[Baked or fried? You decide.]
Natchitoches meat pies are one of those special little treats with a name as fun to say as they are to scarf down. Nackadish--that's how you say it--is a small town we drive through on our way north to visit Alexandria or Oklahoma, and it's where Steel Magnolias was filmed, and it's famous for these little pies. It's a beautiful little place, with a picturesque riverfront lined with shops and restaurants that have their own sort of French Quarter-ish wrought-iron balconies (remember the Easter scene where Jackson slapped Ouiser? That's the riverfront!). But you don't have to go into the actual town to get yourself some meat pies; just stop at any gas station right off I-10. They all fry them up and they're all pretty wonderful.
Inside a tender, flaky pastry is a thickly seasoned mixture of ground beef or pork and trinity vegetables (onion, bell pepper, celery), gilded with a little jalapeno and garlic, and punked up with Worcestershire and Tabasco. Sort of like chili came to south Louisiana and booked a room inside a pie crust. Nothing wrong with that at all. Most of the pies I've seen are about as big as my hand, but I really prefer them in smaller doses because they're so dang rich. So these are miniature pies, made with prepared pie crusts for the ease of them, and you can either bake or fry depending on how high you want your crunch ceiling to go. You can see from the photo above that the fried ones are toastier, crispier, and all-around more divine-looking, but don't underestimate the power of the baked pie. A little flakiness from the oven is a good, good thing.
About the frying: my grandmother Willie Ruth taught me how to shallow-fry pies in an iron skillet, which only takes about half an inch of oil and is a really quick way to cook these. It's also much easier and cheaper than deep-frying. She was famous for her fried apricot pies...putting those on my to-do list right now.
natchitoches meat pies
- 1 pound lean ground beef
- 1 Tablespoon vegetable oil, plus more if you're frying the pies
- 1 medium onion, finely chopped
- 1 small green bell pepper, finely chopped
- 2 stalks celery, finely chopped
- 1 jalapeno pepper, seeded and minced
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- 4 scallions, thinly sliced (greens and whites)
- 1/2 cup chopped fresh parsley
- 1 small tomato, finely chopped
- 1 teaspoon dried thyme
- 1 teaspoon dried oregano
- 1 teaspoon paprika
- 2 teaspoons chili powder
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1 teaspoon ground black pepper
- 1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
- 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
- 1/4 teaspoon white pepper
- 3/4 cup beef or chicken stock
- 2 Tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
- 4 shakes of the Tabasco bottle
- 1/2 teaspoon sugar (optional)
- 2 Tablespoons all-purpose flour
- pie dough for 4 9" pies (2 packages of refrigerated pie crusts, or your favorite recipe)
- 1 egg, beaten in a small bowl with 1 teaspoon water for egg wash, if baking
- In a medium skillet, brown the ground beef over medium heat until crumbled and no longer pink. Remove from the pan and drain off excess fat; set aside.
- In the same skillet, heat the oil over medium-high heat. Add onion, bell pepper, and celery, and saute until softened, about 5 minutes. Add jalapeno, garlic, scallions, parsley, and tomato, and saute another 4 to 5 minutes, until vegetables are very soft and juicy.
- Stir in thyme, oregano, paprika, chili powder, salt, black pepper, cumin, cayenne, and white pepper.
- Add the reserved beef and pour in the stock, Worcestershire, and Tabasco. Stir well and simmer over medium heat, uncovered, for about 10 minutes, until most of the liquid has evaporated but the filling is still a little juicy. Taste for seasoning and add more salt, pepper, Worcestershire, or whatever's needed; or try adding 1/2 a teaspoon of sugar to mellow out the spices a little. It works for me.
- Sprinkle the flour over the mixture and stir well to incorporate. Let simmer over low heat another 3 to 4 minutes, until mixture is drier and well-blended. Remove from skillet and let cool until room temperature (otherwise it will be too warm and will melt the pie dough).
- If you're baking pies, preheat the oven to 425.
- On a lightly floured surface, place a fourth of the pie dough and roll out to 1/8" thickness (if you use prepared crusts, you can just unwrap them and slap 'em down). Use a 4" round cutter to cut out 6 circles from each portion of crust (I cut 4 circles, then pressed together the scraps, rerolled and cut another circle, then formed a final circle out of the last bits). Place 1 Tablespoon of filling in the center of each circle (do not overstuff), fold the circle over, and crimp the edged with the tines of a fork. Set on baking sheets until ready to bake or fry, and repeat with the remaining pie crusts and filling until you have 24 pies.
- For frying: Chill the filled pies in the refrigerator for about 10 minutes before frying, to help them hold together. Heat 1/2" of vegetable oil in a cast-iron or other heavy skillet until it's about 360 degrees; you can check by throwing a small cube of bread in the oil, and if it starts to sizzle and turn golden and crispy after a minute or two, it's ready. If it immediately turns toasty, it's too hot. Lower pies gently into the oil in batches, without crowding. Let cook on one side for about 2 to 3 minutes, until golden brown; gently turn pies over (I hold a dinner fork in each hand to do this) and cook the other side for 2 to 3 minutes, until golden brown. Remove to a paper towel-lined plate to drain and repeat with remaining pies.
- For baking: Brush each pie with egg wash (not a skimpy amount--really get it on there) and prick the tops a few times with a fork, to let steam escape. Bake for 15 to 17 minutes, until the edges are light golden brown.
makes 24 small pies. If you don't want so much, halve the recipe, or make 12 pies and save the other half of the filling for burritos or enchiladas.