A good meat pie can satisfy the hungriest of appetites. Many ale-fuelled arguments in Britain and abroad have been dominated by the illustrious meat pie: the choice of meat or game, veggies or not, and especially the types of pastry are all hotly contested based on your childhood favourite. Historically, meat pies were a good excuse to take all the bits and bobs and trimmings from meat, encase them in pastry and call it dinner. Recently, they have been elevated to the level of luxe comfort food. But whether they are made with pricey tenderloin, cheap kidneys or ground meat (as in our recipe), they are a delicious and hearty one-dish meal.
Like many dishes in food history, there is debate about the origins of the meat pie but there seems to be some consensus that the Romans had a hand in spreading the pairing of meat and pastry across Europe. (Indeed, most countries now have some version of the meat pie. See our sidebar.) In its primitive state, the pie’s pastry was merely a tough container holding the meat and was essentially inedible. The British began to call pies “coffins” because of their straight sides and top, and the construction of the sides of the pie was referred to as “raising the coffin.” Eventually, the preparation was refined, and meat and fruit pies became a mainstay of noble feasts. The gentry would gorge on enormous meat and game pies, while their servants ate pies made up of an animal’s leftovers or ‘umbles’, hence the origin of the expression “to eat humble pie.” But there’s nothing humble about the meat pie we’ve featured here. Rich and flavourful, thanks to the addition of Guinness, it stands up as either a fast weekday meal or a Saturday night favourite.
Meat pies are familiar takeout fare at pubs and football matches in Britain. But the Brits aren’t the only ones putting pastry to meat: kitchens around the world have created their own versions of the common meat pie.
Greece: Kreatopita, a ground meat (usually lamb) pie seasoned with fragrant spices like nutmeg and cinnamon, as well as kefalotiri (feta) cheese, and encased in phyllo pastry.
French Canada: Tourtière, a ground pork pie with a flaky crust served traditionally on Christmas or New Year’s Eve.
Southern United States: Tamale pie, a spicy ground beef pie with tomatoes and corn, topped with a cornmeal crust.
Australia: Australian meat pie, lightly seasoned minced steak in puff pastry often served on top of mushy peas or even pea soup. (The Aussies love their pies—it’s estimated that they eat about 12 meat pies a year.)
Jamaica: Jamaican Patties, which resemble a singleserving turnover, are yellow-tinted pastry filled with various meats spiced with hot peppers, curry powder and other seasoning.
Latin America: Empanadas, a semicircular pastry folded and enclosed over a ground beef and onion filling.
Italy: Pizza Rustica, a traditional pizza-like pie filled with cheeses and sausage and/or prosciutto. While it’s typically served during Easter, how it’s made can vary from region to region.
Ireland: Irish meat pie, a steak and Guinness pie with a bottom puff pastry crust.
Mini Beef & Guinness Pies
Our recipe uses a Scotch pie method, made with ground beef, as the starting point. Using raw ground beef, but adding in a little pan sauce makes this filling juicy and flavourful without the time commitment of making a stew. The trick to seasoning a raw meat mixture is to fry up a small piece and adjust it for salt and pepper. Muffin tins make small meat pies, which mimic the traditional shape and could be used dressed up as appetizers or as a main course. Serve with some Guinness, of course.
Ingredients (Makes 8)
- 2 tbsp olive oil
- ½ cup finely chopped onion
- ½ cup finely chopped carrot
- 2 cups chopped crimini mushrooms
- 2 tsp chopped garlic
- ½ tsp chopped fresh thyme
- 1 cup Guinness
- 1 cup low-sodium beef stock
- 2 tsp tomato paste
- 2 tsp balsamic vinegar
- 1 lb ground beef (preferably chuck)
- 2 tbsp quick cooking oats
- Salt and pepper
- 1 lb frozen puff pastry, defrosted
- 1 egg, beaten
- Heat olive oil in a large frying pan over medium heat. Add onions and carrots and sauté for 3 minutes. Add mushrooms, garlic and thyme and sauté for 2 minutes or until mushrooms are juicy.
- Return frying pan to stove over high heat. Add Guinness and bring to a boil, stirring to incorporate any browned bits. Boil for 3 minutes or until reduced by half. Add beef stock, tomato paste and balsamic vinegar, let boil 4 minutes or until mixture is thickened and reduced to about ¼ cup. Remove from heat and let cool. Add beef, oats and sauce to reserved vegetable mixture and stir gently to combine. Season lightly with salt and pepper. Divide meat mixture into 8 equal portions and gently form into balls.
- Preheat oven to 375 F. Lightly grease 8 wells of a muffin tin.
- Roll pastry out on a lightly floured surface to a thickness of about 1/8th inch. Use a 4-inch round cutter to cut out 8 circles, and a 3-inch round cutter to cut out 8 more. Cut a small hole in the centre of each of the smaller circles. Line muffin wells with the larger pastry circles, pack with 1 portion of meat mixture and top with smaller circles, pinching the edges together. Brush tops of pastry with egg, place muffin tin on a baking sheet and bake in oven for 30 to 35 minutes or until pastry is golden. Let pies cool in pan for 10 minutes, loosen with a knife and serve warm or at room temperature.