They say it’s the only way to eat a pie. “They” being Australians and “pie” being their beloved, savory meat pie. The name may not conjure a sophisticated culinary wonder, but no matter, this humble favorite has a special place in the hearts and stomachs of most Aussies.
As an American, I didn’t really understand what the fuss was about. It was meat, in a pie crust, with ketchup (a.k.a. “sauce”) on top — a glorified hamburger at best. My husband, who who grew up in Australia on the Sunshine Coast, and his mates — all now stationed in the States — would endlessly talk about how they longed for a “proper pie,” and what they “wouldn’t give to have a couple pies with sauce.”
Having heard enough, I decided to have a go at making them. How hard could they be to recreate? I even found a handy kitchen tool, that could shape the pie into a neat little handheld pocket. I researched recipes and started experimenting, completely confident that my cooking skills wouldn’t let me or my Australian down. But they did. And in an epic way: What my attempt lacked in flavor, it made up for in grease.
Up until that point, I hadn’t actually tasted a pie on Australian soil, so in all fairness, I was going at it blindly. No further attempts were made until I tasted an authentic meat pie. And when I did, I finally understood. The buttery, flaky crust alone could win over the pickiest of taste buds. The filling was baked to tender perfection, with just enough gravy so as not to spill down your shirt, and the sweet tang of ketchup complimented it perfectly. This little pie had me. But since hopping a plane to Oz anytime I had a craving was out of the question, I had no choice but to try again.
After many tries, I finally settled upon the recipe below. It’s a lighter version of the “proper” meat pie — I’ve added mushrooms and spinach and instead of enclosing the entire filling in crust, I only top the pie with it. (Purists, however, can use ready-made pie crust to line the ramekin or pie tin, as well.) I also recommend using local beef whenever possible; it tends to be fresher, more tender, and more akin to its Australian counterpart. The official seal of approval came when I recently cooked a batch of pies for my husband and his mates. In fact, I was told they were so good, they said they didn’t even need the sauce.
Australian-style Meat Pies
makes four 10-ounce individual pies
1 pound lean ground beef
1 tablespoon butter
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 medium red onion, thinly sliced
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
1 tablespoons low-sodium soy or Tamari sauce
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
2 tablespoons flour
1/2 cup low-sodium beef broth
1 tablespoon tomato paste
3 cups baby spinach, finely chopped
8 ounces baby bella mushrooms, chopped
1 cup shredded sharp cheddar cheese
1 box frozen puff pastry (ready-made pie crust may be substituted)
1 tablespoon water
4 10-ounce ramekins or aluminum pie tins
parchment paper for lining cookie sheets
To make the pies
Preheat oven to 400º Fahrenheit. Allow puff pastry (or pie crust, if using), to thaw. Arrange ramekins or pie tins on a lined cookie sheet. Melt the butter in a large, heavy pot over medium-high heat. Add the olive oil and onions, stir to
coat then lower heat and let the onions cook for about 20-25 minutes, or until they begin to brown.
Add the garlic and ground beef over medium-low heat and cook until the meat is browned, about 8-10 minutes. Drain any excess fat. (I do this by replacing the lid
of the post to allow a tiny opening, placing a dishtowel over top, and holding on tight to both lid and pot while pouring off the excess.) Stir in the mushrooms and spinach, then add Worcestershire and soy sauces and balsamic vinegar. Sprinkle the flour over the meat and combine. Next, add in the broth and stir continuously until a gravy-like sauce starts to form, just thick enough to hold the meat together. Stir in tomato paste and cheddar cheese until incorporated.
Next, spoon equal portions of the mixture into ramekins or pie tins. Allow to cool for 10 minutes. Unfold a puff pastry sheet, and, using a sharp knife, cut into four equal squares. (If using ready-made pie crust, use a 4-inch-diameter cookie cutter or bowl to cut out circular pieces.) Place one piece on top of each ramekin or tin.
Meanwhile, whisk together egg and water to make an egg wash. Using a pastry brush, brush each pie top with egg wash. Place in oven and cook for 12 minutes, or until the pastry is puffy and golden. Enjoy — with or without “tomato sauce.”