Nigerian Meat Pies
Meat pies, or beef hand pies―flaky pastries filled with a curry-spiced mixture of ground beef, onions, potatoes, and carrots―are common at home and as street snacks in Nigeria. Growing up in Warri, located on the southern coast of Nigeria, my family would buy them from quick-service restaurants rather than make them at home. They were tasty enough, but it wasn’t until I went to Lagos on holiday that I fell in love with the meat pies at Mr. Biggs, the most popular quick-service restaurant chain in Nigeria.
At Mr. Biggs, you could get the most delicious meat pies, chicken pies, sausage rolls, and the best jelly doughnuts ever (I have not had a single doughnut that comes close, but I digress), all of which were childhood favorites of mine. Their meat pies consist of a crumbly, flaky crust that’s stuffed with an aromatic filling of meat, carrots, potatoes and curry powder, and they’re always served hot.
Introduced to Nigeria during British colonial rule, meat pies resemble Cornish pasties and Jamaican beef patties in appearance but actually differ in many ways. The pastry for meat pies, same as with Jamaican beef patties, is a shortcrust made with cold water, not hot water, which is traditional for Cornish pasties. Butter or margarine are the fats of choice in meat pies, unlike suet in Jamaican patties and lard or white shortening in Cornish pasties. Lastly, the filling for Cornish pasties is uncooked prior to stuffing, while the filling for Nigerian meat pies is cooked beforehand.
When it comes to making meat pies at home, there are two main elements to prepare: the meat filling and the shortcrust pastry. Both of these can be made ahead of time to help shorten the process. For the shortcrust pastry, I use a mix of all-purpose and whole wheat flour, which contributes to the tenderness of the dough. In addition, a ratio of two parts flour to one part butter by weight ensures a crumbly, flaky texture. If you aren’t able to make the pastry from scratch, you can substitute with store-bought puff pastry. For the filling, it’s traditional to use ground beef, however it’s equally delicious with chopped, shredded, or ground chicken or finely-chopped mushrooms. The inclusion of green bell pepper adds a fresh, vegetal flavor and aroma, and seasoning the mixture with Nigerian-style curry powder delivers warm and slightly spicy notes.
While this recipe yields individual hand pies that are perfect for snacking, you can quite easily convert it to make one large pot pie that can be served family style by spooning the filling into a medium ovenproof dish and topping it with a single piece of rolled-out dough. Whatever form you decide on, enjoy your meat pie with a salad alongside.
For the Beef Filling: In a small bowl, whisk cornstarch with 1/2 cup (120ml) water until well combined and set aside.
In a 10-inch cast iron or stainless-steel skillet, heat 1 tablespoon oil over medium heat until shimmering. Add ground beef, season lightly with salt, and cook, stirring and breaking up chunks of meat, until beef is no longer pink, about 5 minutes. Transfer to medium heatproof bowl and set aside.
Add remaining oil to now-empty skillet and continue to heat on medium until shimmering. Add onion, potatoes, and carrot, season with salt, and cook, stirring occasionally, until just beginning to soften, about 4 minutes. Add curry powder and thyme and cook, stirring frequently, until fragrant, about 2 minutes.
Add cooked beef along with the stock or water, cover, and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to maintain a simmer and cook, stirring once or twice, until vegetables are softened, 12 to 15 minutes.
Stir in half of the green bell pepper and cook until just softened, about 2 minutes. Stir cornstarch slurry to redistribute the starch, then stir into the beef mixture. Bring to a simmer and cook, stirring occasionally, until beef and vegetables are coated in a thickened sauce, about 5 minutes. Stir in remaining green bell pepper and season with salt and pepper to taste. Transfer to medium heatproof bowl and set aside to cool, about 30 minutes (filling can be refrigerated in an airtight container for up to 3 days).
For the Dough: Meanwhile, in a large bowl, whisk together all-purpose flour, whole wheat flour, salt, and baking powder until thoroughly combined.
Using the large holes of a box grater, grate butter over flour mixture. Using your hands, toss grated butter with flour mixture until butter is evenly distributed.
Make a 4-inch wide well in the center of the butter-flour mixture. Whisk beaten egg and ice-cold water together until combined. Pour egg mixture into well, then, using a flexible spatula, gradually stir butter-flour mixture into egg mixture until a cohesive dough forms with visible bits of butter. If dough is too dry, add additional water, 1 tablespoon at a time, until dough comes together. Shape dough into a flat, round disk, wrap tightly in plastic wrap, and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes or up to 2 days.
Set dough disk on a generously floured work surface. Portion into 6 equal-sized balls (2 1/3 ounces; 65g each). Using a rolling pin and adding more flour as needed underneath and on top of dough to prevent sticking, roll out each ball into a 6-inch circle about 1/8 inch thick. Transfer rounds to a lightly-floured rimmed baking sheet and cover loosely with plastic wrap to prevent dough rounds from drying out.
To Assemble and Bake: Line a rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper. Working with one dough round at a time, set on a lightly-floured work surface and add 1/2 cup (3 1/2 ounces; 98g) of beef filling to bottom half of the round, leaving a 1/2-inch border along the edge. Fold top half over the filling to form a semicircle, then press down gently around the edge to seal. Using the back tines of a fork, press down firmly around the edge to ensure meat pie is well sealed. Transfer to a prepared baking sheet and cover loosely with plastic wrap. Repeat the process with remaining dough rounds and filling. Cover loosely and refrigerate at least 30 minutes and up to 2 hours.
Twenty minutes before baking, adjust oven rack to middle position and preheat to 400°F (205°C). When ready to bake, brush surface of pies with egg wash. Poke pies all over with a fork, 5 to 6 times each. Bake meat pies, rotating tray halfway through, until golden brown on all sides, about 25 minutes. Let cool for 10 minutes.
Transfer meat pies to a serving platter and serve warm or at room temperature.
Lion curry powder is my favorite brand. If you can’t find it, Ducros is an acceptable substitute, as are Jamaican or West Indian curry powders.
Make-Ahead and Storage
Uncooked meat pies can be frozen on a parchment-lined baking sheet. Freeze until firm, transfer to a zipper-lock bag, and store in the freezer for up to 2 months. Bake meat pies from frozen; baking time will increase by 10 to 15 minutes.
Cooked meat pies can be refrigerated in an airtight container for up to 5 days. To refresh, preheat oven to 350°F (177°C) oven, transfer meat pies to a sheet tray, and reheat until warm, 10 to 15 minutes.
Ozoz Sokoh August 9, 2022 at 10:42PM
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