Do you remember your first mince pie? I do. It was kind of traumatic.
Christmas, 6 years ago, someone walked desk to desk offering little pies to everyone. “MINCE PIES?!” I squealed. What Australian doesn't love a meat pie? Especially little tiny pies! Imagine the disappointment when I realised it was just fruit.
I did that thing that children do. I over chewed it into an indiscernible paste and then I started to panic, I can't spit it out in a napkin. Do I try and swallow it and hope I don’t gag in front of the entire office? I felt betrayed. My teeth ached. I knocked it back with luke warm tea and binned it when no one was looking.
So, needless to say, I hate mince pies, but everyone else goes by the belief that “It just wouldn’t be Christmas” without them. And that’s cool, if you actually like them, although I’m not convinced anyone really does. But I don't like to hate things and I will always make some effort to manoeuvre it back into favour, in this case, with the addition of actual meat.
But before you start turning your nose up, the internet told me that historically mince pies did contain meat – beef, mutton or venison with preserved fruits, spiced with cinnamon, clove, mace and nutmeg – brought back by European crusaders returning from the Middle East. That was all the convincing I needed, I’m making MEAT Mince Pies!
This recipe is the best of both worlds while it’s still sweet I’ve pumped the savoury element for balance and because it’s Christmas, I’ve even snuck some smoky bacon in for you.
I had originally intended to use duck but the market I frequent on weekends have some really lovely pheasant and because fruit and game are such good friends it seemed the obvious choice. It’s a long one, but there’s nothing to feel intimidated by, while pheasant often ends up dry and tough, the confit will ensure it melts from the bone. Then you’re making a stock and adding the two together with a few more ingredients and packing it into pastry. Serve these hot, with a sharp little green salad.
Makes around 12 depending on the size of your muffin tin
For the pheasant confit
Confit is a method of submerging an ingredient in fat and cooking at a low temperature until its tender and falling apart, all the while retaining moisture. I have a vacuum sealer and an immersion circulator, but you can do this in your oven with equally good results.
1 whole pheasant – ask your butcher to bone and joint your bird if you cant do it yourself, but keep the carcass because we need it for stock.
Salt, lots of it.
Duck fat – several cups for a traditional confit, or ½ a cup for the sous vide method.
Cure the meat overnight (ideally 24hrs) by generously covering in salt.
When times up, rinse off the salt off and pat dry.
in a lidded casserole, submerge the meat in the fat, add 1 bay leaf, a few peppercorns and a sprig of thyme, put the lid on and cook for 3-4hrs at 130C or until the meat is tender and comes away from the bone with a wee nudge.
Sous Vide confit
In a vacuum sealable bag, add all of the ingredients and vac and seal, and leave in the water bath for 3-5 hrs at 76C
While the bird is doing its thing, go ahead and make the stock.
The pheasant carcass
4 chicken wings
1 stick of celery
1 bay leaf
Roast the wings and the carcass until golden brown, transfer to a pot with the other ingredients and simmer everything on a low-medium heat, reduce by 2/3's, strain, discard the solids.
For the pie filling
½ a jar of good quality fruit mince
1 onion, finely diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
Rind of 1 clementine
1tsp of thyme
2 tsp of smoked sweet paprika
A big pinch or two of cinnamon, nutmeg, all spice.
3 rashers of smoked steaky bacon, diced
Small handful of sultanas or raisins
5-6 dried apricot halves, chopped
smoked salt and brown sugar to sprinkle over the top
Sauté the garlic and onion in a little duck fat until the onion starts to soften, add the bacon, when the bacon is almost cooked tip in the spices. Once that starts to smell fragrant add the fruit mince, stock, bay and thyme.
Remove the bird from the fat and pat to remove any excess. Dice the meat if need be otherwise shred into the pot.
Simmer until thick, set aside to cool.
Line your muffin or cupcake tin with shortcrust pastry and blind bake until it just starting to colour. Add the filling, pop a pastry lid on, egg wash the top and a sprinkle of smoked salt and brown sugar. Bake until bubbly and golden.