Why It Works
- Grating cold butter into the flour makes it easier to quickly combine them without overworking the dough.
- Refrigerating the dough after shaping and again after forming the meat pies ensures it’s fully chilled and relaxed prior to baking.
- Whole wheat flour adds flavor and tenderness to the dough, while all-purpose flour provides strength.
- Docking the tops of the pies before baking allows steam to escape.
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.