On cold January days, the rich flavour and satisfying texture of a meat pie hits the spot.
There are many ways to envelop meat or poultry in a pie. It can be encased in rolled pie pastry or puff pastry, wrapped in filo sheets or topped with mashed potato or biscuit dough.
It can be made with shredded, ground or cubed meat, and there may be one type of meat or a combination of several. The pie may be packed with oodles of earthy stew vegetables or just a little finely chopped onion or minced garlic to enhance the meat's flavour. The meat might be moistened with broth, gravy or a cream-based sauce.
Traditional meat pies, such as Acadian meat pies or Quebec tourtiere, are important parts of Christmas celebrations. There are hundreds of variations, and families often use recipes that have been passed down for generations.
Shepherd's pie, a dish made with seasoned minced or ground meat topped with mashed potatoes, is a meat pie that is traditional in Britain. Did you ever wonder where the name shepherd's pie came from? I can only speculate that it is a reference to the fact that, in the British tradition, the pie was often made with minced lamb or mutton (the link with "shepherd" in shepherd's pie), left over from the Sunday roast.
In contrast, my Penguin Complete English Dictionary says that a cottage pie is a version of shepherd's pie made with beef (the only type of shepherd's pie that I've ever eaten.)
Shepherd's pie is not the only meat pie in the British tradition. I used to enjoy the beefsteak and kidney pies, imported from England, that we would buy at the grocery store. Made with a little bit of meat in lots of brown gravy, topped with puff pastry, they were sold in flat circular tins, like metal pie plates with sealed covers.
Cornish pasties, individual serving, semi-circular turnovers of beef and vegetables enclosed in pastry, also come from England. Associated with the Cornwall area, these little meat pies have been given Protected Geographical Indication status in Europe, meaning that only those products that originate in the Cornwall region can be identified as Cornish pasties in the marketplace.
Empanadas are single-serving meat pies that originated in Argentina, but are now popular snacks in some Canadian venues such as Toronto's Kensington Market. They are similar in shape to Cornish pasties, except that the half-circle is often curved to make a crescent shape.
Two recipes for meat pies that appeared in Anna and Godfrey Baldacchino's A Taste of the Islands, published last fall by Island Studies Press at UPEI, show the diversity of cultures in which this type of dish is served. One is Pumpkin and Pork Pie, from the Mediterranean island of Malta, and the other, Penguin Pie, is from Heard Island, an Antarctic island located southwest of western Australia.
Although there are prescribed ways to prepare many traditional meat pies, there's lots of room for improvisation too.
You can top shepherd's pie with mashed sweet potato or even seasoned mashed squash or develop your own combination of spices, herbs or vegetables for seasoning the meat or poultry in a meat pie.
Since we had some scraps of goose left after a holiday meal, I made a pie from it last week.
After making pastry for a double crust pie, I cooked some diced onion and carrot and minced garlic in a little oil, stirred in some leftover gravy, frozen corn kernels and shredded goose meat to make a thick stew mixture.
I spooned the mixture into the prepared pie crust, added the vented top crust, and baked it at 220 C (425 F) until the crust was nicely browned. My pastry is still not the best, but the pie tasted good.
Here is a recipe for Chicken Pot Pie. Substitute cooked turkey for the chicken if you have some in the freezer.
Chicken Pot Pie
From The Best of the Best, and More, written by The Best of Bridge Publishing Ltd. Roberto Rose Inc., Toronto, 2012.
60 mL (¼ cup) butter
60 mL (¼ cup) flour
salt and pepper to taste
30 mL (2 tbsp) finely chopped onion
750 mL (3 cups) chicken broth
2 carrots, chopped in small pieces
2 celery stalks, chopped in small pieces
2 potatoes, cubed in small pieces
750 mL (3 cups) sliced mushrooms
30 mL (2 tbsp) butter
125 mL (½ cup) peas
750 mL (3 cups) cooked and diced chicken
Pastry to cover 3 L (3 qt) casserole or frozen puff pastry dough
Melt butter in large saucepan over medium heat.
Blend in flour, salt, pepper and onion.
Gradually stir in chicken broth.
Cook, stirring constantly until smooth and thickened.
Add carrots, celery and potatoes. Cook until fork tender.
In a small frying pan, cook the mushrooms in butter.
Add mushrooms, peas and chicken to vegetable mixture. Mix well and pour into large casserole.
Cover with rolled pastry and slash to allow steam to escape.
Bake in preheated 200 C (400 F) oven for about 45 minutes or until pastry is golden. If pastry starts to become too brown, cover loosely with foil.
Margaret Prouse, a home economist, can be reached by writing her at RR#2, North Wiltshire, P.E.I., C0A 1Y0, or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.