Traditional Michigan Venison Pasties

Every year at BHA’s North American Rendezvous, our chapters bring their best dishes to BHA’s Wild Game Cookoff, where members present a suite of locally harvested, regionally significant dishes to a panel of celebrity judges. Competition is fierce in this wildly entertaining event. Field to Table is honored to feature this recipe from Rendezvous 2019.

We’re from the great state of Michigan, and those who live here love a little savory hand pie called the pastie so much that it might as well be our official state food. This flaky, crusted delight is traditionally stuffed with beef, carrots, onions and rutabaga. One is enough to satiate you for hours on any road trip from the Lower Peninsula to the Upper Peninsula.

For this dish, which we prepared for the Wild Game Cookoff at the North American Rendezvous in Boise, we opted for venison as our protein to celebrate Michigan’s passion for whitetail hunting and the two deer that proudly grace our state flag. We stayed with traditional ingredients like carrot and rutabaga for the filling and incorporated shallots as well. If the season allows, we suggest substituting the shallots for morels and wild ramps.  

Michigan is the largest state exporter of cherries, so we layered them into our dish in a simple cherry and morel cream sauce that replaced the brown gravy that usually accompanies the hand pie. Our state fish is the brook trout, and we wanted to pair a whole grilled trout with a light lemon flavor to lighten up the plate. We rounded out the meal with a simple side of wild rice that is plentiful in the Upper Peninsula.

The traditional preparation of a pastie is to cook the filling ingredients in a roaster bag, and fill the pastry dough circles, before baking them until golden brown. We prepared the pasties pictured here in a cast iron Dutch oven over a Camp Chef stove. Both approaches work well.

"This is not a dish you’d expect to see in a restaurant, but it is a dish that Michiganders are used to cooking for each other with pride for the successful hunt and love for those they hope to share it with."

When the judges arrived at our table during the Cookoff we had the opportunity to explain our dish to them. Our whitetail venison was harvested by Amber from the Lower Peninsula and the brook trout from the Upper Peninsula. We plated simply, with fresh lemon slices and herbs as garnish, and we carefully spooned the sauce over the pasties (not pictured). This is not a dish you’d expect to see in a restaurant, but it is a dish that Michiganders are used to cooking for each other with pride for the successful hunt and love for those they hope to share it with. While we didn’t win, we still felt that we delivered a beautiful dish that represented the wild lands and waters of our home. We were over the moon when Chef Eduardo Garcia celebrated our creative use of cherries in the morel cream sauce and asked if he could coax the recipe out of us, unless it was a family secret! We’ve explained how to make it here as well.

Wild game cooking is the best way to celebrate our public lands and waters, to share friendship and learn new skills. For anyone who loves those things, jump in and try this recipe. You might just taste a piece of Michigan in every bite.


Courtney Nicolson and Amber Casey both sit on the board of directors for the Michigan Chapter of Backcountry Hunters & Anglers

Michigan Venison Pasties


Pastie Dough

  • 3 cup flour
  • 1.5 tsp salt
  • 1 cup + 2 Tbsp lard or shortening
  • 7-9 Tbsp ice water

Venison Filling

  • 1/2 cup venison steak diced finely
  • 1/2 cup carrot diced finely
  • 1/2 cup yellow onion or shallot diced finely
  • 1/2 cup rutabaga or potato diced finely
  • 2 medium morels diced
  • 1/2 tsp cinnamon
  • A few stems of fresh thyme
  • Salt and pepper
  • Butter or oil to cook with

Cherry Morel Gravy

  • 1 shallot diced
  • Handful of pitted fresh or frozen cherries
  • 2 medium morels diced
  • Splash of cream
  • 1 Tbsp butter
  • A few stems of fresh thyme
  • Salt and pepper

Cooking Instructions: 

  1. Prepare the dough. In a bowl combine flour and salt. Cut in the lard until it resembles coarse meal. Add the ice water, toss together and form into a ball. Roll dough out, cut or stamp with cookie cutter to desired size (we used the diameter of a tin can). 
  2. Prepare the filling. Sauté the veggies until cooked. Add venison and thyme, cook until medium-done. Season and taste.
  3. Make the gravy. Remove filling contents from pan, add butter, morels, shallots, and more thyme. Sauté. Add cream, thyme and cherries. Cook until desired thickness carefully not to scorch it. Salt and pepper to taste. Keep warm and set aside. 
  4. Spoon the filling into center of dough circles, fold in half and crimp with fingers or fork tines. Brushing with egg wash is optional. Bake in oven at 400 degrees until browned on top and bottom. Or, bake suspended with pie tins or a steamer rack in center of the Dutch oven and on a burner at medium heat until flaky (they may not brown).
  5. Serve pasties warm, spoon gravy over the top.

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Photos by Alex Kim

About Courtney Nicolson

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