Wild Game Shepherd's Pie Recipe With Hoecakes

Shepherd’s pie is an open-ended invitation to all tough, wild-game meats that have been dismissed, overlooked, trashed or otherwise left on the bone.

Wild Game Shepherd's Pie Recipe With Hoecakes

Shepherd’s pie came to be because it was a convenient and economical vehicle for leftovers. That’s why the title of this article is “Wild Game Shepherd’s Pie,” not “Venison Shepherd’s Pie” or any other featured wild meat. 

The whole point is that you can use any meat you want in shepherd’s pie, from slow-cooked goose meat to the leg meat of a wild turkey. Granted, we've dolled up this entree quite a bit over the years, across many cultures, but that's not how it started out. Shepherd’s pie is an open-ended invitation to all meats that have been dismissed, overlooked, trashed or otherwise left on the bone.

If you do indeed choose to go with the less desirable cuts of meat for your pie, break it down by cooking it slow, prior to making the meat mixture for your pie. This step can be as simple as tossing the poor cuts in a Dutch oven the day before you plan to make the shepherd's pie. It doesn't feel like much of an extra step when the cookware and oven do all of the work. (If you need a kick start, here are instructions on how to braise meat in a Dutch oven without a recipe.)

Regardless of the meat that goes in, the ingredients to flavor the meat doesn’t vary. This isn’t a gourmet recipe, but it is a practical and useful one. In other words, the goal here isn’t to pair ingredients to bring out the natural flavors of the meat — it’s to make whatever meat you use taste like shepherd’s pie! 

If you plan to use tougher cuts of wild game for your shepherd's pie, toss the poor cuts in a Dutch oven the day before you plan to serve the pie. Photo: Le Creuset
If you plan to use tougher cuts of wild game for your shepherd's pie, toss the poor cuts in a Dutch oven the day before you plan to serve the pie. Photo: Le Creuset

Ingredients

For Potato Topping

3 to 5 Yukon Gold or small Russet potatoes

¼ cup milk

¼ cup butter (Obviously, pile on the butter if you’d like. The best cooks often do. This is a conservative helping, but also a healthier one.)

1 teaspoon salt

¼ teaspoon pepper

For Meat Filling

2 tablespoons canola oil

1 cup chopped onion

2 carrots peeled and diced or 1 can sliced carrots

1.5 pounds wild game

1 teaspoon salt

½ teaspoon pepper

2 tablespoons all-purpose flour

1 cup chicken broth

2 teaspoons tomato paste

1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce

1 teaspoon thyme

½ cup fresh English peas or 1 can English peas

Bake the shepherd's pie at 350 degrees for 25 minutes or until the potato topping begins to brown around the edges. Photo: Amy Hatfield
Bake the shepherd's pie at 350 degrees for 25 minutes or until the potato topping begins to brown around the edges. Photo: Amy Hatfield

Instructions

Peel and dice your potatoes. Boil them until tender. Pour the water off and put the potatoes in a mixer. Mix. As the potatoes are whipping, add milk, butter and other seasonings. Set mashed potatoes to the side. 

For the meat mixture,  sauté onions and carrots in oil. If you’ve chosen to use canned carrots, only sauté the onions. Add game meat, salt, pepper and cook until browned and cooked through (the latter isn’t needed if you’ve already slow-cooked the meat prior to meal prep). Sprinkle the meat with the flour, toss and coat. Add tomato paste, chicken broth, Worcestershire, thyme. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat. Add peas and, if canned, carrots.

Add meat mixture to a baking dish. Top with mashed potatoes.  Bake at 350 degrees for 25 minutes or until the potatoes brown slightly. 

Hoecakes

The texture of a hoecake is quite different than the texture of cornbread baked in the oven. It's less cakey and more buttery. Photo: Betty Crocker
The texture of a hoecake is quite different than the texture of cornbread baked in the oven. It's less cakey and more buttery. Photo: Betty Crocker

Hoecakes are made from cornbread mix, but they’re made in a skillet like pancakes rather than baked in a deeper dish. This approach offers a slightly different take on cornbread, but mostly it’s a nice alternative when your oven is already occupied. In this case, it’s occupied with shepherd’s pie. (This is a thing only if you’re trying to compress meal prep into the narrow window of time between getting off of work and suppertime).

There’s another point about the hoecakes: The texture is quite different than the texture of cornbread baked in the oven. It’s less cakey and more buttery.

Here’s a simple cornbread mix that’s heavy enough to hold up well and stay intact in a hot frying pan.

Ingredients

2 eggs

1 ½ cup of self-rising corn meal (I use the enriched Martha White Yellow Cornmeal Mix)

½ cup self-rising flour (I use the enriched Martha White Self-Rising Flour)

½ cup water (add water until you reach a consistency similar to cake batter, but not as smooth).

½ stick butter or margarine

¼ cup grated cheese (optional)

¼ cup diced banana peppers (optional)

Instructions

Melt ½ to 1 tablespoon butter in cast iron skillet. (You may use any skillet, but the hoecake tends to stay intact better when fried on cast iron due to the temperature these skillets can reach and maintain). Once the butter is bubbling and hot, pour cornbread mix in the skillet to fit the skillet’s circumference, without touching the sides.

You’ll cook the hoecake just as you would a pancake. Once one side appears done, use a skillet to flip the hoecake. Once both sides are browned and the cake is cooked through, remove, add butter to the skillet and pour up the next hoecake until you have cooked the entire batch of mix.

This was a photo the author took to send to her mother, a chance to boast about the hoecakes she was about to eat. Hence the paper plate, instead of a nice plate for an article photo. But that's the thing about hoecakes. Most aren't perfectly round like store-bought pancakes. They look rather imperfect like these. And that's what's great about them. Photo: Amy Hatfield
This was a photo the author took to send to her mother, a chance to boast about the hoecakes she was about to eat. Hence the paper plate, instead of a nice plate for an article photo. But that's the thing about hoecakes. Most aren't perfectly round like store-bought pancakes. They look rather imperfect like these. And that's what's great about them. Photo: Amy Hatfield
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