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Classic chunky Aussie Meat Pies (a great recipe for expats!)
The classic Aussie meat pie should has a golden flaky pastry crust housing a perfectly rich beefy filling.
Meat pies. It’s the singular food item I most look forward to eating whenever I go back to Australia. Aside from mum’s cooking, of course. They are a classic and iconic Australian food dish. And yes, it’s exactly what it sounds like – meat in gravy encased in flaky golden pastry.
Australians don’t do hot dogs at sporting events – we do meat pies. In fact the meat pie is SO important to Australians, labor laws used to require that all staff break rooms also have a pie warmer (they’re sort of like a mini warming oven – because you’d NEVER put a pie in the microwave and make it soggy!). And while the classic meat pie recipe uses ground or minced beef, my version is for a chunky beef meat pie. Actually, I would argue it’s somewhere between chunky and pulled beef – the perfect consistency to take advantage of all that gravy!
Important notes on pie sizes and pastry options for expats:
There’s very little point creating a recipe without being honest about how much work it is. I myself have been victim of many a recipe that looked great in the photo, but was a nightmare to actually execute. For this recipe (which is loosely based on this great one from Recipe Tin), I made very traditional 5″ pies using these pie tins. And I used pie crusts which are super accessible in the USA rather than the more traditional shortcrust pastry.
Now comes the full transparency: this small 5″ size is a bit of a pain in the butt to make and also created a lot of pastry wastage. Mainly because pastry here in the US is sold in different lengths and sizes to Australia. So, each pie crust base has to be sort of Frankenstein pieced together from a larger 9″ crust, and as you may know – pressing, warming and fiddling with pastry is not recommended because it adversely affects the final results. The only way to avoid this would be to waste an extraordinary amount of pastry to get them to fit the tins without cutting. And that’s not really an option.
Next – the most common Puff Pastry here in America is Pepperidge Farms, which comes in two 10″ sheets. This poses another problem, because you have to cut each sheet diagonally to make two halves big enough to cut out the 5″ tops, and that creates a ton of scraps. And you can’t roll scraps of puff pastry together into a giant ball and try to reuse it, because it won’t puff up properly. So, it created a lot of wasted pastry.
So, here’s what I recommend. Though I created the 5″ pies for nostalgic authenticity, there’s a better option. The actual feasible solution here is to use this recipe to create two larger 9″ pies (and you probably already have pie tins that fit, too). You can also buy larger pie crusts pre-formed, and a single sheet of puff would fit perfectly on one pie, so you’d end up using half as much as the recipe calls for. Ultimately, it’s your call. The ONLY draw back to a nine inch pie is that it’s not really individual and you can’t eat it by hand (as is the tradition with meat pies). Though, I reckon my husband could put away an entire one to himself.
Vegemite is a bonus ingredient. You don’t have to use it, but you should.
Vegemite is another classic Aussie foodstuff. It’s a condiment that is concentrated and very salty, but packed with umami goodness (you can read all about what Vegemite is here). When diluted and added to stews and pie mixes, it lends the dishes an amazing salty depth of flavor. So if you can get your hands on it, give it a shot. I bet it would be an epic extra ingredient in ground beef tacos, too.
A word about the thickness of your gravy:
This is the one area where pie recipes can steer you wrong. I can provide the ingredients and the rough cook time (til tender), but the thickness of your gravy is going to depend on how much you reduce it (which is subjective). You want the mixture to be fairly runny, as it will continue to thicken as it cools. But it can be REALLY hard to know exactly when to stop reducing. Reduce too much and your filling may be dry. Reduce too little and the filling may be so watery that it waterlogs your pastry. And most frustratingly, there is no way of knowing what the final consistency will be until all the pies are filled and baked. So, I say go for something roughly the consistency of hot dog chili. Practice makes perfect and the consistency is something you’ll master with time.
Blind baking is key to avoid soggy bottoms.
Blind baking refers to baking an empty pie shell or crust. It helps sturdy up the crust, which is essential for a liquidy gravy filling. It’s not actually completely empty – you line the crust with parchment paper then fill that with either raw rice, uncooked beans or specialty pie weights. The weight will stop the the base of the crust from puffing up or shrinking. You CAN skip this step, but there’s a very real risk of your pie filling seeping out of a not-quite-cooked-enough base. It’s an issue of structural integrity, you see.
Classic Aussie Chunky Meat Pies (for expats)
- 4 lb chuck roast
- 2 tablespoons oil for browning
- 1/2 onion, finely diced
- 1/4 cup all purpose flour
- 4 cups beef stock
- 2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
- 2 tablespoons Vegemite (dissolved in 1/4c boiling water)
- 2 bay leaves
- 2 tsp kosher salt
- 3 x 9" pie crusts
- 4 x 10" puff pastry sheets
- 1 egg, beaten.
- Start by making the filling. It's best to do this the night before as it must cool completely before being added to the pastry cases. Cut the chuck roast into 2" pieces. Add the oil to a heavy based pan and brown the beef in 3-4 batches to avoid overcrowding, removing it from the pot after each batch. It should take at least 10-15 minutes to brown each batch thoroughly - the color you develop at this stage will determine how rich the color of the gravy is.
- Add the onions to the leftover beef fat in the pot, and cook for 3-5 minutes until softened. Add the flour and cook another minute. Slowly whisk in the beef stock. Add the Worcestershire sauce, Vegemite, salt and bay leaves. Bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer. Place the lid on the pot and leave for about 2 hours until the meat is completely tender. Once tender, use a spoon to break most of the larger pieces apart to create a mix of smaller pulled pieces and larger chunks. If there is still too much liquid in the pot, keep simmering with the lid off until it reduces to a consistency you're happy with. Allow mix to cool completely before using.
- TO MAKE 8 SMALLER PIES: Preheat an oven to 375f. Line the pie tins with pie crusts - you might have to piece together a few pieces of crust to make them fit perfectly, then trim the edges. Line each pie with parchment paper, then fill with rice or pie weights. Blind bake for 10-15 minutes in a 375f oven. Remove and discard paper and allow crusts to cool. Fill each pie shell with the beef filling, mounding slightly at the top. Next, place a disc of puff pastry (see above for cutting notes) on each pie, the seal the edges by pressing down with a fork.
- TO MAKE TWO 9 INCH PIES: Preheat an oven to 375f. Lay the crusts in two pie tins. Line each pie with parchment paper, then fill with rice or pie weights. Blind bake for 10-15 minutes in a 375f oven. Remove and discard paper and allow crusts to cool. Fill each pie shell with the beef filling, mounding slightly at the top. Next, place a sheet of puff pastry on each pie. Use a sharp knife to trim any excess, then seal the edges by pressing down with a fork.
- Use a knife to make 3-4 piercings in each pie to allow steam to escape. Brush the top of each pie with the egg wash, then bake in a 375f oven for 30-40 minutes until the pastry is puffed and golden. Allow to cool slightly before serving.
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