Poacher’s Pie

by Sam Bilton on December 7, 2012 No comments

Serves 4 – 6


The idea for this dish was conceived at my son Charlie’s eighth birthday party. The parents were watching twenty or so testosterone fuelled boys running around a field in full camouflage firing laser guns at each other and diving behind make shift barricades to avoid enemy fire. The conversation eventually turned to our favourite type of game (to eat, not shoot). One of the fathers commented that minced venison made a wicked shepherds pie so I thought I would give it a go.

But first I had an obstacle of my own to overcome. One among us in our household has a problem with shepherds pie. While Charlie has all the makings of a little gourmand he despises two things – cauliflower and mashed potato. The former is relatively easy to avoid or find an alternative for. However, whenever I have tried to explain to friends that he doesn’t like mashed potato they look at me aghast like I have spawned some kind of alien.

“What child doesn’t like mashed potato?” they ask. “Surely, he must be a very fussy eater?”

He really isn’t. He’ll eat most other things but just loathes the texture of mashed potato. This means we tend to avoid classic childhood favourites in our house like shepherds pie or banger and mash (much to my youngest’s chagrin). So this recipe has been born out of a necessity to cater for a minor whim although I have to say that I rather like the more rustic topping here.

As Valentine Warner highlighted on TV recently, venison is a healthy and sustainable alternative to farmed red meat. Some people remain squeamish about eating Bambi but deer are culled in this country as part of a strict management strategy. If you really can’t face eating venison or unable to get it (I would try your local butcher rather than the supermarket) then substitute it for beef. Likewise if you cannot get hold of Dark Star Espresso beer use a stout like Guinness. Incidentally, don’t be put off by the strong coffee aroma of the Espresso beer. It works really well in this recipe.




  • 2 tbsp vegetable oil
  • 1 onion, finely chopped
  • 2 medium carrots, roughly chopped
  • 1 celery stick, roughly chopped
  • 1 clove garlic, crushed
  • 150g chestnut mushrooms, finely chopped
  • 500g venison mince
  • 500ml Dark Star Espresso beer
  • 150ml port
  • 1 tbsp plain flour
  • 1 tbsp tomato puree
  • 1 star anise
  • Couple sprigs thyme
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 tbsp red currant jelly
  • 750g even sized, floury potatoes (e.g. Desiree or Maris Piper)
  • 2 large leeks, finely sliced
  • 25g unsalted butter plus a further 50g unsalted butter, melted
  • 50g cheddar cheese, finely grated
  • Salt and pepper


  1. Heat 1 tbsp vegetable oil in a large sauce pan and fry the onion, carrot and celery until soft. Add the mushrooms and garlic and continue to cook until the vegetables are tinged with brown.
  2. In a separate pan fry the venison mince in 1tbsp oil until browned. Add to the vegetables.
  3. Add the flour and tomato puree then cook for a minute or two. Add the beer, port, herbs and star anise. Bring to the boil then simmer gently for 30 minutes.
  4. Meanwhile, par boil the potatoes (whole and in their skins) for 8 minutes. Sweat the leeks in 25g of butter until soft but not coloured.
  5. When the potatoes are cool enough to handle peel then coarsely grate. Using two forks mix the grated potato with the leeks, 50g melted butter and the cheese with plenty of salt and pepper.
  6. Spoon the meat into a large roasting dish. If you feel there is too much liquid drain some of it off and serve with the pie separately as gravy (you usually find at least one gravy fiend in a family). Spoon over the rosti topping over the meat and vegetables. At this point the pie will sit happily in the fridge until required.
  7. When you are ready to cook the pie pre-heat the oven to 180°C. Bake for around 40-45 minutes or until piping hot. You could almost get away with serving this pie on its own but I still think it benefits from a side of a green vegetable like wilted kale or steamed broccoli.



Sam BiltonPoacher’s Pie

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