January 02, 2010

Venison Biscuit Pie

Biscuit Pie is one of my winter comfort staples. You can make it with just about anything that you can make into a stew, just like a regular pot-pie, but the topping is not the standard puff-pastry that starts crisp but quickly turns to greasy sog as you pierce the shell and begin to eat, and it isn't the industrial-tough standard pastry shell that tastes floury and has the texture of under-tanned leather. No, the topping here is, obviously, biscuit. If you can make a stew, you can make it into a biscuit pie.

You can get fancy, if you like, and cut out adorable little biscuit rounds and place them with great precision in some kind of fancy pattern before popping the pot into the oven, or you can do it the way my mother did her steak and kidney pie, which is to press the dough out into a single, surface-covering circle (or rectangle, if you use a baking dish instead of the stew pot), stab it vigorously with a fork to allow the steam to escape and promote even cooking, and simply lay it on top of the bubbling stew before shoving the whole thing in the oven. You get to break the crust into appropriately sized chunks with a swift scoop of your dishing spoon as you serve it up.

The bottom of the biscuit, once it is all cooked, will have absorbed just enough of the gravy from the stew to become meltingly tender, like using good bread to mop the bottom of a soup bowl.

My classic recipe is Steak & Mushroom Biscuit Pie, but for this one, I used some venison stew meat procured from the newly re-opened (and fabulous!) Jackson's Meats in Kitsilano, cremini mushrooms, carrot, parsnip, onion and garlic. The gravy is a little thinner here, because I wanted the venison flavour to pop, so it's a bit more jus like and less full-on gravy. The great thing is, you can customize that bit to your heart's content. I used red wine and vegetable stock to make the jus/gravy, and we added juniper berries to accent the venison (although, my juniper berries may not have been very fresh, and their flavour contribution was considerably more modest than I would have liked). The venison was dark and tender and lean, and the vegetables were cooked just through, and some fresh rosemary from my garden gave it a little hit of freshness that perked it, and me, right up.

If I'm feeling the need for a lot of biscuit in my dinner (the comfort food version), I will use a full batch of biscuits to fit my stew pot, but if there's lots of other food involved, salads and side dishes and whatnot, then I'll use a half-recipe, and shorten the cooking time a little.

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