January 20, 2013 – Is gazillion a word? Doesn’t matter. That’s roughly how many Natchitoches meat pies I’ve eaten so far in my life.
The meat pie is probably the most international of foods. The first recorded mention of a meat pie was in ancient Greece. It was called an artocreas. Most every society on Earth has created its own version. The British have the pastie, which originated in the Cornwall region. Latin America has the empanada and Poland the pierogi. The French Canadians have the tourtiere. In Louisiana it’s the Natchitoches meat pie.
Natchitoches (pronounced nak’ i tosh) is a fascinating place. It was founded by a French explorer named St. Denis in 1714, four years before New Orleans was settled. The two main streets of town are still paved with bricks. Natchitoches started out as a river town laid out on both sides of the Red River. Many years ago the river decided to take another course but left a piece of itself behind. That piece is now called Cane River though it’s not a river at all but a long, thin lake occupying what was once the riverbed.
The small central Louisiana town is filled with beautiful old homes, some dating back to the 18th century. Those beautiful houses are why it was chosen as the setting for the movie “Steel Magnolias.” Natchitoches is probably the best-known little-known town in the U.S. If you’ve seen “Steel Magnolias” you’ve seen Natchitoches.
The Natchitoches meat pie first appeared in the 18th century. There’s little doubt that it’s a version of the Spanish empanada as the Spanish were very active in the area in those days with a fort just a few miles west of the French settlement.
I hadn’t made Natchitoches meat pies in quite a long time when my daughter-in-law Amber called to ask if we could cook up a batch. My son David loves Natchitoches meat pies. I had given them my recipe and she wanted to be sure she had them right. So I get to be executive chef with Amber as sous chef? Sounded like a good deal to me.
Natchitoches Meat Pies
For the filling: 1 ½ lbs ground beef For the dough: 4 C self-rising flour
1 ½ lbs ground pork 2 t salt
1 C green onions, chopped 1 egg, beaten
2 t salt (or to taste) ½ C shortening
1 t course ground black pepper 1 C milk
1 t crushed red pepper (optional)
½ t cayenne (optional)
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 green pepper, chopped
1/3 C all purpose flour
Peanut oil for deep frying
To make the filling: Combine meat, vegetables and seasonings. Cook over medium heat, stirring often, until the vegetables are soft and the meat is well browned but not dry. Taste and adjust the seasonings. Add salt a little at a time as you taste. My theory is you can always add salt but it’s not as easy to take it out.
Sift the 1/3 cup of flour into the meat and combine well. The flour will serve as a binder for the filler and will also soak up any excess moisture. Too much liquid in the meat and the dough will fall apart.
To make the dough: Sift the dry ingredients together. Cut the shortening into the flour. The best way to do that is to use two plain table knives in a cross-cutting motion. Keep cutting the shortening until it looks like small peas or gravel in the bowl.
Add the beaten egg and milk. Stir to combine and create a dough.
Form the dough into a ball. Cover your work space with flour and roll your ball of dough over the flour. Be sure that the surface of the dough is well floured so that it doesn’t stick to the rolling pin. Working with small portions of the dough, perhaps a third at a time, roll the dough out until it’s about 1/8 of an inch thick. It has to be thin enough to be manipulated but thick enough to hold together when the meat filling is added.
Cut the dough into rounds of five to six inches in diameter. A pot lid of that size will make perfect rounds. After you’ve cut as many rounds as you can get from the dough you’ve rolled out you’ll have some left over. Work it back into your ball of dough and roll out another third to make more rounds. Keep repeating the process until you don’t have enough dough left to make another round.
To assemble: Place a heaping tablespoon of the meat mixture in the center of a round. Moisten your finger with a little water and run it gently around the edge of half the round, dampening it very lightly to help the edges stick together. Not wet. Just very lightly dampened. Fold the dough over making the rounded edges meet. Seal the edges with the tines of a fork. Lay the assembled meat pies on a plate with waxed papers between layers to keep them from sticking together.
To cook: Preheat the peanut oil to about 350. Deep fry the meat pies in the oil until the dough is brown. Remove the browned pies from the oil with a slotted spoon and place them on a plate covered with paper towels to let them drain.
Serve with a little chili sauce on the side.