cornish pasties: not just for the tin miners ::::
Here in the U.S., British food often gets a bad rap: the meat is overcooked, it’s too bland, steak and what pie? Come on, let’s give it a chance. If you frequent the right places, and even the right home kitchens, you will find most of the complaints dribble. Enter the sausage roll (sausages wrapped in a flaky crust), Toad in the Hole (a savory egg-like pudding with sausages which I requested for childhood birthdays more than once), and the endless permutations of Fish ‘n Chips. Don’t even get me started on the trifles, cakes, and puddings. Spotted Dick, anyone?
And finally in my own kitchen, I find the Cornish-ish pasty. Just this year, the Cornish Pasty Association (really??) all raised a pasty to toast when the term “Cornish pasty” was awarded Protected Geographical Indication (PGI) status by the European Commission. To be called a true “Cornish pasty,” it must be prepared in Cornwall but not necessarily baked there. Hence the “Cornish-ish pasty” designation in my kitchen.
I remember the true Cornish pasty as a child, never questioning its simplicity: meat, potatoes, turnip, onion, and sometimes carrot all wrapped up in a buttery crust. How could this be considered boring? I revisited the pasty’s birthplace on my honeymoon in Cornwall. My new husband and I walked the cobbled streets of Mousehole (pronounced maʊzəl) and steered clear of the Stargazy Pie for the best Cornish pasties I’ve tasted.
The pasty became popular in the 17th and 18th centuries with the tin miners, although there are even earlier reports in Cornish history. The pasty represents a complete meal with a handle: filled with root vegetables and beef, the side crimp creates the “handle” so that dirty fingers (without access to a pre-meal handwashing deep in a tin mine) did not have to sully the food. I actually started out with the each pasty on its side, propped it crimped edge up, and baked it. I should have read my history beforehand: they are meant to be sidelying and baked, to make the crimped edge handle-like. (My Chinese dumpling making has influenced my memory apparently!)
Overall, this was an apt recreation of my childhood memories of the pasty. I would have liked a more tender cut of meat. Although I used the suggested rump steak and seared and baked it as directed, I still felt it ended up rather chewy. Dare I suggest filet mignon? Perhaps a little fancy for a rustic pasty. There was also no indication from the original recipe how many pasties could be made from the crust and filling. I ended up getting 3 1/2 pasties out of the crust (and I used every last bit of it) and had enough filling to fill two more (with another batch of crust). I suggest you double the crust recipe to ensure you use up the filling. The crust is perfect for this filling, sturdy but wonderfully flaky. Time to rethink British cuisine: this is where meat and potato meals were born. What better way to eat that meal than in a pasty.
- For the pastry: 300g/10½ oz plain flour, plus extra for dusting
- pinch salt
- 150g/5oz cold butter or margarine
- cold water, to mix
- For the filling: dash olive oil
- 350g/12oz rump steak, cut into cubes
- 1 onion, finely chopped
- 1 medium potato, peeled and finely chopped
- 1 medium carrot, peeled and finely chopped
- 1 small swede or turnip, peeled and finely chopped
- dash Worcestershire sauce
- 1 tsp mixed dried herbs (I used thyme, basil, and rosemary)
- salt and ground white pepper
- 1 egg, beaten, to glaze
- For the pastry, sift the flour and salt into a bowl. Cut the butter or margarine into small pieces and add to the flour. Using your hands, rub the fat into the flour until the mixture resembles fine breadcrumbs.
- Add a little cold water, a tablespoon at a time, until the mixture begins to come together. Using your hands, bring the dough together into a ball, then wrap in plastic and place into the fridge to chill while you make the filling.
- For the filling, heat a little oil in a non-stick pan. After sprinkling with salt, place the beef into the pan and sear on all sides, then remove from the pan and set aside.
- Add the onion to the pan (adding a little extra oil, if necessary) and cook over a medium heat for 5-6 minutes, or until soft. Season with salt
- Add the potato, carrot, swede or turnip, Worcestershire sauce and dried herbs. Season well with salt and ground white pepper and stir. Cover with a lid and cook gently for 5-10 minutes, or until the vegetables are just tender. Taste for salt level, and reseason if needed.* Add a splash of water to the pan if the mixture becomes too dry. (I added about 2 tablespoons.)
- Return the beef to the pan and stir well, then remove from the heat and leave to cool.
- Preheat the oven to 200 degrees C / 400 degrees F / Gas 6.
- On a lightly floured surface, roll out the pastry to approximately 3mm thick. Using an downturned saucer or small plate as a guide (see my photo above), cut out circles about 20cm/8in in diameter.
- Place spoonfuls of the filling in the center of each pastry circle. Brush the edges with beaten egg and fold the pastry over the filling to make a half-moon shape (crimped edge against the baking pan, not upright like mine!). Using your fingers, crimp the edges together to seal.
- Place the pasties onto a baking sheet and brush with more beaten egg. Transfer to the oven and bake for 15-20 minutes, or until crisp and golden-brown.
- Serve the pasties warm or cold. I ended up with 3½ pasties with this recipe (and extra filling).