Off to the mines
On the Southwestern tip of the United Kingdom stands the county of Cornwall. This Celtic nation was known for the mining industry of yesteryear, but more now for its contribution to English cuisine – The Cornish Pasty.
Cornish Pasties are much like a calzone. Pastry dough is rolled out, filled with meat, potatoes, and/or vegetables, and then folded and closed into a half-moon shape with a thick half-ring of crust along the edge. The pastry is baked until the filling is hot and the pastry shell is light and flaky.
The pasty’s history dates back to those mining days in Cornwall, when workers left for the morning and literally spent the whole day in a dark cave covered in poisonous dirt. The miners were not given the freedom to come to the surface to clean up and eat lunch simply because it took too much time. Their wives would bake the pasties in the morning and wrap them in cloth. Around lunch time, the pasty was still warm, and the miner simply held on to the thick crust around the edge and ate the rest, simply to not get the toxins on his meal. The dirt-covered crust was discarded, and even a myth of spirits taking and eating the crust came about, believing they would protect the miners in exchange for the snack.
Nowadays, Cornish Pasties have become a staple of English and Irish pub grub. Any real authentic kind of pub will serve them, but you can also buy frozen pasties at Irish specialty stores like Gaelic Imports here in Chicago. Plus of course there are many recipes online for those who like to do things your own way. The biggest challenge though is the pastry portion, as my own research showed many who ask, inquire, and complain how they can’t get their pastry right. This led me to a nice shortcut though some Pepperidge Farm Pastry Sheets. I also tried phyllo, and while it was good, it’s not the same. Now if you want to go at it totally homemade, then hit up Google, but I recommend the shortcut of ready-made pastry sheets.
The personal challenge with me is better flavor on the filling. Most of the pasties I’ve tried seemed to carry on that stereotype of English and Irish food being very bland. The frozen pasties I remember had a filling that reminded me of sausage filling with little flavor to them. My solution actually came from a dish that isn't really from England: London Broil. I ended up marinating the meat like I would for a London Broil and the results were wonderful.
Let’s get into it.
- 1 clove garlic, minced
- 3 tbsp of soy sauce
- 1 tbsp of ketchup
- 1 tbsp of olive oil
- 1/2 tsp of dried oregano
- 1-2 lbs of beef, cubed
- 1 onion, chopped
- 2 small carrots, peeled and chopped
- 2 potatoes, peeled and diced
- Salt and pepper to taste
- 1-2 packages of puff pastry sheets
- 1 egg
- Combine the garlic, soy sauce, ketchup, olive oil, and oregano into a dish, container, or bag you can seal up. Add salt and pepper to your liking.
- Place the cubed meat into the marinade, seal, and leave to marinate for at least four hours.
- When you’re happy with the meat, dump it into a mixing bowl and combine with the onion, carrots, and potatoes. Give it a stir to mix it all up. Season with salt and pepper to your liking.
- Preheat the oven to 450º. Have one or a few baking sheets ready with parchment paper on them or a light brushing of oil.
- Prepare your space for making the pasties. Break the egg into a small bowl and scramble it. Place a brush into the egg and keep it nearby. Make sure the surface you’re going to put the pastry sheets on is clean and dry. You might want to sprinkle a little flour on the surface if need be. Also make sure you’ve defrosted the sheets.
- Unfold and lay out one pastry sheet, then brush the outer edges with the egg.
- Place enough filling in the center to fill up the pasty nicely. The amount will vary depending on how big you’re making your pasty.
- Fold the pastry over and seal up the pasty. The diagram below offers two suggestions:
- With a knife or fork, poke a few holes in the middle from the top. This is for steam release.
- Place the pasty on your baking sheet and brush with the egg.
- Bake the pasties at 450º for 10 minutes, then turn the oven down to 350º and continue baking for another 30-40 minutes, or until the crust is a nice golden color.
The kind of beef you use is really up to you. Some suggest flank steak, others might try skirt or sirloin. I remember I found an inexpensive package of lean steak chopped into pieces that would use for fajitas. Worked out perfectly.
When I used the Pepperidge Farm sheets, they didn’t unfold very easily, and you might run into the same problem. Zuzana and I ended up crumpling the sheet into a ball, then using flour and a rolling pin, we rolled it flat into a circle. You might have better luck though than we did. If you would rather try making puff pastry on your own, then I suggest just doing a Google search. I personally wanted to make it easier, and the sheets worked great.
In terms of sealing the pasty, there is the traditional “crimped” look of it, and you can learn it on this YouTube video, but I actually just pressed on the edges with a fork like you would a pie. Worked beautifully.
From my research on Cornish Pasties, I found that there really wasn’t a set traditional recipe that you must follow. Everyone seemed to have variation except on the two staples of meat and potato. I say go crazy. Change out the meat to chicken or turkey if you’re not into red meat. Add more vegetables or different vegetables. I’ve seen a few recipes that use leeks. I know that when I made these pasties, I also marinated some chicken Greek style, and folded them up into “pasties” with some roasted vegetables. Not necessarily English, but delicious.
One other variation I tried was phyllo as opposed to pastry sheets. I will admit it’s not the same thing, but it does make for a yummy dish. Simply use #7 phyllo like you would in making Spinach Pies.