Where did that year go? This time last year we were having a Eurovision sleep over in Witta, watching as the votes inevitably tallied in favour of Denmark. I say inevitably as I had drawn Denmark out of the hat and had the sweet experience of my country winning Eurovision 2013 mixed with the bitter responsibility of hosting next year’s festivities. My number had finally come up.
From the heady heights of Camp Hill, with the stunning Eurovision Trophy taking pride of place beside the giant Danish Lego block, it was our turn to re-host the Eurovision party in the surrounds of the beautiful ‘Key Change Room’. The theme this year: ‘There Is Nothing Like A Dane’, brought to you in glorious Reveal-A-Scope.
Denmark offered yet another opportunity to re-acquaint ourselves with tastes that have become all too familiar to the seasoned Eurovision party goer. Pickled fish, dill and caraway are flavours that we know but are not part of our daily palate or something we are not accustomed to eating in large quantities. I was really looking for something different to feed La Horde. A middle ground option was salmon but I am one of the few who are not a huge fan of this fish so I went a different route. I wanted to serve something that conjured up visions of long dark nights, forest noises muffled by the falling snow, crackling fires and cable knit jumpers. Very much like the Wham! ‘Last Christmas’ video.
The centrepiece of my Eurovision 2014 menu was Venison Pie. Venison is not really something that’s on the menu much in Australia. It’s a dark, game meat that makes Aussies immediately suspicious and to be fair, it doesn’t really suit our Asian dining lifestyle. Often concerns revolve around the favours being too strong, too gamey or not knowing how to cook it. On the East Coast, venison is almost exclusively sourced from New Zealand where it is farmed commercially, with NZ being the biggest exporter of venison in the world. NZ farmed venison is free range but doesn’t have the bold gamey flavours of wild venison. It’s very lean so is an excellent alternative to many other red meats and costs around the same per kilo as the better quality beef cuts.
My local butcher, Carina North Quality Meats went the extra mile in obtaining some cryovaced venison shoulder, defrosting it for me and cubing it to my specifications. On a busy Mother’s Day weekend, I think a chat with butcher Michael about my Eurovision plans was a glitter filled oasis from the roasts and barbeques planned by most of his customers. Because it is so lean, venison works best either flash fried or slow braised. Treat it as you would kangaroo (very Aussie advice). Of course, if you can’t access or don’t want to use venison, this pie would work equally well with beef. The pie is very easy to make but does take some time for the meat to slow cook so I suggest making filling the day before you need it. When you are making the pie, the mixture needs to be cooled or tepid at best, so it doesn’t make the pastry lid soggy when it’s added. I served this with red cabbage and apple and a fresh cucumber pickle to cut through the richness of the dish.
Sea of Flags Venison Pie
- 1 kg venison shoulder (or beef chuck or blade), cut into large 5cm cubes
- plain flour for dredging
- oil for browning
- 30g dried porcini mushrooms
- 2 tbsp vegetable oil
- 50g butter
- 3 cloves garlic, crushed
- 3 bay leaves
- 5 sprigs thyme
- 12 juniper berries
- 300ml red wine
- 1 tbsp brown sugar
- 200g fresh button mushrooms, halved
- 20 cocktail pickled onions
- salt & pepper to season
- 3 tbsp parsley, chopped
- 1 – 2 sheets puff pastry
- 1 egg, beaten
- Place dried mushrooms in a bowl and cover with boiling water. Cover with a plate or lid and set aside to allow mushrooms to soften.
- Heat a few tablespoons of oil in a heavy based frying pan to a medium-high heat.
- Dredge cubes of venison in plain flour, shake off excess and add cubes to pan. Do not overcrowd the pan.
- Sear venison on all sides and brown. Remove from pan and transfer to large casserole dish. Repeat with remaining meat, adding more oil if necessary.
- Reduce pan to medium heat and add 2 tbsp oil and butter, allow butter to melt.
- Add crushed garlic, bay leaves, thyme and juniper berries and allow to sizzle for a minute or so.
- Add dried mushrooms (now softened) and mushroom water to pan, chopping any big pieces of mushroom if necessary.
- Add wine, brown sugar and seasoning, allow the sauce to bubble up and scrape any brownings from the bottom of the pan, into the sauce.
- Allow sauce to bubble for a few minutes and then pour into casserole dish. Stir meat and sauce together and put lid on.
- Place casserole dish in a moderate oven (approx 100 – 120c) and cook for approx 2 1/2 hrs.
- Add fresh mushrooms and cocktail onions to casserole, stir, check seasoning and adjust if necessary and return to oven for another hour.
- The filling is ready when the venison is tender and the sauce is velvety and rich.
- Set aside to cool or, cool and store in fridge until you are ready to construct the pie.
- Pre-heat oven to 200c.
- If the filling was made the day before, remove from fridge and allow to return to room temperature.
- Defrost puff pastry, place the lid of the casserole dish on top and cut around with a knife. Keep pastry scraps.
- Roll some of the pastry scraps in lengths the width of a straw. Press around the top edge of the casserole dish – this will help the lid to stick. Brush rolled pastry with a little beaten egg
- Place pastry lid onto top of casserole, pressing onto the pastry scraps with fingers or fork. Trim excess from edges of pie.
- Decorate with remaining scraps if desired. I cut stars out and placed them in a circle to replicate the EU flag.
- Stick decorations on with a little beaten egg and brush pastry top with beaten egg.
- Slash pastry lid in two places near the centre to allow steam to escape when cooking.
- Place pie in oven for 20 – 30 minutes to allow filling to heat and pastry to puff and brown.
- Serve scoops of pie with a piece of the pastry top.
- Best enjoyed with a glass of red wine and some wind machine action on the television.
Makes 1 large pie for 6 – 8
I was catering for 15 people so used 2kg of venison shoulder. That’s a lot of meat so in the above recipe, I halved the ingredients to a more manageable quantity.
Though I love hosting Eurovision, it’s always a relief when you country doesn’t win. With Azerbaijan and San Marino picked out of the hat, there was little chance of that. In the end, Austria won. It was the ‘wurst’ result that Cath could have hoped for and she is now in posession of the beautiful Eurovision Trophy. See you next year for schnitzel with noodles.