buying baking beans, rice, lentils or dried beans will also work.
- Heat oven to 200’c/180’c fan/Gas 6.
- Heat a medium-sized saucepan and add a small knob of butter, fry off your pheasant for a few minutes, stirring occasionally so that all sides are seared, then remove from heat.
- In your frying pan heat another small knob of butter and fry off the onion until softened and slightly translucent, add in your bacon (if using) and once that is cooked add the asparagus and pheasant.
- Continue to cook for 5 minutes or so, just to soften the asparagus slightly and make sure everything is well combined, then remove from heat.
- If using a base- prepare your pie dish, line with the shortcrust pastry rolled out to about the thickness of a £1 coin, moulding it out to fit, patch up any holes or gaps, and ensure there is a lip at the top, prick all over with a fork. Line with some greaseproof and fill with baking beans or alternative. Bake for 10-15 minutes until lightly browned. If you time it right, it should be about ready when your filling is finished.
- Heat up the saucepan you used to sear off your pheasant on low-medium heat, and add 50g butter.
- Once the butter has melted add in the flour and quickly mix really well, I advise a wooden spoon/small spatula for this, this will create your roux, once it has combined it will look like a really thick dough.
- Turn the heat right down to low. Add in your stock gradually, a few spoons worth at a time, only adding more once the previous has been absorbed. You should find the roux thinning out into more of a thick sauce texture. Give it a good whisk to avoid any lumps.
- Keep adding until all stock is mixed in, add in your cream. This sauce will keep thickening whilst heated, so heat for a few minutes, and if needed, add more milk little by little until it is the consistency of a good custard. Season to taste with a good amount of black pepper and salt, (and capers if using).
- If your white sauce has ended up lumpy, just do as Bridget Jones’s mother says and ‘Sieve it Una!’
- Transfer the contents of the frying pan into the sauce and mix well so you have a good coating of sauce over everything. Taste and season.
- Your pastry case should be ready by now, so just remove the baking beans/alternative, and pour in your mix, or if not using a case, just chuck the mix in your pie dish.
- Lay the roll of puff pastry over the top and trim off excess, crimp around the outside, and poke a few holes in the centre, decorate as you wish, as much or as little and give it a good brush with well-beaten egg or milk.
- Bake in the oven for about 25 mins. Or until the top is completely browned.
- And Voila! You have a pie!
Written by Alice Wootton