Lower Peninsula Pasty sounded much more appetizing than “This Permafudge Troll’s Version of a Pasty.” If none of that makes sense, then please refer to the Michigan Vernacular cheat sheet from the other day. Go ahead. I’ll wait. 😉 A pasty (pronounced pass-tee, not paste-ee, like my skin tone in the winter) is a Northern Michigan staple.
While the history of the pasty is heavily debated in the state of Michigan, it is widely believed that Cornish Miners brought the recipes from England to Michigan’s Upper Peninsula when they came to work in the copper and iron mines in the 1800’s. A pasty (pronounced passtee) is a meat and vegetable filled pastry, similar to a pot pie, but without the gravy. A culinary rivalry existed between miners of various nationalities as to which ethnic group originated the pocket pie, and which ingredients and seasonings made the “best” pasty. Although really, you can’t go wrong with hearty comfort food that fits in the palm of your hand.
The pasty is designed to be portable, and eaten by hand. The design was ideal for miners because it was a complete meal wrapped in a crust that kept the filling warm for hours. The stiff ridge around the edge serves as a handle in which to hold the pie without contaminating the food with dirty hands. This was essential due to the high arsenic content in the interior of the mines. The ridge around the edge of the pasty enabled the miners to eat without ingesting high levels of arsenic from the dirt on their fingers. The crusts didn’t go to waste, though. Miners are said to have tossed them over their shoulders as a way to appease the “ghosts” in the mine.
I have it on good authority from several Yooper friends that pasties should be eaten cold, with ketchup. I prefer mine fresh from the oven, eaten end to end, so that the filling doesn’t fall out. I’ve even been known to enjoy a pasty with (gasp!) gravy–a culinary faux pas, of sorts. Because I’m a permafudge troll that doesn’t no any better. That’s my excuse, anyway.
Bacon Slayer is a big fan of pasties, having eaten his fill while visiting friends on the Keewanau Peninsula. I’ve made several versions of a pasty over the years, but it was never quite “right.” I had kind of forgotten about it, until an old high school friend, now living in the Pacific Northwest, emailed and asked if I could point her toward a good recipe so that she could impress her west coast family. (Hi Beth!) That was just the nudge I needed. Operation Pasty was on like Donkey Kong.
So Beth, here’s the recipe! I sure hope your family loves you for it. As for the rest of you–make these pasties. Like, now. You’re families will love you for it, too!
To make pasties, gather a couple of disks of pie dough or whip up a quick, homeade pizza dough. You’ll also need a beef bouillon cube, hot water, potatoes, carrots, onion, turnips (or substitute rutabaga,) lean ground beef, lean ground pork, cracked black pepper, kosher salt, and an egg.
All of the pasty recipes that I have seen for pasties call for a pie pastry, so I linked the recipe for my Flawless Pie Dough in the ingredients section above. If you want to be Über-traditional, then use pie pastry to encase the filling. That said, I much prefer a pasty made with my 40-Minute Pizza Dough, which is also linked in the ingredients section above. I find that pizza dough is easier to work with and tastes better for this application.
So, go ahead and get the 40-Minute Pizza Dough going–it’ll take less than 10 minutes to throw together–before tending to the filling. For the filling, ignore the blurry photographs and…
dissolve a beef bouillon cube in boiling hot water.
Peel and chop the carrots into a small dice.
Chop the onion rather finely, too. Since the recipe only calls for 1/3 cup of diced onion, about half of a small onion should do the job.
To get a quick dice, I slice an onion in half. Then with the half, make several thin width wise slices, holding the slices together with your other hand.
Then I flip all of the slices on their sides, in a stack before making smaller cuts against the grain of the rings, giving a small dice. I know that this is a different method than you might see all of the celebrity chefs showing you, but in my opinion, this method more quickly gives a smaller dice.
Please don’t tell any real chefs that I do it this way. 😉
And whatever you do–be careful with sharp knives! This ends my public service announcement.
Peel the potatoes and give them the small dice treatment, too. The veggies should all be in tiny cubes because they are a compliment to the meat filling, not the main attraction.
When I was researching the pasty for this post, I discovered why my previous pasty attempts fell a little flat–I didn’t included a single turnip. Every recipe that I found for pasties called for either rutabaga or turnips. The turnip, a root vegetable and kissing-cousin of the radish, adds a very subtle sweetness to the pasty that is essential for an authentic flavor. If you can’t find turnips, then rutabaga will do just fine–just don’t skip to root vegetables!
Dice the turnip much like you did the onion and potato. Peel and mince a couple of cloves of garlic, too.
Brown the ground beef and ground pork in a large skillet over medium heat, breaking apart as it cooks. This step is yet another deviation of from a traditional pasty recipe, in that traditional recipes typically do not cook the meat before filling the dough. I just couldn’t wrap my head around stuffing dough with raw meat, so I opted to brown it first. You should, too.
Another key to really tasty pasty filling is to season the meat well with salt and pepper. Trust me–no one likes eating a bland pasty!
Stir in all of the diced vegetables and garlic. Simmer for 3 more minutes or until the vegetables begin to soften. Don’t worry if the meat isn’t completely cooked through at this point, because it will finish cooking in the oven. Pour the beef bouillon water into the skillet and continue to simmer over low heat for 8-10 minutes.
Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F. Line a couple of baking sheets with silicone baking mats or parchment paper.
At this point, the pizza dough should be ready. Turn the dough onto a clean, well floured surface, and roll it loosely into a long rectangle-ish blob. Then cut the dough into 8 equal pieces with a bench scraper or sharp knife.
Use both hands to roll the pieces of dough into smooth balls.
Working with one dough ball at a time, roll or stretch it into a 6-inch diameter circle. Place finished circles onto a prepared baking sheet. I can usually fit four finished pasties on each baking sheet.
Plop a hefty scoop of filling into the middle of each dough round. (About 3/4 cup.)
Don’t feel as if you have to stuff absolutely all of the filling into the dough rounds. You’ll probably have a little filling left over, and that’s just fine. I’ll show you what to do with the leftover filling later on.
Fold the dough round in half, over the filling, pressing the edges to seal. Then take the bottom side of the dough, and pull it up and over the top, about 1/4 inch, folding and crimping the edges as you go.
Since those veggies inside are full of water, use a sharp knife to cut 3 small (1-inch) slits in the top for steam to escape during the baking process, thus ensuring a crisp outer crust.
Whip the egg with a tablespoon of water to make an egg wash to brush the tops of the pasties. Egg wash gives a nice sheen and golden brown color when baked. Bake the pasties in the oven for 15-20 minutes, or until golden brown.
A Word of Caution: While the pasties are baking, men from miles around may flock to your doorstep, lured by the smell of seasoned meat and fresh bread. If this happens to you, just invite ’em on in! There are plenty of pasties to go around!
Remove pasties from the oven and allow to cool for 2 minutes on the baking sheets before transferring to a wire rack. If you are going the traditional route, let the pasties cool completely and serve them with ketchup. Being that I am not from the Upper Peninsula so I don’t know any better, I like to serve the pasties piping hot from the oven. The filling is so juicy that you don’t really need any gravy, but if you want to whip up some beef broth gravy to go over top of your pasty, you go right ahead! No judgement, here!
(For a quick gravy, mix two tablespoons each of cornstarch and cold water. Stir the cornstarch mixture into a cup and a half of beef stock, and then heat/stir until it thickens.)
Oh, wait! Remember that little bit of filling that you had leftover? No worries!
Heat up that leftover filling the next morning, and serve it with a couple of fried eggs on top. I did this for Bacon Slayer, and he asked me to marry him all over again! He said it was the best hash n’ eggs that he’s ever eaten. True story!
Lower Peninsula Pasties
Yield 8 Meat Pies
My spin on the classic Cornish meat and vegetable pie that initially found stateside popularity with Northern Michigan copper miners; now a favorite of residents and tourists alike.
Prep Time: 60 minutes, Cook Time: 20 minutes, Total Time: 1 hour, 20 minutes
For the Crust:
1 recipe Flawless Pie Dough, or 40-Minute Pizza Dough
For the Filling:
1 beef bouillon cube
1/2 cup hot water
5 cups diced potatoes
2 medium carrots, diced
1/3 C. finely diced onion
1/2 cup finely diced turnips (or substitute rutabaga)2 cloves of garlic, peeled and minced
1 pound lean ground beef
1/2 pound lean ground pork
1 teaspoon black pepper
1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
For the Egg Wash:
1 Tbs. water
Make Pasty dough of choice and divide into 6 or 8 portions. Roll portions into balls and set aside.
Preheat oven to 425 degrees F. Line a couple of baking sheets with a silicone baking mat or parchment paper. Set aside.
Brown the beef and pork in a skillet over medium heat, (breaking apart) until its cooked half of the way through. (About 5 minutes.) Season with salt and pepper.
Saute the diced onion, carrots, potatoes, and turnips with the browned meat, until the vegetables begin to soften, and meat is cooked through, but not dry. (About 5 more minutes.) Drain
Dissolve beef bouillon cube in hot water and add it to the meat mixture in the skillet. Gently stir until combined. Reduce heat to low and simmer for 8-10 minutes.
Scoop 1 1/2 cups of vegetable filling with a slotted spoon, and place toward the side of each rolled dough circle, being sure to leave ½ inch of dough visible around the edges. Fold the dough over and seal by folding bottom edge up and crimping edges together with your fingers. Makes 2 or 3 small slits in the top of the pasty to allow steam to escape during cooking.
Place pasties onto a large ungreased baking sheet. Bake 15 to 20 minutes or until golden brown; remove from oven.
Can be served warm, but or cold. Pasties freeze beautifully!