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Pheasant & Mushroom Pie

This is what comfort food looks like dressed to impress in the English countryside.

Pheasant & Mushroom Pie

Pheasant is a protein-rich, lean game bird. It can be hunted or farmed, but either way the meat is best stored frozen and then defrosted before cooking. Since pheasant is lower in fat than chicken, it tastes best when prepared with butter and cooked slowly. Enter a classic English fowl pie made with a short crust, hen of the woods and trumpet mushrooms, pearl onions, brandy, cream, and herbs. If you cannot procure pheasant, you can still make this recipe with boneless/skinless chicken thighs. Make either four individual pies using small springform pans, or one large pie in a standard pie dish. Prepare the pie dough at least two hours before you want to assemble the pie(s), up to two days in advance.

Equipment: cutting board; chef's knife; paring knife; small bowl or ramekin; rimmed sheet pan lined with parchment paper; dry and wet measuring cups; measuring spoons; food processor with dough blade (or large mixing bowl); rolling pin; shallow bowl; large and deep sauté pan; tongs; small sauté pan; wooden spoon; (4) 5-inch springform pans or (1) pie dish; fork; pastry brush

Pie Dough Ingredients: 2½ cups all-purpose flour 1 tablespoon powdered sugar 1 teaspoon kosher salt 1¼ cup cold unsalted butter (2 ½ sticks) 1/3 cup ice water

By hand: Combine the flour, kosher salt, and sugar in a large mixing bowl. Cut the butter into tablespoon chunks, then cut each tablespoon into quarters. Scatter the butter pieces over the flour mixture and squeeze the butter with the tips of your fingers, working it into the flour, until the fat is the size of peas. Drizzle the water over the mixture and continue working the dough with your fingers until all that fat and flour is incorporated and the dough comes together in a large ball.

Gather the dough, form it into (8) small discs if making individual pies or (2) large discs if making one pie, wrap each in plastic, and refrigerate.

In the food processor: Combine the flour, kosher salt, and sugar in a food processor for 10 seconds. Cut the butter into tablespoon chunks and scatter over the flour mixture (while the machine is off). Very carefully pulse in 2-second intervals until the fat is the size of peas. With the machine turned off, drizzle the water over the mixture. Pulse until the dough begins to form into small balls. If the dough will come together when pressed with your fingers, gather the dough, form it into two discs, wrap each in plastic and refrigerate. If not, drizzle a bit more ice water over the dough and pulse again. Gather the dough, form it into (8) small discs if making individual pies or (2) large discs if making one pie, wrap each in plastic, and refrigerate.

Pie Filling Ingredients:

1 pound mushrooms, such as hen of the woods and trumpet 5 tablespoons unsalted butter, divided

2 tablespoons olive oil, divided

1 cup pearl onions (fresh or defrosted from frozen) 1 teaspoon sugar

1½ pounds pheasant meat, cut into 1-inch pieces ½ cup all-purpose flour

2 large shallots, finely minced

2 tablespoons brandy

1½ cups heavy cream

¼ cup chicken stock

1 tablespoon fresh thyme leaves, chopped

1 teaspoon dried sage kosher salt and freshly ground pepper to taste 1 recipe pie dough (see above) 1 egg beaten with 1 teaspoon cold water

1. Preheat oven to 425°F. Line a rimmed sheet pan with parchment paper and set aside. Place ½ cup of flour in a shallow bowl and set aside.

2. Trim the mushrooms of their dry ends/bottoms and slice into 1-inch pieces. Place in a single layer on the parchment-lined sheet pan. Melt 2 tablespoons butter in a small ramekin in the microwave and combine with 1 tablespoon olive oil. Drizzle over the mushrooms, then sprinkle lightly with kosher salt. Stir well to coat. Roast the mushrooms in the preheated oven for 15 minutes or until golden brown. Remove from the oven and set aside. Lower the oven temperature to 350°F.

3. Place 1 tablespoon butter in a small sauté pan. Turn the heat to medium. Once the butter foams, add the pearl onions and toss to coat in the butter. Sprinkle with the sugar and a pinch of kosher salt. Sauté, stirring constantly, until the onions turn golden brown, approximately 5 minutes. Add to the roasted mushrooms and set aside.

4. Pat dry the cut pheasant meat pieces and season generously with kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper. Dredge the pheasant pieces in the flour, shaking off any excess. Set aside.

5. Place 2 tablespoons butter plus 1 tablespoon olive oil in a large and deep sauté pan. Turn the heat to medium. Once the butter foams, add the pheasant cubes to the pan without crowding, cooking in batches if necessary. Cook the pheasant pieces for 2-3 minutes before turning and cooking for 2-3 minutes more. Remove the pan from the heat, and then remove the pheasant from the pan and set aside.

6. Return the pan to the heat and sauté the shallots until softened but not at all browned, approximately 2-3 minutes. Return the pheasant to the sautéed shallots. Pour in the brandy and cook until the brandy is reduced by half.

ILOC tip: if you want to flambé the brandy, ignite the liquid with a match and cook until the there are no longer flames, the indicator that the alcohol has burned off. Then add the cream, etc.

7. Add the heavy cream to the brandied pheasant and mix well to combine. Continue to cook for 1-2 minutes until the cream heats and thickens. Stir in the mushrooms and pearl onions, along with the chicken stock, fresh thyme, and dried sage. Taste for seasoning and adjust with additional kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper as needed. Set aside to cool.

ILOC tip: herbs like thyme flower on woody stems that can be as thick and as stiff as twigs. Hold the stem in one hand and pull the herbs downward with the other hand, opposite to the direction in which they grow. They'll come right off the stem in just one motion.

8. Meanwhile, prepare the pie dough. Remove the discs from the refrigerator and roll to ¼-inch thickness. Line the pie dish(es) with the dough, pressing softly against the edges to cling the dough to the pan so that there are no air pockets between the dough and the vessel(s). Trim the overhanging edges of dough using a rolling pin or paring knife. Save the scraps and set aside to use for decoration or wrap and refrigerate for later use. Dock the dough a few times with the tines of a fork.

9. Fill the vessel(s) with the pheasant mixture. Place the remaining dough on top of the pheasant mixture, pinch/roll/seal the top crust to the bottom crust, pressing the dough together with a fork. Brush the top with the egg and water mixture.

"It can be a lot of fun to decorate the pie crust with hand-cut leaves and berries"

10. Decorate the top(s) of the pie(s) with the dough scraps, if desired, and brush with more egg wash. Make a few slits in the top crust(s) using a paring knife.

11. Place the pie(s) on a sheet pan and bake for 45-60 minutes, or until the crust is golden.

12. Remove the pie(s) from the oven to rest for 15 minutes before serving (remove individual pies from the springform pans and serve on plates; serve slices from a large pie).

Makes 4 servings.

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