A Meat Pie
January 17, 2016
(I apologize for the lack of a picture. We were so hungry we ate the pie before I
could find the camera!)
Now, a meat pie can be a highly structured, precisely gauged dish. It can be. Or it
can be a flight of fancy, dependent on what's available (in terms of time as well as
ingredients). Since my own kitchen mandate concerns improvisation and making
do, I'll let someone else discuss the structured meat pie. Here are some loosy-
goosy ways to create one. To start with, turn the oven to 400 degrees.
A meat pie is really good with leftover cooked roast or steak or ham or chicken. (It
could even be made with canned tuna or salmon, in which case it's no longer a
meat pie, is it? Just an ordinary casserole.) You can start with raw ground meat
(lamb or pork or beef or turkey). If raw is what you have, brown it over medium-high
heat, breaking it up as it browns. Pour off the fat and set the meat aside. Working
with leftover cooked meat is even easier: cut it into bite-sized pieces (an inch or so).
There. The meat is ready.
Cooked leftovers make the preparation very quick. But if you have none, then do it
this way. Bring water to a boil in a medium-sized saucepan. In the meantime, peel
some carrots (two or three per person) and potatoes (one large or two small per
person). Cut these into pieces roughly similar in size to the meat pieces—about an
inch. Peel and chop an onion. When the water boils, salt it and add the veggies,
giving the carrots a five-minute head start because they take longer to cook. Timing
depends on the size of your pieces; start sticking a fork into them to test for
doneness after ten minutes. Remember that they'll have additional cooking time in
the oven, so they can still have a little crunch to them at this point.
Other vegetable options: rutabaga or kohlrabi, celery, mushrooms, green beans,
peas. Peel as needed and cut into pieces. Frozen vegetables are handy here
because you can just throw in a handful, still frozen.
There are three basic options for the sauce: make a "white sauce" using the
vegetable cooking liquid; use a can of commercial cream soup (celery or
mushroom); or puree a few of the vegetables and stir that puree back into the liquid.
The very easiest way to thicken your sauce is that last one: remove a cup of the
cooked veggies and puree them, either in a food processor, with a hand-held
blender, or by passing them through a food mill. This puree, when stirred back into
the liquid from the cooked vegetables, will serve as a thickener for the sauce.
Using commercial cream soup should be your last resort, because of the salt
levels, but it works in a pinch. To use it, dump the can of cream of celery or cream
of mushroom soup into a small bowl and thin it with water, milk, or some of the
cooking liquid from the vegetables.
If your choice is to make your own "white sauce," here's how: melt four
tablespoons of butter (half a stick) in a saucepan and stir in four tablespoons of flour
until it is all bubbling nicely over medium-low heat. Now stir in, all at once, the still-
hot liquid in which the vegetables were cooked. Whisk like mad while it thickens,
then reduce the heat to low and let it simmer gently for ten minutes or so. Thin it
with milk or water if it seems too thick. Season with salt and pepper.
What's your fancy? If you like Italian-style heat, add a spoonful of La Bomba to the
sauce. For Italian flavours without the heat, stir in some pesto sauce or some
tomato sauce plus pinches of oregano and basil.
For flavour without invoking a particular country, add Worcestershire sauce or a
shot of Bragg's, or a spoonful of Dijon mustard or Moutarde de Meaux.
Add Indian-flavoured spice paste (such as a coconut and coriander curry), or a bit
of Thai green chili paste (not too much!). Be sure to dissolve any of these pastes
separately in a bit of the sauce.
Chipotle sauce (made by pureeing a can of chipotle chiles in adobo sauce) will
satisfy those who like Mexican flavours, as would a shot of commercial #7 Mexican
In short, add what appeals to you. TASTE after each addition. Note that my
suggestions say "this OR that"—not this AND that. Choose judiciously. And taste.
If this is a meat pie, then you'll want a pie crust. Since speed is our byword here,
you can use a premade pie crust—or perhaps you have a chunk of your own
homemade dough in the fridge or freezer. Roll it out. If you have a lot of it you can
divide it into two-thirds and one-third. Roll out the larger section first, then line your
baking dish with it. Roll out the smaller piece and set it aside (flat) to put on top of
the filling. If you have only a small amount of pie crust, you'll have crust only on top
of the filling.
Assuming you aren't hung up on the word "pie" (the hungry hordes are gathering,
so time is of the essence), you could make a quick drop biscuit dough.*
The absolute simplest topping is bread crumbs, with or without cheese. I'll grant
that we're veering off the path of a pie and into the Land of the Casserole. Choose
the pie crust option if you're a purist. For a crumb topping, moisten a hefty cup of
your homemade bread crumbs, whether fresh and textured or dry and fine, with olive
oil or melted butter. Alternatively, leave them un-oiled at this point then dot the whole
thing with bits of butter once everything is in the pan.
Add the drained and cooked vegetables and the meat to the flavoured sauce. Pour
the whole thing into a baking dish and top with the crumbs or the drop biscuits or
the rolled-out pie crust. Bake at 400 degrees for about 40 to 50 minutes, or until the
top is browned (or the biscuits are baked) and the filling is bubbling hot.
Eat it. Don't burn your tongue.
*Quick Drop Biscuits
1) In a medium-sized mixing bowl put two cups of flour, one tablespoon of baking
powder, and half a teaspoon of salt. 2) Stir to blend, then add five to eight
tablespoons of butter cut in small pieces (eight tablespoons would be one stick).
2)"Cut" the butter into the flour mixture using two knives scissor-fashion, a pastry
blender, or your fingers, smushing the butter pieces with the flour until the butter
pieces are smaller than peas.
3) Pour in a cup (eight ounces) of milk and stir with a fork, round and round, until
the flour disappears.
4) Drop (hence the name) this mixture onto the top of your "pie" filling using two
soup spoons—one to dip into the dough, the other to push the dough off the spoon.
Bake as above.