When I entered my first Australian pie shop, I envisioned glossy cases filled with lemon meringue, banana cream, and perhaps blueberry with a lattice crust. Much to my surprise, there wasn’t a sweet pie in the bunch. Instead, I saw racks of mince pies (Aussie for hamburger), potato top pies, and something I’d never even dreamed of: bacon and egg pie.
Once I got past my initial shock, I was thrilled, and set about tasting and testing until I found my favorites.
Meat Pies: Starting with the Basics
I’d been making meat pies back in the States and Canada for years, but they were my own concoctions, renditions of the meat pies I’d read about in English novels. I was excited to learn how to make the real deal from Australian meat pie connoisseurs.
While nowadays you can find posh new pies like Thai chicken curry or lamb with rosemary or even vegetarian options, my friends inform me that a real Aussie meat pie contains beef, either minced or cubed, with a few additions like onion, garlic, tomato sauce, or a few veggies like potato and carrot.
When I asked if vegetable pies were authentic, I was met with horrified looks and a firm, “No Aussie in their right mind would ever eat a vegetarian pie. If it doesn’t have meat in it, it’s not a pie.”
Australian pies are made with a shortcrust pastry base (traditional pie crust for North Americans) and a puff pastry top.
Adventures in Pie-making
With these guidelines in mind, I set about making my first Australian meat pies.
I started with the basic: steak and veg. This is basically a hearty beef stew tucked in a pie crust. Simple, savory, and absolutely delicious. I made mine in my friend Ann’s pie-maker, a dandy device much like a waffle iron with spaces for pies instead of waffles. It makes cute little 4-inch pies that are perfect for grabbing as a snack on a busy afternoon or packing for work or a picnic. The pies freeze brilliantly, so you can make a whole bunch at once and freeze some for a day when you really don’t feel like cooking.
Then I made peppered steak, basically the same as steak and veg, but with onion as the only veg and lashings of black pepper.
I finished with what turned out to be our favorite: hamburger and cheese pie topped with mushy peas and mashed potatoes. Oh my. Warm, savory deliciousness, perfect for a rainy night or a potluck supper.
Next up was bacon and egg pie, the easiest pie of all, made by filling the pie crust with crispy-fried bacon and topping it with a whole egg and a puff pastry cap. Delicious fare for a lazy weekend breakfast.
The next time you’re invited to a potluck dinner or brunch, break out of the casserole mold and bring an Australian meat pie!
Steak and Veg Pie
- 2-3 cups stew beef
- 1 stalk celery, sliced
- 2 carrots, halved and sliced
- one large onion
- 4 cloves garlic, minced
- 3 beef bouillon cubes
- salt and pepper to taste
- water to cover
- corn starch
- shortcrust (regular) dough for bottom crust
- puff pastry for top crust
Combine all ingredients except pie dough in crockpot or casserole dish. Cover and cook 4-6 hours until beef is tender and vegetables cooked through. Drain beef and veggies, reserving liquid.
Pour liquid into pot and stir in 3-4 tablespoons of corn starch (enough to thicken into gravy). Place over medium high heat and bring to boil, stirring regularly. Boil 1-2 minutes until liquid has thickened into gravy. Taste for seasoning. Stir gravy into meat and veg until mixture is consistency of thick stew, but not runny.
Press pie dough into bottom of pie pan. Pour meat and veg gravy into pie dough.Top with puff pastry and brush with butter or beaten egg, if desired.
Bake at 375 F for 30-40 minutes until top is golden brown.
- 1 pound hamburger
- 1 large onion, chopped
- 3-4 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 cup sharp cheddar cheese, grated
- salt and pepper to taste
- 1-2 cups beef gravy
- 1 tin canned peas, mashed
- 2-3 cups mashed potato
- pie dough for single pie crust
Fry up hamburger and onion until meat is well-browned and onion translucent. Stir in garlic for the last 2-3 minutes of cooking. Season with salt and pepper.
Dump hamburger mixture into large bowl and stir in cheddar cheese and gravy. Mix well.
Press pie dough into pie pan. Fill with hamburger mixture and smooth until level. Top with mushy peas and smooth until level. Top with mashed potato and spread it evenly.
Bake at 375 F for 30-40 minutes until potato is nicely browned.
All photos courtesy of the author.
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