How to cook up a national treasure – an Aussie meat pie recipe worthy of a school canteen.
Friday was pie day at my primary school – delivered hot in wooden crates by the local pie man wearing a little white cap. After four days of devon and tomato sauce sandwiches, his pies were a gastronomic delight. We’d excitedly run up to the canteen ladies with 20 cents in our hands, mine was kept in a zipped pocket in my school uniform and I’d check it all day to make sure it hadn’t fallen out. I can still remember the intoxicating wafts of the pastry as we walked away, warm pie and sauce cupped with both hands.
Aussie beef pies
This is the quintessential Australian beef pie, flavoured with beer and Vegemite. You’ll notice I’ve given two options for the meat filling. If you like your pies a little chunky and more rustic, use chuck steak; if you prefer them more like the ones you get at the footy, use minced beef.
Makes: 6 individual pies
2 tablespoons olive oil
1½ tablespoons butter
1 brown onion, finely chopped
2 tablespoons plain (all-purpose) flour, plus extra for dusting
600g chuck steak, cut into 2cm dice — or 650g minced (ground) beef
250ml (1 cup) beer
375ml (1½ cups) beef stock
1 small carrot, finely diced
1 celery stalk, finely diced
2 garlic cloves, crushed
½ teaspoon finely chopped fresh thyme
1 tablespoon tomato paste (concentrated purée)
1½ tablespoons worcestershire sauce
1½ teaspoons Vegemite (or Promite or Marmite if unavailable)
1 fresh bay leaf
1 quantity of Savoury shortcrust pastry (See below recipe), or 3 sheets ready-rolled frozen pastry, thawed
½ quantity of Puff pastry or 3 sheets ready-rolled frozen pastry, thawed
1 egg, lightly beaten
Tomato sauce, to serve
To make the filling, put half the olive oil and half the butter in a saucepan over medium–high heat and sauté the onion for 10 minutes, or until lightly golden. Remove from the pan and set aside.
If using chuck steak, season the flour well with sea salt and freshly cracked black pepper, then toss together with the beef cubes until they are lightly coated. Add the remaining oil and butter to the pan, then sauté the beef over high heat in several batches until lightly golden, adding a little more oil if needed. Set aside with the onion.
If using minced beef, brown it in batches in the remaining oil, but reserve the remaining butter. Add the butter to the pan once the mince has been browned and removed, then stir in the flour and cook for a minute or so.
Add the beer and stock to the pan, scraping up any cooked-on bits. Return the beef and onion to the pan, along with the carrot, celery, garlic, thyme, tomato paste, worcestershire sauce, Vegemite and bay leaf. Bring to the boil, then reduce the heat and simmer for 1¼ hours, or until the beef is very tender and the sauce is thick and rich. Discard the bay leaf, then season to taste.
Cool the mixture slightly, then cover and refrigerate for 4 hours, or until completely cold; if you can leave it overnight, the flavours will develop even more.
To assemble and bake the pies
Remove the shortcrust pastry from the fridge 15 minutes (a little less or more on a hot or cold day) to soften slightly before you roll it out; it should still be cold.
Using a fine sieve, very lightly flour your work surface and a rolling pin. Starting at the middle of the shortcrust pastry disc, gently roll the pastry away from you, then turn it 45 degrees and roll away from you again. Repeat this process until the pastry is a uniform 2mm thickness. Use a 15cm round pastry cutter to cut six shortcrust pastry discs for the pie bases.
Lightly grease six individual, non-stick pie tins, measuring about 12cm across the top, 8cm across the base and 3.5cm deep.
Line each pie tin with a shortcrust pastry round, gently pressing the dough into the tins, starting in the centre and working out towards the top rim of the tins; stop when the pastry is about 1cm above the line of the tin.
Gently fold this bit of pastry down over to line the pie tin rims — this is where the pie pastry lids will adhere. Place the pie tins on a baking tray, lightly cover with a sheet of plastic wrap and refrigerate for 2 hours.
About 15 minutes before you’re ready to resume making the pies, take the puff pastry out of the fridge to soften slightly, making sure it is still cold.
Divide the cold filling among the pie bases. Roll the puff pastry out to a 5mm thickness and cut out six 12.5cm rounds. Lightly brush the rims of the shortcrust pastry with the beaten egg. Top each pie with a puff pastry round, pressing down around the edges to help the two different pastries adhere to each other; you can pinch the edges together if you really want to be sure, or use the back of a fork to seal around the edge. Pierce the top of each pie with a small sharp knife or skewer to form an air vent, then brush the top of the pies with more beaten egg, avoiding the vent.
Place the pies back in the fridge for 30 minutes before baking – this will give the lids of the pies more puff and crispness.
Put two baking trays in the oven and preheat the oven to 200°C.
Place the pie tins directly onto the hot baking trays and bake for 10 minutes, or until the pastry is puffed and lightly golden. Turn the oven temperature down to 180°C and bake the pies for a further 10-15 minutes to ensure the filling is hot – your pastry should have a pretty good tan by now!
Remove the pies from the oven and the tins. Serve hot, with tomato sauce.
Savoury shortcrust pastry
Makes: Enough for 6 individual pies
300g (2 cups) plain (all-purpose) flour, sifted
½ teaspoon fine sea salt
150g unsalted butter, cut into 1cm dice and chilled
1½ teaspoons strained fresh lemon juice
60-80ml (¼–¹⁄₃ cup) iced water
This pastry is easy to work with, and the recipe can easily be doubled. Put the flour and salt in a food processor. Add the butter, then leave to sit for a few minutes to soften the butter slightly — but it should still be cold. Pulse in short bursts until the mixture just forms roughish crumbs.
Combine the lemon juice and 60ml (¼ cup) of the iced water, then drizzle half the liquid over the crumbs. Pulse until the mixture just starts to clump. Drizzle with the remaining water and lemon juice mixture and pulse again until the dough just starts to cling together, adding the remaining water if needed.
Gather the dough up quickly and pat into a disc about 15cm wide and 2 cm thick. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for a few hours, or overnight. Use as instructed in individual recipes.