CHEF JP’S PIES UNDER AFRICAN SKIES
WORDS AND IMAGES: CHEF JP LE ROUX
If you google the faithful pie, you’ll find that it has origins as far and wide as ancient Rome and Greece. Then, there are distinct American influences as with most things that are popular in the wild west.
But the pie has also been a South African staple across generations and we thought that featuring it would be a great way of celebrating Youth Day in South Africa from the kitchen. True, this is a day with deep political and social meaning – but it is also an excuse to celebrate the vibrancy of our still young democracy and a country that has a higher proportion of young people than most.
In my younger days, I can recall those 2am garage visits for a pie top up after a night on the tiles … with the complimentary Rennie. Most were more gravy than meat (and I shudder to think what else) but they were part of the urban landscape.
But now we have the age of millennials (those born between 1981 and 1996) and the new Generation Z (born from 1997 onwards) who are known for demanding that little bit more, so I decided to transform this rather tired pie of yesteryear into a far healthier and tastier option with some creative fillings and accompanied by some funkier fries.
Ingredients that are supplied produce six pies per recipe.
There are two ways to create your pies – starting with the long and hard way by making your own shortcrust pastry and baking them in the oven for 20 minutes and ending with a far shorter and easier way which I think is more in keeping with our Youth Day theme. You can buy ready-made pastry at your local supermarket. Let it thaw and roll out your pie pastry with a rolling pin and some flour.
Instead of cutting and moulding my own pies, I have instead invested in a pie maker which produces the perfect bite size pies, it takes just six minutes for my pies to reach golden crispy perfection. All you have to do is brush them with an egg wash or a little mayo, before baking.
This is a spicy butter chicken curry filling.
As you know, I brine and marinade any type of protein before cooking as it softens the muscle in the meat and makes for tastier, soft juiciness.
For the butter chicken filling, I cut my free range chicken breasts into bite size blocks (I hate the word cubed as it suggests something that is mass produced) and marinate them in buttermilk in the fridge overnight.
The next morning, I rinse them off and set them aside. Then, I sweat some onions, celery, spicy Kashmiri spice, garlic, turmeric, and smoked paprika in a saucepan. After letting it rest, I add a little chicken stock and some xanthan gum as an alternative to gelatine which is commonly found in high doses in factory pies.
Then it’s a case of braising my chicken and adding it to my sauce, before simmering for a few minutes. Let the curry mix rest until you are ready to add it into your moulded pie structure and bake.
LIVERING IT UP
Those of you that haven’t experienced the Atlantic Ocean in Portugal and the Algarve have missed out pie squared.
Portuguese peri-peri chicken livers in a creamy sauce makes this traditional Mediterranean dish world renowned.
I clean my chicken livers by rinsing them in Atlantic seawater (okay, maybe not) and then pan flying them in olive oil, adding a dash of peri peri oil, some peeled tomatoes, braised onions, lots of garlic and some double cream yogurt. This combo is so velvety creamy and delicious in a pie mix and a true taste of Portugal right here in the heart on Durban.
OH MY GUINNESS!
You need to take a wee bit of time with this classic Irish pie. I guess you can throw down a few pints while you prep.
Being a guest at the World Chefs Congress on my birthday in 2004, I was treated by my late and very great mentor and president of the World Chefs Society, Dr Billy Gallagher, to a birthday treat at the world renowned Guinness factory in the heart of Dublin. This proved an experience never to be forgotten even among the best chefs in the world.
Today, I’m going to relive this experience by sharing with you what has become my favourite Irish beef and Guinness pie complete with all of the wonderful ingredients and the directions.
FROM THE IRISH PANTRY
300 grams stewing beef
1 large UTD potato
2 peeled baby carrots
1 onion, peeled and chopped
1 can diced tomatoes
fresh rosemary sprigs
1 Tablespoon self-raising flour
salt and pepper to taste
a dash of olive oil
2 cups Guinness beer
1 teaspoon granulated thyme
Heat your olive oil on medium heat in a hearty sized pan, brown your meat dusted in the flour and sear inn those wonderful beef flavours. Add your diced onion, potato pieces and your spices. Let this cook for five minutes. Now, it is time to add the Guinness and the tomato, let it simmer and turn down the heat. Slow cook for about an hour on low heat at around 60 degrees. The sauce should be thick and the beer would have marinated the beef to perfection.
Let the mix cool down, have another glug of beer and then you are ready to spoon your mixture into your pie casing and get ready for a taste sensation straight from Dublin.
SOUSSUS VLEI SPRINGBOK AND CRANBERRY PIE
Those of you that haven’t read my Namibian blog, shame on you. Dating back to those heady days in the African desert, I love cooking with game, so I decided that when it came to pies, it had to be game on!
My publisher and I have a very soft spot for the Kalahari, so underneath this glorious African sky, we are making venison pies.
Springbok is the order of the day but we are going to sweeten the deal with a red wine and cranberry filling sauce.
Cut your 200-gram piece of venison into bite sized pieces and then ferment overnight in the fridge in buttermilk with a few sprigs of rosemary. Cook in a pressure cooker for 20 minutes.
Meanwhile, begin making a red wine reduction with braised onions, 150 ml of good cabernet sauvignon, 10ml red wine vinegar, two Tablespoons of dark soy and two teaspoons of brown sugar. Bring up to full heat and then add the cranberries.
Slowly reduce the temperature and let your mixture simmer. Once ready, set aside to cool. Your venison should be ready to add to your reduction.
THE CHICAGO- EN
According to the New York times, the best cheese burger hails from the windy city of Chicago. I guess that cheese burgers should be on a bun, but today we having youthful fun by transforming this into a pie.
As one of the very few places I haven’t visited during my cheffing career is the USA, I am going to take a few liberties.
Lean Wagu mince is the way forward. This is a lovely juicy, buttery mince with just enough fat to bind the mince. I mix mine with a bit of barbeque spice, some diced onions, fresh garlic chives, Worcestershire sauce, some tomato paste and a bit of brown sugar. Fry and set aside.
Then I prepare my three cheese melt – a combo of equal parts of buffalo cheese, mozzarella and New Zealand white cheddar. It’s smokey, tangy and gooey and perfect for our burger pie.
Mix all together. Place your Chicago mix in your pie mould and get baking. You’ll feel the wind in your sails as you cut the steaming result a few minutes later.
By the way, there is nothing wrong with a dollop of ketchup and a gherkin to accompany this feast.
This fresh orange chilly crab and corn combination includes sweet orange crab from our Indian Ocean with a hint of chilli and some traditional sweet corn kernels.
Cleaning crustaceans is not for the faint hearted. You’ll need time, precision and good, strong tummy muscles. That’s why buying fresh crab can something of a challenge. So, remember, a flash frozen crab is just as good.
FROM THE OCEAN PANTRY
500 grams crab
2 cans of corn kernels
2 ripe red hot chillies
50 ml fresh cream
salt and pepper
1 Tablespoon dried fennel seeds
1 Tablespoon smokey paprika
Let your crab defrost naturally and boil it in a large pot with some salt water and a dash of Mirren or a dash of fish sauce. When it has come to the boil, reduce the heat and cover the lid to steam for five minutes or so. Add two dollops of fresh cream, let it cool down to room temperature.
Now, you can delicately squeeze out the crab meat from the shells, make sure there are no crusty bits.
Make your filling by cutting some fresh chillies (no seeds). Mix your crab with some sweet corn kernel, stir vigorously and then add some salt and pepper to taste. Cool the mix before spooning this delicious mix into your pie mould.
Wagu mince pie tartare with hash brown, grilled tomato and peppers in Worcestershire sauce, raw egg yolk and homemade made monkey gland sauce is an adventurous take on a pie and the perfect modern take on the classic mince pie.
Steak / mince tartare is an old classic French delicacy but the infamous monkey gland sauce has a distinctly South African flair.
Believe it or not, there are many theories about how monkey gland sauce got its name. One such story is that it originated at the Savoy Hotel in London and was brought over to SA by an ex-waiter who had relocated during the thirties.
Apparently, a Russian-born, French scientist by the name of Dr Abrahamovitch Serge Voronoff, was a regular diner at the Savoy. One of his medical experiments involved grafting money testicle tissue into the testicles of impotent men! The hotel renamed its favourite steak dish after him, calling it monkey gland steak.
According to a second urban yarn, the sauce actually originated in South Africa. French chefs working in the Carlton Hotel in Johannesburg are said to have become increasingly frustrated and offended with customers dousing their culinary creations with tomato sauce, chutney or Worcestershire sauce and combined some condiments to create a sauce named monkey gland.
According to yet another rumour, a Swiss chef arrived in SA during the late sixties and, needing a quick sauce on the fly, combined the same ingredients to create monkey gland sauce. But where the name came from in these instances is anyone’s guess.
I guess that eating a lot of pies is probably not the healthiest option but, then again, if you make your own fillings (sans the additives, flavourants and preservatives) and use good quality pastry, then this indulgence is not as bad as it has it has been made out to be. You can also use gluten free and Halaal pastry.
FUNKEE FRIES ...
But it is always the fries that get us. We all love that slap chips, with salt and vinegar, but you can turn out chips that taste just as good in the air fryer. They are also a far healthier alternative.
THREE STAGE CRISPY FRIES WITH THREE CHEESE AND BILTONG DIPPING SAUCE
As any chef will tell you, hand cut chips are a must. There are a few stages to this – peel and steam your potatoes for 10 minutes. Let them cool down to room temperature and then delicately slice them to your desired cut. Place them on your air fryer tray, add a dash of coarse salt and sprinkle on some olive oil to just to give them that golden colour. Cook for eight minutes.
I’ve made a biltong and 3 cheese sauce to complement my fries, using three equal parts blue cheese, white cheddar and creamy Danish feta. Just add some biltong bits and you are in for a treat.
SWEET POTATO TWISTERS
Sweet potatoes are by far the healthier cut of them all. The amount of potassium and vitamins are six times higher than in their more conventional two chromosome potato. Peel them and slice them in to disks, air-fry them for six minutes and drizzle some wild flower honey over them.
Take it from me, it doesn’t get better than this.
Pies are synonymous with youth and coming of age and the pie will never grow old. So, celebrate our youth under the African canopy – and, remember, nothing is ever ‘pie in the sky’.