A Different Kind Of Pie

French Réunion Island where I grew up has a multi-ethnic population, hailing from France, the West coast of Africa, the East Coast of India (Malabar coast), Pakistan (people came when Pakistan was part of the British empire), and Indochina. Its cooking reflects the diversity of its population, each group’s culinary traditions enriching the common cooking pot.

An example is Paté Créole, a savory meat pie probably of French and Indian origins served on feast days, particularly at the beginning of the Christmas or New Year’s Eve meal.

So I think it’s an appropriate pie for Thanksgiving.

Cooks on Réunion prize themselves on their paté: offering a homemade one is a sure sign of hospitality and of traditional culinary know-how.  There are myriad variations: different spices, more eggs, less eggs, some even add anisette to the dough. Nowadays, it seems that the pie is turning sweet: an online search reveals many versions where the meat has simply disappeared to be replaced by “confiture de papaye” (papaya slices half candied in sugar syrup).  And as much as I love confiture de papaye – almost as much as confiture de pamplemousse (candied pomelo rind)– it ain’t right:  paté créole is NOT dessert. But at least it is in good company when it comes that transformation: the same thing happened to minced pie., when, today, the only meat in it is often the suet — if that at all!

Almost mythic rumors surround the making of the dough.  Let’s admit it: it can be bad – so dry and brittle that you can hardly swallow it. Don’t overwork it. If you’ve made American biscuits, you know what I mean.  Also make it a two-day endeavor: traditionally the dough rests overnight; the paté is baked morning of (or even the day before) the party, giving the flavors time to meld and mellow.

Although round is the traditional shape, you can make them any shape you like.

Paté Créole is sliced thinly and eaten at room temperature with a small glass of Anisette or citrus rum punch, preferably when sitting in a “fauteuil creole” on the “varangue“. Here in Virginia, I am highly unlikely to be gently rocking on the porch on Thanksgiving or Christmas day nibbling on pate creole. But you could find me by the wood stove with a local craft ale, or wheat beer (especially one steeped with orange peel and coriander) or a glass of Barboursville sparkling.

Paté Créole freezes beautifully – very convenient if you make individual pies. They are perfect for lunch or supper with a simple green leafy salad on the side. So I generally make a large pie for whatever the occasion is, and an other batch of small pies for the freezer.

The recipe is from my mother, Rose-Elise – but of course, with a personal variation: I use vanilla powder (i.e. the seeds inside the vanilla bean) where she prefers Ceylon cinnamon.

NB: yes, you are allowed to go a little crazy with the decorations!

Small pates creoles cooling

Weighing the flour is the only way to be accurate. The ratio of fat to flour matters a lot – so do get a scale.

Rose-Elise’s Paté Créole (My Mother’s Réunion-Island Meat Pie)

Yields One 10-inch Pie – Serves About 12-14

For the Filling:

2 tablespoons rendered lard
1 small onion, minced
1 generous pound fairly lean pork meat, diced small
1 teaspoon turmeric powder – as fresh and fragrant as possible
1 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves (or ½ teaspoon dry)
2 cloves garlic, mashed to a paste
½ inch fresh ginger root, peeled and mashed to a paste or passed through a garlic press
Salt to taste

For the Dough:

500 grams all-purpose flour (1 pound = 3.5 to over 4 cups of flour, depending on how it’s measured)
125 grams sugar, preferably raw or turbinado (1/4 pound = ½ cup + 1 tablespoon)
1 ¼ teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon baking powder
½ teaspoon vanilla powder OR 1 teaspoon cinnamon powder (if the latter, preferably Ceylon cinnamon)
125 grams cold lard (1/4 pound = 8 tablespoons)
125 grams unsalted butter (1/4 pound = 8 tablespoons), not fridge cold but not too soft either, cut fingernail-size
2 eggs, slightly beaten

For the Egg-Wash:

1 egg
2 tablespoons milk

Prepare the filling and dough the day before you plan to serve the pate.

For the filling: melt the lard in a thick bottom skillet on low to medium heat. Sweat the onion and meat gently (do not let it brown) about 10 minutes. Add all remaining ingredients, stir until fragrant, about 1 minute. Cover, lower heat and simmer 30 to 45 minutes until tender. Add a tiny bit of water or a little more lard as needed. There should be almost no liquid left at the end but the meat should not be dry. Refrigerate until ready to use.

For the dough: In a large bowl, whisk flour, sugar, salt, spices and baking powder together. Drop in the lard, spooned or cut in small bits, and the butter.

Cut the fats into the flour mixture until the dough resembles rough corn meal with a few pea-size pieces. Make a well in the middle of the flour mixture. Add the eggs, and incorporate into the dough first using your fingertips, then your hands until the dough comes together. Knead for 1 minute. Shape into a ball, and refrigerate in a tightly closed container or plastic bag.

Assemble and bake the pate the morning of the day you are serving it.
Remove the dough from the fridge 1 hour before using to soften.

Grease and line the bottom of a 10” removable cheesecake mold with parchment paper.

Preheat oven to 425F.

Remove about 1/6 of the dough. Divide the reminder in 2 equal parts. The dough will be quite brittle and fall apart. Knead each part well for a minute or two until it is supple enough to roll without cracking. Reserve the smaller dough ball.

Roll each of the bigger parts into a ball, flatten with the palm on your hand on a lightly floured surface, flour the top lightly, and roll into a 10-inch circle. Transfer one circle to the cake pan. If the dough breaks, patch it together with your fingertips. Top it with the filling, leaving ½-inch edge all around.

Transfer the other circle over the filling, and press the edges together to seal the filling in. Roll out the reserved dough and cut out various shapes to decorate the top of the crust.

Whisk together the egg and milk, and brush it over the top of the pate with a pastry brush (there will be some left).

Bake 10 minutes on the upper shelf. Then lower heat to 300F, move the paté to the lower shelf and bake for 30 minutes until the paté is golden and an attractive sheen has developed.

Let cool thoroughly before unmolding. Serve sliced thinly.

Locavore Log: lard, pork, onion, herbs, butter, eggs

The recipe initially appeared in the October/November 2012 issue of Food-shed magazine

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