If you want to make a splash while keeping things foolproof, you can prepare a game stew, and to make it even more festive, cover it with a beautiful dough layer decorated with stars and hearts. Stew is easy to make for large parties and if you make it a day in advance, its flavor will only improve. By using game for this recipe you give this humble stew an extra-festive character.
Season the flour with salt and pepper and coat the pieces of venison with it. Pat off any excess flour. Heat up a generous splash of oil in a heavy-bottomed pan and brown the meat spread out on the bottom in one single layer. Do this in batches; if the pan is too full, the meat will steam instead of sear.
Scoop the meat from the pan and keep it warm on a plate covered by a lid. Add another splash of oil to the pan and sauté the onions, garlic, carrots, celery, and bacon for a couple of minutes while stirring continuously. Add the seared meat, stir everything, and spoon in the mustard, fennel seeds, and coriander seeds. Douse with the ale. Pour in enough of the stock to submerge everything. Bring to a boil and stir in the brown sugar, vinegar, nutmeg, juniper berries, and rosemary. Turn down the heat and allow the stew to simmer for at least 2 hours, but sometimes even 3 hours over very low heat. The cooking time depends on the quality of the meat and the size of the venison pieces. After 2 hours, check whether the meat has become tender enough; if not, let it simmer some more. If needed, season with salt and pepper.
Deer meat is naturally fairly dry; make sure that there’s enough liquid in the pan, and add some more stock if needed. Let the stew cool somewhat, then scoop into a nice large baking dish.
Roll out the puff pastry on a floured countertop. Make a hole in the middle (for the hot steam) using an apple corer or a dough cutter. Brush the rim of the baking dish with some beaten egg and place the sheet of dough on top. Carefully press the edges of the dough onto the dish and trim the excess, leaving a margin of one centimeter all around—dough tends to shrink a little. Decorate the puff pastry lid with the dough trimmings and refrigerate the entire baking dish until ready to bake.
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