November is out and you know what that means? Yule is fast approaching.
So what does that mean for you? Decorated trees? Milk and cookies? Retail chaos and carnage? Well, I’ll get to that later this month…maybe except for that last one. First I want to approach the upcoming season with a bit of a lesser remembered symbol of the Yule season: The Wild Hunt.
“Wait!” I’m sure you Dresden Files fans are probably saying, “The Wild Hunt shows up during Halloween, right?” Well, you’re right. Samhain is a common time for the Wild Hunt to show up through history, but it’s not exclusive to it. The Hunt was known mostly to thunder across the world during the Yule season or the New Year — essentially around Midwinter which is another time the veil is considerably thinner.
“The Wild What?” The rest of you are probably asking.
The legend of the Wild Hunt arises from Germanic folkloric tradition in which a horde of ghostly or supernatural huntsmen rides in hot pursuit of practically anything unlucky enough to find itself in its path. Seeing the hunt was thought an omen of some catastrophe such as war or plague, and encountering it may force one to join and get swept down to the underworld as a spirit hound.
Led by Herne the Hunter in English folklore, Odin in Scandinavian, and the goblin faerie Erlking in both as well as in The Dresden Files book series, the hunt swarms across the lands with the autumn and winter storms. The interesting thing, though, is that these figures are actually all considered different versions of the same character throughout legend. Odin is also considered to be an influence behind Santa Claus.
With this in mind, I wanted to make a dish that incorporates elements of autumn, and or the yule season depending on whom you would like to lead the hunt…or your wallet.
My friends in Dresden fandom, I give you Wild Hunter’s Pie.
Yes, I know. It looks like a shepherd’s pie. The difference between a shepherd’s pie and a hunter’s pie is that while the former is simply topped with a starchy potato crust, the latter completely encases all that rich, meaty goodness inside. For a taste of the faerie underground, I used a mix of russet potatoes and turnips with some spicy yet creamy horseradish mayonnaise in the crust.
Now the filling is where you can opt for a little variation. If you want to get the real antlered Erlking experience, opt for some venison stew meat. I only really suggest that you order from a butcher shop than from online. While you may be required to order a minimum of 5 pounds, the shop will eat the exorbitant shipping and handling costs (think $60 S&H alone) through their wholesale rates and you really get a better deal. Besides, that also means that you can freeze up the rest of it and make these pies again, or maybe some Radstag Stew from Fallout 4. If you’d rather not make such a commitment to your wallet, hunter’s pie was traditionally made with lamb.
Now that you have picked your protein, the next variation is the base for your gravy. For the English Herne the Hunter, use a good dry cider like Strongbow, or Blackthorn if you want to spend a little extra. For Odin/Kringle, use a medium or sweet red wine like chianti. Either way, you’ll be mixing in some mulling spices of the season and simmering it with carrots, onion, and green apple.
When I made this, I used red wine and lamb. Believe it or not, it actually tasted better the following day since the spices had a bit more time to mingle and develop. The crust preserves it pretty well, so if you want to pre-make the pies and bake them one at a time for weeknight dinners, it will be the yuletide gift to yourself that just keeps giving.
So here it is, your excuse to join or lead the Wild Hunt. Stay tuned later this month for another Dresden-inspired culinary ode to Odin/Kringle. In the meantime, I hope you enjoy this and have yourself a happy Yule season.
Wild Hunter's Pie
Equipment: Stovetop, skillet, pot, potato masher, four 5-inch round baking dishes or one large casserole dish, oven.
- 1.5 pounds turnips, peeled and cubed
- 1.75-2 pounds russet potatoes, peeled and cubed
- 1/4 cup milk
- 1 tablespoon of horseradish mayo
- 2 carrots, peeled and diced
- 1/2 yellow onion, diced
- 1/2 large green apple, cored and diced
- 1 pound lamb or venison stew meat
- 4 tablespoons unsalted butter
- 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
- 1/4 teaspoon ground thyme
- 1/4 teaspoon ground sage
- 1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
- 1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
- 1/4 teaspoon ground cardamon
- 1/2 teaspoon ground clove
- 1 cup red wine or hard cider
- 1 beef bouillon cube
- kosher salt
- all-purpose flour
- Bring a pot of water with the potatoes and turnips to a boil. Cover with a lid, lower the heat and let simmer until fork-tender while preparing the filling (roughly 20-30 minutes).
- Coat the lamb in flour and let sit. Melt two tablespoons of butter in the skillet over medium heat and add the carrot, onion, and apple. When the onions have softened, stir in the meat, spices, beef bouillon, and wine or cider and reduce the heat to low. Let simmer until thickened. Stir in remaining butter and salt to taste and remove from heat
- Preheat the oven to 350 F.
- Drain the potatoes and turnips and mash completely in a separate bowl. Stir milk, horseradish mayo, and salt to taste.
- Divide mash into 2 or 8 portions depending on the dishes you are using. Place a portion into each dish and press with a spatula so that it covers the bottom and sides of the dish, Distribute the filling among the dishes. Scoop another portion of mash on top of the filling and spread it so that it encases it. Smooth over the edges with the spatula to seal.
- Bake dishes for 30 minutes and under a low broil for the final three, Let cool 7-10 minutes before serving.