How to make Irish Pies for St. Patrick’s
BY TOM YATES
It happens every year.
After several hours of banging back Guinness pints with Jameson Irish Whiskey chasers, Michael and I always find ourselves stranded on a street-side curb waiting for the annual St. Patrick’s Day parade to pass us by. Stranded and hungry. Here’s the deal, we don’t really ignore the blatant opportunities surrounding us to chow down on Irish fare. On St. Patrick’s Day, practically every bar and restaurant hawks variations of Irish Stew, Corned Beef and Cabbage, Reuben Sandwiches, or Shepherd’s Pie. While food is everywhere, the day gets a wee bit complicated. During the frenzy leading up to the parade, our resolve to eat something and pace ourselves dissolves into the foam of endless rounds of beer or the melting salt of bright green margaritas. Would you like something to eat? Hell no, wrap me up in a green feather boa topped off with a glittery leprechaun hat. Shiny clip-on tinsel hair? Yes, please. And while you’re at it, I’ll have another beer. Or margarita. And so it goes. Before we know it, the haunting drone of echoing bagpipes always lures us down to the parade route.
Year after year, there we are, trapped on a random sidewalk (far far away from the mere aroma of food) surrounded by happy families, drunken parade goers, bagpipe pipers, prancing horses, local bands, funny cars, and over enthusiastic scary clowns. Trapped and starving. What’s a boy to do? This year, I might skipthe parade, rent a little pushcart, and wander through the crowded revelers peddling little Shepherd’s Pie Portable hand pies. Cue music. Who will buy my hot savory pies? Such a pie I never did see. Think about it. Munchies for the merry masses. St. Thomas, the Pie Bearer.
Savory Irish Pies.
Not to be confused with Irish Pasties, the batter-dipped deep fried meat pies sold throughout Northern Ireland in fish and chips shops, Shepherd’s Pies (lamb) and Cottage Pies (beef) are fabulous common casserole dishes composed of various meats, vegetables, and potatoes. Minced or braised meat? Sliced or mashed potatoes? Peas and/or carrots? It doesn’t really matter. Whatever combination, they’re nearly impossible to muck up.
Shepherd’s Pie Hand Pies.
A fun little riff on shepherd’s pie.
To accommodate the smallish nature of the pies, I finely diced 3 carrots and 4 stalks of celery (slightly larger than an 1/8 ” brunoise). After trimming the roots and green ends off of 2 medium leeks, I split the white sections in half, gave them a good rinse, and sliced them into very thin half moons. Working over a medium high flame, I sauteed the vegetables until they started to sweat before adding two smashed roasted garlic cloves. As the tender leeks took on a bit of color, I scooped the vegetables onto a side plate and tumbled 1 pound of Four Hills Farm ground lamb into the skillet.
I used a wooden spoon to break up the ground lamb and let it brown for a few minutes before adding 2 tablespoons of tomato paste, 1 tablespoon dry mustard, 1 heaping tablespoon smoked paprika, salt, and cracked black pepper. After swirling the spiced tomato paste throughout the browned lamb, I let it toast to deepen the flavor. When the brick-colored lamb started to caramelize, I deglazed the skillet with 1 cup Guinness, 2 cups beef stock, and 1/4 cup Worcestershire sauce. I tossed 2 bay leaves along with a handful of fresh thyme stems into the mix, brought it to a boil, reduced it to a simmer, and let it rip for 45 minutes, stirring during wine refills.
When the highly aromatic lamb concoction reduced and thickened, I added 1 cup of peas and pulled the skillet from the heat to cool.
While store bought pie dough would have been fine, I had the stuff to throw together a very basic pie dough. I sifted 2 1/2 cups of flour, 1 teaspoon salt, and 1 teaspoon sugar into a food processor, added 16 sliced tablespoons of very cold unsalted butter, pulsed the mix a few times until it crumbled, added 1/4 cup ice water, and pulsed it again for a split second to pull the dough together. I scooped the dough out of the processor, divided it in half, patted it into two discs, wrapped the discs in plastic wrap, and slid them into the refrigerator to chill.
After 25-30 minutes, I floured a large cutting board and rolled the dough into two 1/8″ rounds. I used a 3″ fluted cookie cutter to lightly score the bottom crust and mark the shapes. After brushing the scored edges with an egg wash, I spooned dollops of leftover mashed potatoes onto the scored pastry circles and nestled heaping tablespoons of the filling into the potatoes before showering the tops with extra sharp white cheddar cheese. So, instead of trying to crimp together individual pastry pies like empanadas, I draped the second pastry sheet over the first sheet, tapped around the mounded fillings to squeeze out any excess air, and used the cookie cutter to stamp through both layers to seal them together with clean edges. I brushed the little pies with the remaining egg wash, scattered sea salt over the tops, and slid them into a preheated 425 degree oven to bake for 35 minutes. When the pies were beautifully browned, I pulled them from the oven, transferred them to a wire rack, and finished with flash-fried thyme leaves.
Cracked open, the filling spilled and oozed from the steaming pies. Tucked inside the buttery crisp shells, the mild malty bitterness of the Guinness-infused beef stock tempered the slight gaminess of the ground lamb. While the vegetables added subtle sweetness, the flaky salt provided a clean crunch that countered the soft earthy tang of the melted sharp white cheddar cheese.
Little lucky hand pies.
Bring on the bagpipes.
Chef Tom’s Food and Cooking Column appears on page 13 of the Ace print edition. Text and Photos by Chef Tom.
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