In Praise of the Hand Pie

A roast herb chicken over a pan of onions, carrots, and rutabaga – Saturday evening meal.

Chicken

The drippings, after a quick coating over the vegetables, are strained off and refrigerated. The caramelized bits are scrapped up and added to leftover vegetables and chicken, which has been finely diced. And now the heart of the hand pie.

Chicken2

The meat-filled hand pie is known in the upper peninsula of Michigan as a pastie (pronounced either pah-stee or pay-stee). An immigrant dish from the United Kingdom. Lake Superior and Lake Michigan surround this strip of Michigan, a region rich in earthbound natural resources.  The iron-rich veins of the hills drew miners from around the world; in particular the mining experts from the Cornwall region of the United Kingdom, who immigrated to the area as their own tin and copper mines began to wane in the mid-19th century.  As we witness so often with any immigration, culinary traditions travel well. The pastie was the miner’s lunch, baked into a pie-like crust, which was intended to keep warm the diced mixture of beef, potato, onion, and rutabaga inside (traditional recipe here). The Cornish pastie has actually been recognized by the European Union as a Protected Geographical Indication.

Unfortunately, the hand pies have become somewhat standardized as beef, potato, onion, and rutabaga. And in most cases the ingredients have been cooked separately and then diced and combined.  Too often, the result is an overly large, doughy mix of bland vegetables overpowered by pepper. Nevertheless, they can be fantastic after a cold day out fishing or the morning after a particularly long evening of drinking. But returning to the roots of the dish suggest that the filling was the previous evenings left-overs, prepared to retain heat through mid-day. So why not many types of leftovers? And that inspired our dish here – Roast Chicken with Carrots and Rutabaga Hand Pies.

Chicken4 The dough is a traditional pie crust with one substitution – a 1/2 cup of butter was replaced with a 1/2 cup of the cold chicken fat saved from the roasting pan. The congealed jus was added to the filling. The result was an exceptionally flaky crust and flavorful filling. A simple buttermilk gravy was served alongside.

Chicken5

These were much smaller than the traditional pastie, served hot from the oven. The success of these flaky, flavorful variations suggests other ideas:

Beef Pot Roast with Potatoes and Carrots – Potatoes and carrots cooked with the pot roast, rather than cooked separately. A horseradish dipping sauce.

Sauerbraten with Rotkohl – Marinated beef with traditional sweet/sour red cabbage, perhaps a black rye dough.

Beef Wellington – A hand-held version of the classic English beef with mushrooms.

Porker – Brined and grilled pork loin, rough-chopped liver pâté, thick-cut bacon in a rye flour dough. Mushroom dipping sauce.

Ideas?

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