This is the time of year in which hunters begin cooking up their reserves. Enter cozy venison shepherd’s pie with zingy horseradish mashed potatoes. Juniper is a classic pairing with venison, so I couldn’t help but add it to the meat. If you can’t find juniper, don’t let that discourage you from making this! Simply omit it.
Since venison is so lean, be sure not to overcook it in the first stage of cooking. It’s ok to have some rare spots, especially since it will cook further in the later stages of making the pie. Also, I only partially peel the potatoes, since the peel is full of nutrition and fiber. However, leaving all the peel on would compromise the texture of the potato mash.
For the potatoes:
2 1/2 pounds Yukon gold potatoes, partially peeled and cut into 1-inch chunks
4 cups light bone broth or chicken broth
1 tablespoon grated fresh horseradish, plus more to taste
1/2 teaspoon salt, plus more to taste
pinch black pepper
5 tablespoons softened butter or olive oil
For the venison:
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
1 pound ground venison (ground bison or grass-fed beef are good substitutes)
3 juniper berries, crushed and chopped (optional)
1 yellow onion, small dice
1 stalk celery, small dice
2 carrots, small dice
1 bay leaf
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/4 cup red wine
3 tablespoons reserved broth from potatoes
1 1/2 teaspoons dried thyme
1/4 cup finely chopped parsley, plus more to serve
1 tablespoon potato starch (or cornstarch) dissolved in 2 tablespoons broth
3/4 teaspoon salt, plus more to taste
about 1/4 teaspoon black pepper, plus more to taste
Preheat oven to 425ºF.
Put potatoes and broth in a medium/large pot over high heat and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium low and cook potatoes at a simmer until tender, about 12-15 minutes. Drain potatoes over large bowl or measuring cup, reserving liquid for venison. Return potatoes to pot, along with horseradish, salt, pepper, and olive oil/butter. Mash with a potato masher until smooth and fluffy, adding a few tablespoons of reserved potato broth if necessary. Set aside.
Preheat a large (preferably cast iron) high sided skillet over medium high heat. Add olive oil, ground venison, and juniper and let brown, breaking up meat with a wooden spoon or metal spatula. Once the venison is mostly cooked with a few rare spots, about 5 minutes, remove with a slotted spoon into a medium bowl and set aside.
With pan still hot, cook onion, celery, carrot, and bay leaf in venison drippings (add more oil if necessary) over medium high heat. Once the vegetables are tender, about 7 minutes, add garlic and cooked venison. Cook an additional 1-2 minutes. Deglaze pan with red wine and allow to evaporate. Add broth, thyme, parsley, and dissolved potato starch. Season with salt and pepper and remove bay leaf. If using a cast iron pan, top meat mixture with mashed potatoes directly in the pan. Otherwise, scoop meat into into oiled casserole dish and top with mashed potatoes. Spread the potatoes evenly, allowing for a few peaks and valleys, and brush with olive oil or spray with a Misto oil sprayer.
Bake in preheated oven 15 minutes, or until mashed potato peaks are browned. If the potatoes need help browning, turn on the broiler for a few minutes before removing from the oven. Sprinkle with minced parsley and serve immediately with a fresh green salad and bold red wine.