Australian Pastry Pies

By / Food / October 13th, 2009 / 1

Central Station in Sydney, Australia is a cavernous, colonial place of musty walls and rusty iron, a space seasoned with the smells of old beer, ancient lost baggage, and hurrying, sometimes lost people. Occasionally, among the waves of diesel fuel and nose-snapping ozone, there are sweet hints of jacaranda, boronia and bougainvillea, gentle confirmation that this is indeed Australia.

When I was last there, trains were growling out of Central Station north to Brisbane and the Gold Coast; south to Wagga Wagga, Wodonga and on to Melbourne. Others were crawling over the fortress-like Blue Mountains to then snake the 4,000-plus kilometres across the Great Brown Land to Perth, and the Indian Ocean at the end of the line.

At 7 a.m., when packed commuter trains begin to unload a mixed bag of Sydneysiders from the suburbs, when the straw-hatted high school girls keep pace on the platforms with hurrying brokers and barrow boys heading for the sunshine of the Sydney streets, Central Station is, like all great world railway stations, an exciting hub for humanity on the move, in every sensual respect.

{loadposition contentad} On the morning that I was part of the scene, there was an added dimension of excitement, because hanging above the Central Station ticket takers was a very large sign that proclaimed to the world, “The Great Aussie Railway Pie is Back!”

Having been away from Australia and its amazing railways for a few years, I admit that I didn’t really know the Great Aussie Railway Pie had actually left. But knowing that it was back certainly gave added oomph to an already promising day. Any born-and-bred Australian knows that just as North Americans are emotionally bound to hamburgers, their own sloshy, peppery pie, primed with ketchup and served in a paper bag, has sustained Australia and maintained its spirit probably since the first convicts and their guards bumped into Botany Bay way back in 1788 and asked no-one in particular: “What’s to eat?”

Like Vegemite, which many claim is nothing more than congealed blood in a jar; like Lamingtons, mutton chops, Billy Tea, Balmain bugs and kangaroo any way you want it: the pie is a coast-to-coast Australian icon, the mainstay of milk bars, beach picnics and footy games at Flemington. It is an accompaniment, any time, to a cool Tooth’s, Foster’s, or even better, a Southwark bitter.

When I was a kid in Australia, pies were prepared and baked in small oval pans. Made of steel, they were five inches long and just under four wide. The lip of the pan was sharp, which gave precision and speed to the process of pie preparation. To make a pie, you lined the pan with puff pastry, then pressed the rough edges with the flat of your hand against the lip of the pan. In this action, the excess pastry was effectively chopped off. Then you filled it with a cooked mixture of meat and other ingredients and topped it with more pastry. Pressed with the flat of your hand and again, the excess fell off. Crimp the edges, slit the top, brush it with egg and pop it in the oven. Presto, an Aussie pie!

 


 

Somewhere in the intervening years, some big national or multi-national baker determined that oval pans permitted too much unused oven space when the end goal was volume economy, and the Aussie pie went from oval to oblong. And like square burgers, it just wasn’t the same.

On one occasion, I returned to my favourite pie baker in South Australia’s Barossa Valley and talked long about oval vs. oblong, and he said that he too had regrets, but the might of the biggies had prevailed.

“Would you happen to know where I might get some of the old pans?” I asked him. “For history’s sake?”

“In my back shed,” he said. “I’ll get some steel wool and get the rust off and you can pick some up this arvo.”

So I did, and they continue to be prized among my kitchen accessories.

It was a far cry from bacon and eggs, porridge, sticky buns, orange juice or any number of other breakfasts-of-the-west favourites, but we ate The Great Aussie Railway Pie for breakfast on the train trip from Sydney to Canberra. With hot tea, and the brilliance of a New South Wales spring morning through the big picture windows, it was, even as an oblong offering, a most memorable meal.

I’ve never made notes on the filling for my pies, but the following recipe pretty well matches what I consistently do. When I’m particularly ambitious, I make the puff pastry from scratch. On most occasions, however, I use a very good made-in-England frozen pastry that’s readily available at the supermarket. To really appreciate an Aussie pie, keep the mixture thin, and when it’s done, eat it from a paper bag. If you’ve made the pie right, it should dissolve the bag in short order, permitting the whole thing to gloop down your sweater. No worries.

An alternate presentation is to use a knife and fork, and serve your pies with a rich brown sauce and a couple of seasonal vegetables. Pick up a CD of “Waltzing Matilda,” wear your Akubra and Drysabone at the dinner table and call everyone “mate.” A nice touch for the hostess might be to splash a little eucalyptus oil behind each ear. Ever so mysterious, and unquestionably bloody marvellous.

 


Dunc’s Aussie Pie

Serves 6

1 1/2 lb ground top round (or better) beef

2 ground or coarsely chopped lamb kidneys

1 tbsp cooking oil

Onion powder

2 beef stock cubes

1 tsp Vegemite (optional)

2 tbsp cornstarch

Salt and pepper

1 lb puff pastry

1 egg, beaten

1. Dice or coarse-mince the beef and kidneys. Heat the oil in a saucepan, then add the meat and stir until brown. Add a good shake of onion powder, then the stock cubes and Vegemite.

2. Add enough hot water to cover the meat, cover and simmer gently for about 1 1/2 hours or until tender. Then mix the cornstarch with enough cold water to make a thin cream and slowly add to the meat.

3. Bring to a boil until the mixture has a soft jelly consistency, adding more cornstarch mixture if really necessary. Season with salt and lots of pepper and allow to cool.

4. Roll out the puff pastry and line the inside of 6 individual pie tins which have been previously buttered. Fill with the meat mixture. From the remaining pastry cut shapes slightly larger than the tins. Dampen the edges and fit them over the tins, pressing the edges down firmly.

5. Make a small slit in the top and brush with the beaten egg. Preheat the oven to 425˚F and cook for about 30 minutes until the pies are a deep golden brown.

With your pie? Peter Lehmann’s Clancy’s blend has become a firm favourite with lovers of red wine around the world. A blend of  Shiraz and Cabernet, with a touch of Merlot. A soft, approachable and richly enjoyable red wine.

 


 

Willam Jacob’s Steak-and-Kidney Pie

Serves a train load

Continuing with our Oz theme, this is from Angela Heuzenroeder’s excellent Barossa Food collection. William Jacob was one of the early Barossa settlers — think Jacob’s Creek — and this recipe, as prepared at the Weinkeller Restaurant, makes between 12 and 25 individual pies, depending on the size of your ramekins. Adjust as you wish, or make the full recipe and host a very big dinner! Extras can be frozen and reheated.

filling

13 lb stewing or blade steak, cubed

3 lb beef or calf kidney, cubed

6 medium onions, chopped

1 cup oil

Beef stock

2 cups red wine

1 cup water

2 cups flour

Salt and pepper to taste

pastry

5 1/2 lb flour

Salt to taste

2 1/2 lb butter

2 cups iced water

Egg yolk (beaten)

1. Fry steak, kidney and onion in oil until juice comes out of the meat. Stir occasionally, then add enough beef stock to cover. Continue stirring and cook slowly for 3/4 hour. Thicken with a mixture of red wine, water and flour.

2. Cook for another 15 minutes, adding salt and pepper to taste. Place in bowls about 3/4 full. Cool.

3. To make the pastry, sift the flour and salt. Rub in butter. Add iced water, kneading into a ball. Rest pastry in refrigerator 30 minutes. Roll out on a floured board. Do not have it too dry, it will crumble.

4. Cut pastry into rounds and press them over the bowls of meat. Glaze with egg yolk. Cut slits to allow steam to escape. Decorate centre of each with a rosette of pastry. Bake at 400˚F for 10 minutes, then lower the heat to 350˚F for another 15 to 20 minutes. Cover the pies with foil if they are becoming too brown.

A ruby-red Jacob’s Creek Grenache Shiraz would be my pick.

 


 

Chicken Pot Pie

Serves 6

Any all-purpose restaurant worth its salt (and pepper) has a “world famous” chicken pot pie up there on page one of the menu. It will often be accompanied by the word “individual,” which presumably means it’s not for sharing. The identifiers for this comfort fave are chicken, carrots and peas, mixed into a lovely gooey sauce that will warm your tummy. If you wish, this recipe can be made into half a dozen or so individual pies. I think this recipe was a Betty Crocker original. My copy is too stained and tattered to tell.

300 g frozen peas and carrots

1/3 cup butter

1/3 cup flour

1/3 cup chopped onion

1/2 tsp salt

1/4 tsp pepper

1 3/4 cups chicken broth

2/3 cup milk

2 1/3 cups of chunked, cooked chicken

Pastry for 9-inch, two-crust pie

Egg yolk (beaten)

1. Rinse frozen peas and carrots in cold water to separate; drain. Heat butter in 2-quart saucepan over medium heat until melted. Stir in flour, onion, salt and pepper. Cook, stirring constantly, until mixture bubbles.

2. Remove from heat. Stir in broth and milk. Heat to boiling, stirring constantly. Boil and stir for 1 minute. Stir in chicken and vegetables. Remove from heat and allow to cool.

3. Heat oven to 425°F. Prepare pastry, and ease 2/3 of the pastry into a 9” x 9” x 2” ungreased ovenproof dish. Pour the cooled chicken mixture onto the pastry.

4. Roll the remaining pastry to cover the dish. Seal and flute the edges. Glaze with a beaten egg yolk and bake about 35 minutes, or until golden brown.

Find yourself a 2007 Yalumba Organic Viognier, a “dry white of genuine poise and finesse.”

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Our West Coast wordsmith Duncan Holmes likes to cook all parts of the meal—hot and cold apps for the eyes; big, generous mains, where timing, color and taste come together on sparkling, white plates—and there’s always enough for seconds. But it’s at dessert time when he really shines. Not with precious fancy dancy, but with a melt-in-your-mouth-pastry apple pie. Granny Smiths, of course, and French vanilla ice cream.

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