Rachel's Table

Shield Your Eyes, Deer, I’m Making Venison Shepherd’s Pie

I received a text from my sister-in-law, Kaila, that went something like this:

“I have local (holler!) deer meat. What are your thoughts? I’m intimidated by it because I see the cute doe and its family roaming around our back yard. Do you want some?”

“I’m game!” I replied (get it??). Seeing as my sister-in-law lives less than half a mile from me, I walked over to claim a portion.

After chatting with Kaila and trying not to squeeze my new niece’s adorably over-sized cheeks too hard, I headed home with a plastic container full of ground venison. The venison came from New Jersey, where Kaila’s uncle hunts and processes the meat every year. I’ve only eaten venison once before, so I was excited to try a truly local delicacy.

As I strolled home, I noticed the heavy tree line adjacent to the walking path had been thinned. With all the scrub and brush cleared, I could easily see into the woods even as night settled over the neighborhood. Being able to see all the shadows and tree shapes made my already dark walk home feel even more sinister, so I began to power walk. But the cracking sound of twigs and the soft rustling of dried leaves stopped me in my tracks. Squinting through the darkness, I was surprised by what I saw.

Six pairs of deer eyes. Looking at me, questioning me, accusing me.

So I took this picture.

Unfortunately my camera phone did not capture the shiny, sad eyes in the background. But it did catch my slightly maniacle smile.

Unfortunately my camera phone did not capture the shiny, sad eyes in the background. But it did capture what *appears* to be my amused smile in the foreground. Sorry, deer family (and vegetarians whom I know and love).

After my photo op, I picked up the pace. I’m sure those deer tiptoed from tree to tree, cartoon style, as they eyed the contents of my plastic container–their fallen comrade. I imagined the deer plotting an all-out assault on my house, enlisting help from squirrels and birds, so I tried to lose them by crossing the street.

Safely at home, I placed my precious cargo in the fridge and immediately looked up recipes for something I’ve been dying to make – Shepherd’s Pie. Traditionally made with lamb, I thought venison would be a deliciously local and lean substitute.

I whipped this up quickly with carrots and potatoes from my CSA, frozen corn (blanched and frozen this summer), and one non-local cheat: frozen peas from the grocery store (but Shepherd’s Pie MUST have peas). The venison was perfect in this pie; its flavor earthy and rich, but not at all “gamey.”

I’d make it again if I could get my hands on more of Kaila’s ground venison, but next time I’ll be sure to take the car over.

My husband deemed this "the best thing you ever made." (But he says that about everything I make, so I don't know when to believe him.)

Worth it

Local Venison Shepherd’s Pie

(adapted from Alton Brown’s recipe)

For the potatoes:

4 large Yukon Gold potatoes (or other potatoes)

1/4 cup half and half

2 tablespoons unsalted butter

1/2 teaspoon kosher salt

1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Simmering potatoes

Simmering potatoes. Thank you, Lancaster Farm Fresh

For the venison filling:

2 tablespoons canola oil

1 onion, chopped

4 carrots, peeled and diced on the small side (I didn’t peel mine because they are delicious and farm fresh just as they are)

2 cloves garlic, minced

1 1/4 pounds ground venison

1 teaspoon kosher salt

1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

2 tablespoons all-purpose flour

1 teaspoon smoked paprika

1 cup chicken broth

1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce

1 teaspoon dried rosemary leaves, crushed (or 2 teaspoons fresh if you have it)

2 teaspoons freshly chopped thyme leaves

1/2 cup fresh or frozen corn

1/2 cup fresh or frozen sweet peas

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.

Peel the potatoes and cut into 1/2 inch cube. Place in a medium saucepan and cover with cold water. Set over high heat, cover, bring to a boil. Once boiling, uncover, decrease heat to a simmer and cook until tender, approximately 15 minutes (you can prepare the filling while the potatoes are cooking). Place the half and half and butter in the microwave until heated through, about 30 seconds. Drain the potatoes and return them to the saucepan. Mash them a bit and then add the half and half, butter, salt and pepper and continue to mash until smooth.

While the potatoes are cooking, prepare the filling. Place the oil into a large saute pan and set over medium high heat. Once the oil shimmers, add the onion and carrots. Saute just until they begin to take on color, approximately 4 minutes. Add the garlic and stir to combine. Add the venison, salt, pepper, and smoked paprika. Cook until the venison is browned and cooked through, about 5 minutes. Sprinkle the meat with flour and toss to coat, continuing to cook for another minute. Add the chicken broth, Worcestershire, rosemary, thyme and stir to combine. Bring to a boil, reduce heat to low, cover and simmer slowly 10 to 12 minutes until sauce is thickened slightly.

Add the corn and peas to the venison mixture and spread evenly into a 11 by 7 inch glass baking dish.

Ready for the mashed potato topper

Ready for the mashed potato topper

Top with the mashed potatoes and spread evenly over the filling. Place on a half sheet pan on the middle rack of the oven (to catch any bubble over). Bake for 25 minutes or just until the potatoes begin to brown. Remove from oven and allow to sit for at least 15 minutes before serving.

Why is there a "Pi" on my pie? I won a contest for this pi pie. Check out Accidental Stepmom to learn more.

Why is there a thyme “Pi” on my pie? I won a contest in honor of Pi Day, March 14. Check out Accidental Stepmom to see all the Pi Pies.


Local comfort food


  1. Congrats again on the pi pie win! You running into the deer in the woods, that kinda thing would happen to me. Nothing like a good dose of guilt before you eat, huh. I have never tasted venison, which is amazing considering everyone here eats that and moose on a consistent basis during hunting season. I would try that pie you made, the potato on top alone sounds good.

    • Thanks, Darla!

      I couldn’t believe that there were SIX deer. I’ve seen one or two in the neighborhood but never that many at once. I felt bad for a couple minutes.This venison was GOOD. It was almost light in flavor but rich at the same time.

      I will def make mashed potatoes just like this again – perfect.

  2. Good score! And such a kind post to boot. 🙂

    Coming from a hunting family and having taken life-for-food myself, I can tell you that
    eating hunted meat — a wild animal killed with rules in place in a one-on-one fashion — is quite the jump from the manufactured and harvested animals we Americans regularly eat. Not anywhere close. And unlike wild tuna and salmon which are in danger of disappearing from our world in a few short decades, deer populations require culling in some areas. May as well eat the flesh and nourish the body so that the animal’s life is respected.

    And there’s no better for taste either than wild game, as you have discovered. It’s how we humans ate for millenia. We can thank petroleum for changing all of that.

    I still ain’t eating my neighbors now that I know I can make the same delicious “comfort” food without causing *ahem* discomfort to some other living thing. It’s only a taste bud for crying out loud.

    • This venison was so good, Shannon. Wild game eat what they are supposed to eat (not grain) so they taste better and yes, live better lives. I’m done with factory farmed meat and only buy locally. It just tastes so much better and is such a superior option for us meat eaters.

      (My taste buds are very demanding.)

      • I wish more Americans would adopt your thinking! My buds aren’t so demanding anymore, now that I can “make do” with curry dishes, delicious non-dairy ice creams, fresh garden salads, and grilled marinated tofu-and-veggie skewers (the best!!).

        I literally do not salivate walking near grilled meat anymore but crave wilted greens and tofu. Yes. Even this old brain can be rewired.

  3. I didn’t even notice the pi on your pie! So clever, you. My pi day post last year didn’t win any contests. Congrats, lady. Your blog deserves so much more than that!!

      • I still don’t know why your pepper posts (and some others) don’t get fresh pressed. They must be sleeping on the job.

        BTW — I love that you don’t truncate your posts-to-email. Much more convenient reading it in the email window, which I can picture-less do off-line. I really do appreciate that. It may take me weeks to click away from the inbox…

  4. Ooh, I bet that deer was on my lawn at some point in its life. And that is a LOT of venison. No wonder you were getting the hairy eyeballs.

    I admire your “game” text pun almost as much as I admire you a) taking that picture, and b) making an awesome pi pie. CONGRATS!!!!

    P.S. – Peas. YES.

  5. Well done. It looks scrumptious!!

    There must be something in the air, because my hubs got a bee in his bonnet this past weekend to whip up a shephards pie. And no, he has never done one before, just thought “what the hey!” However, when he suggested he might do that instead of corned beef and cabbage for St. Paddy’s day, my youngest looked at him with his best guilt inducing doe eyes and said, “you mean . . . no cabbage???” And my hubs caved. So, the plan is to make it sometime this week, I believe. No venison, though. I can’t imagine him using lamb, either, so I’m guessing beef. Although, except for me, my fam is anti-peas, so not sure how that’s gonna work.

    I may have to give him your recipe so he has something to go on. He usually just does a search and pulls up something from online. At least this way, it’s been true tested by someone I know!! 🙂

    • I think your husband would be pleased with this recipe. Alton Brown’s recipe is really good too. I changed it slightly because I didn’t have any tomato paste (which would probably add a thickness to the sauce). I also added smoked paprika because I love, love, love it.

      My grandfather used to make corned beef and cabbage. But Shepherd’s Pie is very Irish too. Did you have any special Irishy drinks?

  6. I have copied and enlarged the picture of you holding the ground Bambi and stapled it to all the trees on my property as a warning. This year, they’re not eating my spinach.

  7. Venison is great (unless you do it wrong, and then it’s like eating a candle). And it’s crazy healthy AND you’re eating something that lived in the wild and got an actual life, instead of being locked in torturous factory-farming conditions for it’s hormonally sped-up life. So, good job, you.

    Brought to you by Byronic Man, official spokesman of the Venison Council of America.

    • Thank you, Venison Council of America.

      I believe this tasted so good because of the natural, plant-based diet the deer most likely had in the wild. I only buy local meat now in order to stay away from those factory farm conditions you speak of.

      Oh, and the one other time I ate venison was not a good experience. Never eat meat killed and prepared by fellow college students. I’m surprised I’m still alive.

  8. That photo of you is hilarious! I wish I could see the deer in the background although your perkyness makes up for it.

    People get weirded out with eating Kangaroo in Australia but it is so good for you and plentiful. I am all for eating game animals sourced locally. I might make this pie with Kangaroo….

    • Ha! Thanks! I’ll take perky over crazy-looking.

      I bet this would be sublime with Kangaroo. I’ve had it only a couple times. My brother was SO weirded out by this venison! He wouldn’t even eat it. More for me. 🙂

  9. darla

    I am making this as you directed but without corn and with sweet potatoes instead of white potatoes. I haven’t baked it yet but I can tell from tasting the sauce, this is going to be delish! Thanks!

  10. Molly

    We’ve made this a bunch now, it’s one of our favorite recipes! We have about 60lbs of venison this year so good recipes are always appreciated. I just made 2 for the freezer for an easy weekday meal.

  11. Emily

    Im 15 and my friends mom hit a deer they gave us 2 lbs of ground venison so i added like (6 potatoes and 5 carrots instead) and i heard shephards pie was a hunters favorite and found this recipe I loved it thank you 😀

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