“Have I got a pie for you! Start the story by roasting the birds, which will give you extra flavour, extra texture, and extra smiles all round – trust me, it’s totally worth the wait. Feel free to mix up the game birds you choose, add an aromatic herby hit, and you’ve got yourself the beginnings of a beautiful filling. Remember to cook your veggie base low and slow – it’s the gentle heat that will break down the natural sugars to give you that big-flavour hit later on. Encase in beyond-delicious (super-naughty!) pastry, and you’re onto a winner. ”
Place all the birds in a large roasting tray. Strip the thyme and half the rosemary into a pestle and mortar, add 2 bay leaves, then bash up with the juniper berries, a pinch of sea salt and ½ a tablespoon of black pepper.
Muddle in 6 tablespoons of oil, then rub all over the birds in the tray, getting into all the nooks and crannies. Roast for 1 hour.
Peel and finely chop the onion, carrot and celery. Wash, trim and finely slice the white part of the leeks (save the green for making stock or soup) and finely slice the bacon. Peel the potatoes and cut into 2cm chunks.
Drizzle 1 tablespoon of oil into a large pan over a medium heat, add the bacon to render out the fat, then strip in the remaining rosemary and bay.
Once golden, add the chopped vegetables, except the potatoes, and 1 tablespoon of oil, then cook for 45 minutes on a medium-low heat, or until the veg has softened, stirring occasionally and adding the potato halfway through.
For the pastry, put the flour, suet and cubed butter into a bowl with a good pinch of salt. Use your thumbs and forefingers to rub the butter into the flour until it resembles breadcrumbs.
Beat the eggs, then stir most of the egg (keep back just enough to eggwash the pie) into the pastry with 180ml ice-cold water. Use your hands to gently bring it together into a ball, but don’t overwork it. Wrap in clingfilm and place in the fridge to chill for at least 30 minutes.
When the time’s up, remove the birds from the oven. When cool enough to handle, remove all the skin and pick off all the meat.
Sieve the juices from the bottom of the tray into the stock. Reduce the oven to 170ºC/325ºF/gas 3.
Stir the flour into the softened vegetables and cook for 1 minute, then pour in the cider and cook for 10 minutes, or until slightly reduced.
Shred the roasted meat and stir into the veg pan, then add the stock and the meat juices. Season well, bring to the boil and simmer for 30 minutes, or until thickened.
When the time’s up, carefully drain the liquid from the filling into a saucepan through a coarse sieve, skim away any fat from the surface and allow to cool completely.
Grease the bottom of a 25cm x 30cm pie dish with a little oil. Cut off two-thirds of the pastry and roll out on a clean flour-dusted surface to ½cm thick and use it to line the pie dish.
Add 300ml of the strained gravy to the meat, stir through and spoon into the pastry-lined pie dish. Eggwash the edges of the pie.
Roll out the remaining pastry to ½cm thick and a little bigger than the pie dish, then carefully place on top of the pie, trimming off any overhanging pastry. Pinch the edges of the pastry to seal and create a crust, then make two small incisions in centre for the steam to escape.
Use any spare pastry to decorate the pie, if you like. Eggwash the top, then bake at the bottom of the oven for 1 hour, or until the pastry is golden and the pie is piping hot.
Trim and prep the greens, blanch in a large pan of boiling salted water for 5 minutes, then drain in a colander. Melt the butter in a large pan over a medium heat, add the greens, mustard and white pepper, and toss together over the heat for 2 minutes, to coat.
Reheat the remaining gravy, skimming off any fat from the surface, then serve alongside the pie and mustardy seasonal greens. Delicious with creamy mashed potato.
All the bones from the roasted game birds will make a brilliant stock on another day.