Note: Daughter Miriam is having trouble with onions and garlic. To please all of my diners, I eventually made one with garlic and onions and a second smaller batch without the offending ingredients. I am posting the recipes for both as if I had made a full batch of each.
Almost twenty years ago we visited New Zealand—wife Jan had a series of guest lectures. Since we were already there we scheduled in time to rent a car and drive all over the country looking for LOTR sites. This was our introduction to NZ hand-pies—a quick an easy lunch when you are on the road.
This was after the movies, but before such journeys had become a tourist trap—the only indication of the movie we found was a small stake sign identifying Rivendell. Arrowtown is the location of the Bruinen river-crossing scene with Frodo and Arwen. While we had had hand-pies before this, we had the best venison pies in a small shop in this picturesque town.
Note: New Zealanders take their pies very seriously. There is a hotly contested pie completion every year for the best pies—ranked not only on flavor, but on esoteric properties of the crust, ratio of meat to gravy, and the proper spring when poked with a finger. New Zealanders eat 15 pies per person per year—this number strikes me as low. It must include only commercially made pies. I am sure that NZ home cooks make many more than this.
Son-in-law Chris asked me to try and replicate these venison pies that we have been talking about for years. These pies have a crisp crust and tender chunks of venison in a flavorful gravy. Venison is fairly hard to in the US, but I found a meat shop that carried it. While I wanted a good piece of meat to cut into chunks, I had to settle for ground venison.
New Zealand pies are real pies with a filling between a top and bottom crust. They are made in an individual pie pan that is normally about 3½ by 4½ by 1½ inches deep. Since I was not able to find these specialty pans locally, I decided to make simple fold-over hand-pies—think calzone.
I was watching an episode of America’s Test Kitchen on steak and ale pie. While I used their recipe for short crust pastry, I treated it very differently from their technique. While I used a few of their ingredients from their stew recipe, I wondered far and wide from it to fit my families culinary needs. Daughter Miriam is having trouble with garlic and onions and daughter Eilene will not eat mushrooms—the Test Kitchen recipe had plenty of all three.
To go with my pies, I decided to make roasties—NZ roasted vegetables. My wife Jan decided to try her hand at making pavlova—another New Zealand specialty. This is a crunchy meringue treat topped with fruit that is to die for.
After Dinner Note: Everybody ate two pies apiece, and thought these were really close to the ones we had in Arrowtown.
The crust was truly amazing. The raw dough was sturdy and easy to work with and bake up as rich, flaky, and—even when rolled out thinly—robust enough to hold the filling in without falling apart.
Next Day Note: My wife thought these were the best hand-pies that she had ever had, until we ate the leftovers for dinner the next day. The flavors had melded and became heavenly.
Karl’s New Zealand Venison Hand-Pies
12 oz. butter, unsalted (1½ sticks)
3 large eggs, separate uses
½ cup full fat sour cream
2 ½ cups AP flour
1 tsp. Kosher salt
2 Tbs. ghee (clarified butter)
1½ cup yellow onion, finely diced
¾ cup celery, finely diced
½ cup carrot, finely diced
½ tsp. Kosher salt
2-3 cloves garlic, minced
¼ cup AP flour
1⅓ lb. ground venison
½ tsp. black pepper, cracked
Note: Crust dough may be made up to two days ahead of time.
1. Put the butter in the freezer for 30 minutes to an hour.
Tip: You will be using a box grater to mix the butter into the flour.
Note: While you want the butter very cold, you do not want it frozen solid, as that makes it difficult to grate.
2. Scramble two of the egg in a small bowl and then whisk in the sour cream.
Tip: It is important to use full fat sour cream. The fats in the egg yolks and sour cream bind with the flour to prevent the formation of too much gluten.
Note: I usually use a variation of French pastry for much of my baking. The English technique is to work the butter into the flour to melt and bind up its gluten forming properties. I chop the butter into fine discreet cold bits. When these bits of butter melt during baking they create little pockets of steam that create the crusts flakey texture and provide some “lift” in a pastry that does not have other leavening. The fats in the wet ingredients substitute for some of the butter to bind to the flour and to prevent too much gluten formation and a tough crust.
3. Put the flour and salt into a medium bowl and mix well.
Tip: Sifting the flour and salt together several times works well.
4. Mix the wet ingredients into flour.
5. When most of the dry flour has been incorporated, turn the dough out onto a work surface.
Tip: I bought a pastry marble at a yard sale that is probably the best buy I have ever made.
Note: The cold marble prevents the butter from melting and the smooth surface prevents the dough from sticking too much.
6. Using well floured hands and a board scraper, work the rest of the flour into the dough ball.
7. Knead the dough for 1-2 minutes.
Tip: You want to ensure that the dough is fully mixed, but not so much that you get too much gluten formation.
8. Divide the dough in half and roll each half into a 12 inch snake.
Note: I had made a double batch of short crust to make enough shells for my hand-pies. In the ATK recipe they made a large pie with just a top crust. Their recipe called for wrapping up the dough ball and letting it chill. I was planning to make 16 hand-pies. If I divided the dough after I had chilling it would be very difficult to work with. I decided to divide the dough when it was still soft and chill each small ball of dough separately. That way they would be ready to use right out of the refrigerator.
9. Divide the dough snake into 8 even pieces.
Tip: Cut the snake in half and set the halves side by side. Cut the halve in half again. Finally cut each quarter once again to make eight pieces.
Note: Roll each piece of dough into a small ball. Each ball should be about the size of a golf ball (1¼ inches). At this point, you may take a pinch out of any ball that is a bit large and work it into any smaller ball.
10. Wrap the balls in plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least one hour.
Tip: You may prepare your crusts up to two days in advance.
Note: You do not want the balls to dry out while they are chilling, but wrapping each ball separately would be a waste. Solution: set out a small tray and lay down a sheet of plastic wrap. Place several balls in a row—you do not want the balls to touch and stick together. Pull the edge of the plastic wrap over the balls. Lay down a second row of balls and pull the far edge of the wrap over the second row if balls. Twist the ends of the package and flip the package over, so that the open seam is face down and tuck the ends under to keep them from untwisting.
11. Melt the ghee in a large saute pan over medium heat and add the onions, celery, carrots, and salt.
12. Sauté the vegetables until soft, about 5-6 minutes.
Note: This dish is all about the meat flavor, you do not want to brown the vegetables too much.
13. Pull the vegetables to the sides of the pan and sauté the garlic in the hole in the center of the pan.
14. Mix the garlic into the vegetables and sprinkle the flour into the pan.
15. Sauté the flour and vegetables for another 3-4 minutes.
Tip: You are making a rough roux cooking the flour in the fat coating the vegetables. You want to cook off the raw flavor of the flour.
16. Transfer the vegetables to a bowl.
17. Fry the ground venison until well browned on both sides.
Tip: If necessary you may add more ghee to the pan before adding the meat. Venison is a very lean meat and provides very little of its own grease.
Note: The venison I bought came in three 1/3 pound patties. It your meat is loose, form it into a large patty before you fry it. This is a America’s Test Kitchen trick that allows you to get plenty of the flavorful Maillard reaction without turning all of your meat into little rocks of dried out burger.
18. Transfer the venison patty to a plate to cool.
Tip: When the meat is cool enough to handle break it into small bits.
19. Deglaze the pan with the water and return the vegetables to the pan.
20. Stir in the bouillon, thyme and brown ale.
21. Return the meat to the pan and simmer until the gravy has thickened.
Tip: This is the tricky bit. You want your gravy to be thick enough, so that it is not runny, but you do not want it to be too dry either.
22. Remove the pan from the heat and let the stew cool.
Tip: The gravy does not need to be stone cold, but you want it cool enough that it does not start cooking your crust on contact.
Note: Preheat the oven to 350º F about 10 minutes before you are ready to bake the pies.
23. Put the last egg into a small bowl and scramble it well.
24. Remove several of the dough balls from the refrigerator and flatten them with your palm into 2 inch disks on a well floured board.
Tip: You want enough flour that the dough does not stick as you roll it out. You also want to flour your rolling pin as well. I use a tapered 9 inch jiaozi rolling pin that is perfect for rolling out small, thin disks—it is half the size of a French style rolling pin. I bought mine in China, but I was unable to find them online.
Note: Keep the remaining dough balls in the refrigerator until you are ready to use them.
25. One at a time, roll the dough pieces out into 7 inch disks.
26. Place about half a cup of the cooled stew down the center line of each disk.
27. Use a brush to moisten a quarter inch along half of the disks edge.
28. Pick up the dry edge and pull it over the filling.
29. Line the edges up and use the tines of a fork to press the edges together.
30. Use a wide pancake turner or board scraper to move the finished pie to a lipped baking sheet.
Tip: I found it unnecessary to lay down parchment paper while baking these pies. There is enough butter in the crust to self-grease the pan.
Note: In the ATK recipe they cut a vent hole in the top of their pie. I found this unwarranted. Unlike the pies I have made using biscuit dough or raised dough, these crust did not develop blowouts or thin spots.
31. In a small cup scramble the remaining egg well and brush it over the tops of the pies.
32. Bake at 350º F for 30-35 minutes, until golden brown.
Tip: Rotate the pan half way through to ensure even baking.
33. Transfer to a wire rack to cool for a few minutes.
Note: Again what I actually made were three pies without garlic and onions (marked with thyme leaves) and the rest with these aromatics.
34. Serve warm.