Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Nigerian Meat Pies

To kick off the start of this year's World Cup, my lab hosted a potluck with food from the various participating countries. In a bid to bring something party-compatible that's also a bit different, I chose to make Nigerian meat pies. "Were they any good?", you ask (serving as convenient rhetorical device). Yeah, they were. I must've eaten 20 of them over the weekend. The better question is—with curry-tinged carrot, potato, beef, and onion wrapped in a buttery pie crust—how could they not be?

In the course of my internet sleuthing, a basic pattern emerged around what a Nigerian meat pie should be. The filling usually include carrots, potatoes, and beef, often with onions, garlic, and beef stock to round everything out, and some curry powder to spice it up1. As finger food, they're perfect for a party setting, plus you can (and should) make the dough and filling the night before, then just form and bake the pies the next day. For even less stress, you could make and freeze the pies ahead of time, then bake whenever you need them.

Nigerian Meat Pies

adapted from Saveur


3 cupsFlour
  1. Combine.
1 tspSalt
1 tspSugar
8 ozButter, cubed
  1. Cut in butter until pea-sized or smaller.
6-8 tbspWater, very cold
  1. Mix in water until dough comes together, do not overmix.
  2. Wrap in plastic and refrigerate before use, preferably 2 hours to overnight.

This is just your basic pie crust, like the one I covered here (check the link out if you want more instructional detail). The usual keys to pie crust apply: keep the butter cold, work quickly, and don't add too much water. Once you're done, cover the dough in plastic wrap and refrigerate until you're ready to use it, at least a few hours.

Meat Pies

1 mediumRusset potato
  1. Par-boil potato for 15 minutes, until nearly cooked but not soft.
  2. Peel and dice into 3/16" pieces.
1 tbspOlive oil
  1. Heat large heavy-bottomed saucepan or dutch oven over medium-high heat. Add oil and beef, and begin to brown and break up the meat.
8 ozGround beef
2 tspMadras curry powder
  1. Add the spices, onion, carrot, and garlic. Cook with beef until onion becomes translucent.
¼ tspCayenne pepper
1 cupRed onion, finely diced
1 cupCarrot, finely diced
4 clovesGarlic, minced
1 tbspFresh thyme, chopped
  1. Add thyme and cook for 2 minutes, then add the stock and season with salt to taste.
  2. Allow mixture to cool, preferably refrigerate a few hours or overnight.
1 cupBeef stock
Dough for crust
  1. Roll dough out to about ⅛", then cut into circles about 4" in diameter. Collect leftover dough, re-roll it and repeat.
  2. Roll each circle out until about 6" in diameter, then fill with a few tablespoons of filling, and seal and crimp each pie.
1Egg, for eggwash
  1. Brush eggwash on finished pies and bake in 400°F oven for about 40 minutes, until crispy and golden. Allow to cool a few minutes before eating.

Start by par-boiling the russet for about 15 minutes, until it's nearly cooked, but not quite—don't worry, it'll finish cooking with the rest of the filling. When it's finished, cool it off with cold running water, or else you'll burn the shit out of your hands. Once it's cool, peel off the skin and dice it into 3/16" cubes2.

While the potato is cooking, dice the carrot and onion to the same 3/16" size. (Tell me, is there anything more beautiful than a uniform dice?3) Now mince your garlic and chop the fresh thyme. Measure out your spices and beef stock so you can act without pause when the beef hits the fan, so to speak.

Get a large, heavy-bottomed saucepan or dutch oven nice and hot, add the oil, then add the beef and start to brown and break it up. Once the meat's halfway done, toss in the spices, onion, carrot, and garlic and cook until the vegetables soften and the onion starts turning translucent.

Now add in the thyme, cooking a few minutes longer before adding in the beef stock and bringing to a simmer. Simmer for about 10 minutes, until the vegetables are cooked but not too soft, and allow to cool. Refrigerate for a few hours or overnight if you have the time. Cold filling will have a nicer consistency to work with when you're filling the pies.

When you're ready to form some pies, roll the dough out on a floured surface to about ⅛" thick, then cut into circles about 4" across. Ball up the scraps, let them cool in the fridge for a bit to let the dough relax, then roll it out and cut into circles again. Repeat until you run out of dough or patience, whichever happens first.

For each pie, take a dough round and make a few passes with the rolling pin to expand it into a circle of about 5-6". Now spoon a few tablespoons of filling onto the dough round, just below its center. (I probably should have a photo of this for reference, but you're on your own (oops)). If you're a novice meat-pie-ist, try not to overfill to start with. Once you're comfortable folding and sealing the pastry, you can increase your meat usage.

Use a pastry brush or your finger to apply some water to the bottom half of the pastry's rim, which will help the pie to seal properly. Now fold the dough over in a half-moon shape, pressing firmly around the rim with your fingers to seal it off. Lastly, crimp around the edges with the tines of a fork to make sure that bastard won't leak4. Once your pies are formed, transfer them to a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. If you run out of filling and still have more dough left, consider making some simple turnovers with whatever spare fruit you have lying around.

If you want, you can freeze a bunch of pies for later. Later you can just pop some frozen pies in a hot oven, and—boom!5—dinner's ready like that. Otherwise, make sure your oven's preheated to 400°F. If you want your pies to be shiny and golden, whisk up an egg with a tablespoon of water, and brush it on top of them. You could also use milk or cream if you prefer. Now shove the pies into the hot oven; they should be ready in about 40 minutes. You'll know it's time to pull them once they've become golden brown and crispy. Let them cool for 10 minutes before digging in.

  1. I know, "curry powder" doesn't sound like "authentic" anything, but I couldn't find any reasonable recipes without it. Seems like it's commonly used by Nigerians (or Nigerian expats) these days. According to this site, it was introduced during the colonial era. 

  2. No, I'm not joking. ¼" is too big, and ⅛" is too small. Volume goes as length cubed, so it makes a big difference. 3/16" is perfect for these little pies. 

  3. Maybe… I am prone to rhetorical hyperbole after all. 

  4. It still might—but hey, you tried, right? 

  5. Tough Actin' Tinactin®! 

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