At the bottom right of the world map, in the southern hemisphere, in the heart of Oceania, is a land that is the dream of many travelers: the fascinating land of Australia, with a national dish just as fascinating, the meat pie.
What is Australian meat pie?
Australian meat pie is a delicious pie filled meat, of about 2 to 3 inches in diameter, stuffed with beef that is cooked in red wine and other ingredients, spices and herbs. It is often topped with ketchup.
Describing Australian food means going back to the native population. In a country where people from more than 200 countries live and where 25% of the citizens are born on another continent, it is a little difficult to identify the dishes of true Australian cuisine.
Before colonization, in the eighteenth century, aborigines survived by hunting animals such as kangaroos, emus, lizards, snakes, gathering berries, roots, and honey, and fishing seafood with spears or hooks. Those were the staple foods of the aboriginal diet.
When the English settlers arrived, with Captain James Cook in 1770, it was not easy for them to adapt to native food and so they began to grow food to obtain a diet closer to that of the Europeans, especially wheat with which they prepared the damper, a simple bread made of water and flour.
English settlers also introduced cattle and sheep across the continent and game like rabbits and deer. The rabbit became an important food during the Great Depression of 1930, since it was the only meat that was affordable for the poorest families.
Over the last 20 years, rabbit has managed to lose its reputation for “mediocre” meat and has grown in popularity, becoming a gastronomic choice in the best Australian restaurants.
Today’s Australian cuisine has also been influenced by many peoples settled in the country after the war. The Chinese, Thais, Japanese, Lebanese, French, Africans and Greeks have strongly influenced the Australian flavors. And today, many Australian chefs are renowned around the world for their fusion cuisine, combining traditional European cuisine with Asian flavors.
Many dishes are made with fish and small crustaceans, especially in coastal areas.
To confirm their commitment to local ingredients, Australian dishes involve the use of many spices including basil and Tasmanian pepper.
Even most of the fresh fruits consumed in Australia are local and often unknown elsewhere. As an example, who knows the quandong or desert quandong? What about the gubinge or Kakadu plum? Or the riberry, a bright pink berry with a delicate taste?
The most popular traditional Australian desserts are lamington and pavlova, as well as ANZAC biscuits made from oatmeal, named after the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps (ANZAC), who consumed them in large quantities during World War I.
And there is also this tasty meat pie, traditionally accompanied by ketchup.
What is the origin of the meat pie?
The meat pie has its origins in the Neolithic period. The Old Egyptian diet included pies made from oats, wheat, rye and barley, stuffed with honey and cooked on hot coals.
The Greeks used a dough made from flour and water that was stuffed with meat, usually fried or cooked in hot embers.
The Romans prepared pies using fillings such as meats, oysters, mussels, lampreys and various fish, with a mixture of flour, oil and water for the dough.
Originally, all these doughs that contained food, were not intended to be eaten but to be discarded after baking food in them.
In the Middle Ages, cooks from Northern Europe made a firm dough using fats such as lard and butter. These medieval dishes were called “coffyn”, which meant a basket or box.
According to Dr. Janet Clarkson, food historian in Brisbane, author of Pie: A Global History, who has spent years researching pies, the pie was invented to preserve meat in Medieval Europe. Curiously, the pie shell which is today an essential element of good pastry, was not intended to be eaten.
There were no metal baking dishes, nor any means of keeping food fresh, so the dough was used both as a cooking vessel and as a preservative. So it was called coffyn and it was prepared with very hard rye flour, sometimes up to 8 inches thick to withstand many hours of cooking, wrapped around the meat and cooked in the oven. This allowed the meat to be stored for up to a year. The dough was then offered to the poor or crumbled and used to thicken soups.
What is the origin of the Australian meat pie?
How has Australia adopted meat pie, now a symbol of Australian cuisine?
In 1788, the British colonization of Australia began as the land was then populated only by aborigines for 50 000 years. The meat pie arrived in Australia with these first settlers. These pies were on the menu of the first official banquet of Sydney organized to celebrate the birthday of King George III of England in June 1788.
At the beginning of the nineteenth century, you could hear the shouts of street vendors in the streets of every Australian city. Anecdotally, in Sydney, in the 1840s, one of the most famous meat pie sellers, William King, was nicknamed Flying Pieman. This “flying man” performed incredible feats. He could be seen selling his meat pies to passengers boarding the steamer for Parramatta and then walking 12 miles to sell other pies to the same passengers as they landed at their destination.
Meat pies around the world
There are many variations of meat pies around the world, including:
Fatayer, in Middle Eastern cuisine.
Empanada in Latin America.
Guinness pie, in Ireland.
Kreatopita, in Greece, based on filo dough, the same ones that are used for spanakópita or prasópita.
Tourtière in Canada.
Samosa in India.
This meat pie, considered iconic in Australia and New Zealand, was described by former New South Wales Premier Bob Carr in 2003 as the “national dish” of Australia. Just one bite of it and you will understand why very quickly.
- 2½ cups flour
- 8 tablespoons butter
- ¼ cup milk (warm)
- ¼ cup water (warm)
- ½ teaspoon salt
- 1 lb beef , minced or cut into fine pieces
- 2 oz bacon , finely chopped
- 2 tablespoons butter
- 1 large onion , finely chopped
- ½ cup red wine
- ½ cup beef broth
- 2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
- 1 tablespoon ketchup
- 1 tablespoon cornstarch
- 1 tablespoon water
- ½ bunch parsley , finely chopped
- 2 pinches of grated nutmeg
- Freshly ground pepper
- 1 egg yolk
- 1 tablespoon milk
- Bring water and milk to boil. Add the butter and melt.
- Mix the flour and salt separately and add the liquids.
- Knead the dough on a lightly floured surface and form a smooth, soft dough.
- Cover the dough and refrigerate for 1 hour.
- Sear the meat in butter and set aside.
- Sauté the bacon and then the onion.
- Add the meat and sauté for 5 minutes over medium / high heat, stirring constantly.
- Deglaze with red wine and stir well.
Add broth, Worcestershire sauce, ketchup and nutmeg.
- Cover and braise for 1 hour.
- Dissolve the cornstarch in the tablespoon of water, and add to the meat.
Add parsley. Add salt and pepper.
- Simmer for another 2 minutes. Turn off the heat.
Remove excess sauce and set aside. Cool meat completely.
Preheat convection oven to 350F/180C.
Roll dough to about ⅛ inch (3mm) thick on a lightly floured surface.
Cut four 6-inch (15cm) diameter circles with a cookie cutter.
- Place circle of dough inside buttered molds. Fill with meat and a little sauce. Reserve remaining sauce.
- Fold the edges over the filling.
- Gather the remaining dough and roll it again.
Cut four 5-inch (12cm) diameter circles with a cookie cutter.
- Make a small x with a knife at the center of each circle.
- Place on the filling, and press edges so that the two layers of dough adhere.
- Beat the egg yolk and milk. Brush the pies and the edges with the mixture.
- Bake in the middle of the oven for 40 minutes.
Serve the Australian meat pies hot with ketchup on top.
- Serve the reserved sauce separately.