Culture

Pie reinvented: Chefs’ creative twists on the classic Aussie meat pie recipe

From footy stands to petrol stations, the Aussie meat pie is everywhere. LEE TRAN LAM discovers how food personalities from across the country would reinvent this icon today.
Beef rendang mini meat pie with flaky folden pastry and filling spilling out of biten pastry
Beef rendang pies by Gourmet Traveller
James Moffatt

The Australian meat pie descends from medieval European “coffins”: bland pastry parcels meant to preserve the food they contained (and not originally meant to be eaten). After British settlement, the meat pie became one of Australia’s first fast foods. Wandering vendors sold them on 19th-century streets: they’d stab pastry tops with their thumbs and fill the resulting holes with “gravy” (glorified salty water), according to Jan O’Connell, author of A Timeline on Australian Food.

Thankfully, the meat pie has evolved in more hygienic ways. Food Standards Australia New Zealand has strict rules about the selling of this staple: it must contain at least 25 per cent meat flesh (with pastry, gravy and vegetables likely filling the rest). This dish also keeps progressing with our culinary landscape. Chan and Ryan Khun are four-time winners of Australia’s best pie: the owners of Victoria’s Country Cob bakeries have been awarded for flavours – like caramelised pork and pepper – that reflect their Cambodian migrant roots. Here’s how other leading Australian chefs and industry talents would rethink the Aussie classic.

Corey Grech: Nigerian pie with spiced vegetables

Native Foodways director

Corey Grech’s meat pie is far from theoretical: it’s something you can try at Native Foodways, the First Nations bakery he oversees in Sydney’s CBD. “For 60,000 years or more, First Nations people have been sustainably living with kangaroos,” says the Gamilaraay, Wonnarua and Wayan (Weilwan) chef. He believes the meat pie is the best introductory format for this native protein. To offset kangaroo’s gamey taste, he adds Sichuan-style tingles of pepperberry and unique kicks of saltbush. “It gives a flavour like nobody knows about.” Grech first sold this pastry at the Koori Knockout, an Indigenous rugby league event that’s been running for more than 50 years. This is a footy pie that symbolises the landscape that’s endured here for millennia.


Caleb Azuka: Wagyu and kangaroo Bolognese piped with potato mash

Caleb Restaurant & Bar chef

Chef Caleb Azuka’s pie remix maps his many border-crossing experiences. The potato mash recalls his time in the United States (“we love our potatoes in Georgia!”) and the Bolognese hints at his Italian upbringing. “I went to primary and secondary school in Bologna, then culinary school,” he says. The chef interned at Osteria Francescana under Massimo Bottura before leaving for the States. His pie would be rich with wagyu and kangaroo Bolognese: a recipe that’s travelled with him to Perth’s Caleb Restaurant & Bar, where he currently works. “It’s my love letter to Italy and Australia, with a touch of my Nigerian heritage in the ragù spices.” 


Danielle Alvarez: Mixed greens, feta and ricotta pie

Sydney Opera House culinary director

“If I had to reimagine a classic Aussie pie, I would go a little lighter, fresher, maybe even vegetarian,” says Danielle Alvarez, culinary director for the Sydney Opera House. She suggests the spanakopita-like alternative in her Recipes for a Lifetime of Beautiful Cooking cookbook. It’s loaded with leaves (spinach, silverbeet, cavolo nero), two kinds of cheese, lemon and onions, all wrapped in a fillo parcel. “It’s a total crowd-pleaser, especially when served with a yoghurt sauce and chilli dressing.” This pie also alludes to the long-running contribution Greek migrants have made to Australia’s culinary scene since the 19th-century gold rush. 


Adetokunboh Adeniyi: Nigerian pie with spiced vegetables

Little Lagos and Lekki by Little Lagos founder

Glance at the Nigerian meat pie at Adetokunboh Adeniyi’s restaurants (Sydney’s Little Lagos; Brisbane’s Lekki by Little Lagos) and the pastry’s crescent shape might look familiar. “It’s a kissing cousin of the Cornish pasty,” he explains, “which is left over from the colonial days.” He would re-energise the Aussie meat pie in this Nigerian style – minus the beef or chicken, so it’s vegan. He’d keep the other ingredients that make it appealing for all ages, like the carrots and potatoes cooked in curry powder and stock cubes. “It’s a very kid-friendly dish.”


Nagi Maehashi: Pithivier with red wine gravy

Cookbook author and RecipeTin Eats blogger

Best-selling Dinner author Nagi Maehashi offers a European twist on the Australian staple. “I’d French it,” she says. Expect a dome-like Pithivier form, with a puff-pastry chimney poking out the top: ready for a gravy that’s strong on red wine and pepper. “Why is it so good? Because you pour the gravy in, on demand,” she explains. Plus, the base stays crisp, because the slow-cooked beef filling isn’t too soggy. “Also, there’s a higher ratio of the flaky pastry than the shortcrust base. Nobody fights over the base. Everybody wants the lid!”


Aileen Seo: Beef in galbi sauce with mashed potato

Baguette Studios founder

“Galbi is one of the most favourite meat dishes among Koreans,” says Aileen Seo from Melbourne’s Baguette Studios. She draws on this and her love of mash-topped cottage pie for her deconstructed meat pie. Minced beef is flavoured with galbi sauce: a soy, sugar, garlic and sesame oil marinade that riffs on the rib recipe her mum would slow-cook until tender. Sautéing the meat with diced carrot, onion and celery and layering it with creamy potato mash gently triggers memories of the “home-style dishes” that her mother would prepare. 

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