In the vast and diverse world of culinary delights, few dishes can match the comforting allure and timeless appeal of savoury pies. These masterpieces of pastry and filling have graced tables across cultures and centuries, providing a symphony of flavours encased in a golden, flaky crust. From traditional favourites to innovative creations, savoury pies have earned their place as a cherished culinary art form that transcends borders and generations.
From the hearty Australian Meat Pie to the delicate pastries of the Far East, join us in today’s journey, where we will explore some of the world’s most delicious savoury pies, each coming from a region that contributes its unique twist to its versatile dish, offering an array of flavours and textures that delight the palate. Get ready to savour the essence of joy encapsulated in every forkful.
When it comes to pies, the savoury variety holds a special place in the world of culinary delights that go way beyond the traditional sweet realm, presenting a diverse array of flavours and fillings that cater to a spectrum of tastes. Spanning various cultural cuisines, these pies might feature spiced curries, Mediterranean-inspired combinations, or the rustic charm of a traditional quiche.
The history of savoury pies dates back to ancient civilisations, with evidence of pie-like pastries found in Egyptian tomb paintings from around 6000 BC. As civilisations developed and trade routes expanded, the art of pie-making evolved, incorporating new ingredients and techniques from different cultures.
The Greeks and Romans, for instance, were known for their savoury pies filled with fish, cheese, and herbs, while the Middle East contributed the use of spices and dried fruits to pie fillings.
By the Middle Ages, pies had become a staple food in many European cultures, particularly among the working class. They were a convenient and portable meal, often filled with hearty ingredients like meat, vegetables, and starchy fillers. Pies were also a popular way to use up leftover ingredients, making them an economical and versatile dish.
The popularity of savoury pies continued to grow in the 16th and 17th centuries as new ingredients and culinary techniques emerged. The invention of the pastry brush, for example, made it easier to create flaky pie crusts, while the introduction of sugar and spices added new dimensions of flavour.
In the 18th and 19th centuries, savoury pies became a symbol of comfort and home cooking, particularly in the United States. While the iconic American apple pie, with its flaky crust and sweet and tart apple filling, emerged as national favourite, regional variations like chicken pot pie and shepherd’s pie gained popularity.
Today, savoury pies continue to be enjoyed all around the globe, with each culture adding its own unique twist to this versatile dish. From the hearty meat pies of the British Isles to the delicate pastries of the Far East, savoury pies offer a symphony of flavours and textures that delight palates and transcend cultural boundaries.
Now that we know a little about how they emerged and evolved, let’s explore some of the world’s most popular savoury pies.
1. Meat Pie, Australia
The history of the Australian Meat Pie is deeply rooted in the country’s colonial past and has evolved over centuries. The origins can be traced back to the influence of British settlers who brought with them the tradition of savoury pies during the 18th century. Now, Australian Meat Pie is widely regarded as a national dish, beloved by Aussies for its hearty and comforting flavours.
The pie has become an iconic part of Australian food culture, featuring prominently in sports events, particularly Australian Rules Football (AFL) and rugby matches, where enjoying a meat pie with tomato sauce is a cherished tradition. It is also often served at gatherings and is considered a convenient on-the-go meal.
The authentic Australian Meat Pie typically consists of a flaky pastry crust filled with a savoury mixture of ground beef, onion, and a rich gravy, creating a flavourful and satisfying filling. The pie is often topped with a layer of shortcrust pastry or puff pastry and a generous dollop of ketchup. This tangy addition enhances the savoury flavours of the pie, creating a harmonious blend of textures and tastes.
While the classic recipe remains a beloved favourite, there are several regional adaptations that showcase the creativity and versatility of this iconic dish.
Some variations may replace the minced meat with other types, such as lamb, steak, or kangaroo meat—it is Australia, after all. Some use seafood, chicken, or mushrooms, and others go entirely vegetarian. Using unique spices or alternative pastry options also showcases how adaptable this dish actually is.
The traditional Australian Meat Pie is commonly prepared in a big pie dish. However, now, many variations bake it in a muffin tin, creating individual servings resembling cups. These smaller versions offer a convenient and portable way to enjoy the flavours of this tasty Aussie pie.
2. Spanakopita, Greece
Spanakopita, a traditional Greek dish, holds historical and cultural significance in Greek cuisine. The name “spanakopita” is derived from the Greek words “spanaki”, meaning spinach and “pita”, meaning pie, reflecting its main ingredient and pastry crust. This savoury pie has deep roots in Greek culinary traditions and is often served during festive occasions, family gatherings, and religious celebrations. It is also typically enjoyed as a snack, appetiser, or light meal.
Key elements of Spanakopita include:
Phyllo Dough: Spanakopita is characterised by its use of phyllo (or filo) dough, which is paper-thin layers of unleavened dough. The layers are typically brushed with olive oil or melted butter, creating a crisp and flaky texture when baked.
Spinach Filling: The main component of the filling is spinach, which is typically wilted and then combined with other ingredients. The spinach provides a vibrant green colour and a fresh, earthy flavour to the dish.
Feta Cheese: Feta, a tangy and crumbly Greek cheese, is a key ingredient in Spanakopita. It adds a creamy and salty element to the filling, complementing the spinach and creating a distinctive taste.
Onions and Herbs: Chopped onions are often sautéed and added to the filling for flavour, while herbs such as dill and parsley contribute aromatic notes.
Eggs: Beaten eggs are typically mixed into the filling to bind the ingredients together and contribute to the structure of the pie when baked.
Spanakopita is commonly baked in a rectangular or round shape, and it is often cut into individual portions for serving. It can be consumed either warm or at room temperature, making it a versatile and convenient dish for various occasions.
3. Meat Pies, Nigeria
Another famous type of savoury pie is the Nigerian Meat Pie, which has become a staple in Nigerian cuisine. Originating from the British Cornish Pasty, this West African delight has evolved to incorporate local flavours and preferences. Nigerian Meat Pie is enjoyed as a snack, appetiser, or at social gatherings, parties, and events, making it a versatile and beloved treat.
The outer layer of this versatile and beloved treat is made from a flaky pastry dough. The dough is typically prepared with flour, butter, margarine, and other ingredients to create a crisp and golden crust.
The filling is usually made with many ingredients, the primary of which is minced or diced meat, often beef, though combinations of meats can also be used. The meat is usually seasoned with a mix of spices, which may include salt, pepper, onions, garlic, and sometimes additional herbs for flavour.
Diced vegetables like potatoes, carrots, and peas are commonly included in the filling. These vegetables add texture, flavour, and nutritional elements to the pie. Various seasonings and spices are used to enhance the flavour of both the meat and vegetable components. The specific spices can vary based on personal preferences and regional variations.
Some recipes may call for brushing the top of the pastry with an egg wash before baking. This adds a glossy finish to the crust and enhances the overall appearance of the pie. The assembled meat pies are baked in an oven until the pastry becomes golden brown and the filling is cooked through.
4. Lahmacun, Turkey
Lahmacun, often referred to as “Turkish pizza” or “Turkish flatbread,” is a traditional Middle Eastern and Turkish dish. The word “lahmacun” is derived from the Arabic words “lahm” (meat) and “ajin” (dough), reflecting its key components.
This pizza-like pie features an unleavened flatbread, typically consisting of flour, water, salt, and sometimes a bit of olive oil. The dough is rolled out very thin, creating a delicate and crispy base for the toppings.
The traditional topping is a mixture of minced or ground meat, often lamb or beef, combined with finely chopped vegetables such as tomatoes, onions, and bell peppers. The meat is then seasoned with various spices that may include garlic, cumin, paprika, and red pepper flakes.
Lahmacun is baked in a hot oven or on a hot griddle until the edges of the dough become crispy and the meat topping is cooked through. The pie is often served with accompaniments such as fresh parsley, tomatoes, and lemon wedges. It is common to roll or fold it before eating, making it a convenient and portable street food.
5. Pastilla, Morocco
Pastilla, also spelt Bastilla or B’stilla, is a traditional Moroccan dish that exemplifies the rich and intricate flavours of Moroccan cuisine. It is a savoury-sweet pastry often associated with festive occasions and special celebrations in Moroccan culture. While the traditional filling includes meat, enclosed by phyllo pastry, variations with seafood or vegetarian options have also become popular, allowing for diverse interpretations of this iconic dish.
The traditional Pastilla is characterised by its delicate, thin layers of pastry, brushed with melted butter or oil to create a golden and crisp exterior. Some versions of Pastilla have up to 40 layers of pastry. Phyllo dough or warqa, a traditional North African pastry similar to phyllo, is used to achieve the desired flaky and crispy texture.
The filling consists of shredded cooked poultry, often pigeon or chicken, combined with a mixture of almonds, sugar, and an array of aromatic spices. Common spices include cinnamon, ginger, saffron, and maybe a hint of ground cloves. Sometimes, this blend of spices varies based on regional and family recipes.
Pastilla is usually dusted with powdered sugar and cinnamon just before serving. This addition enhances the sweet-savoury contrast and adds a visually appealing touch.
6. Tah Chin, Iran
Tah Chin is a flavourful and aromatic Iranian dish that features a baked rice cake with layers of tender chicken or meat, yoghurt, and fragrant spices. The dish is known for its unique presentation, with a golden and crispy crust formed on the bottom of the rice cake, which is then inverted when served. Tah Chin is popular in Iranian cuisine and is often served at special occasions and gatherings.
Long-grain basmati rice, a staple in Iranian cuisine, is the type used in Tah Chin. It is partially cooked before being layered with other ingredients. Those other ingredients are typically a mixture of yoghurt, egg yolks, and saffron-infused water, which all add creaminess and contribute to the dish’s distinctive texture and flavour, in addition to tender pieces of chicken or meat.
The layered mixture is baked in an oven until the rice is fully cooked and the bottom forms a crispy crust. The dish is then inverted when served, showcasing the golden tahdig on top. A garnish of slivered almonds, pistachios, or barberries is used to add both visual appeal and additional flavours to the dish.
7. Cornish Pasty, England
A Cornish Pasty is a traditional British pastry that originated in Cornwall, England. It is a handheld, crescent-shaped pastry filled with a hearty mixture of meat, vegetables, and savoury seasonings. The Cornish Pasty is known for its distinctive crimped edge, which not only seals the filling inside but also serves as a handle for eating.
The dish has a long history, and its origins are closely tied to Cornwall’s mining communities back in the 12th century. Initially, it was more of a practical and portable meal rather than a delicacy. Miners and labourers needed a hearty and convenient food item that could withstand their challenging working conditions. By the 17th century, the Cornish Pasty had become a staple for miners in Cornwall.
So what exactly does this Cornish Pasty consist of?
Like all other pies, there is the pastry and the filling. The pastry here is a robust, shortcrust pastry that holds up well to baking. The classic recipe includes flour, butter, and water, creating a sturdy yet flaky shell. The traditional filling consists of chunks of beef, potatoes, swede (rutabaga), and onions, all seasoned with salt and pepper.
As we mentioned, a distinctive feature of the Cornish Pasty is the crimped edge along its curved top, which creates a tight seal and an attractive pattern. This crimped edge provided a handle to hold the pie, and the pastry acted as a container, keeping the filling warm.
Interestingly, the Cornish Pasty gained Protected Geographical Indication (PGI) status in 2011, meaning that for a pasty to be called a “Cornish Pasty,” it must be made in Cornwall and adhere to certain traditional specifications.
8. Chicken Pot Pie, United States
The last type of pie we have is the Chicken Pot Pie, which is a typical comfort food in American cuisine, featuring a flaky pastry crust filled with a creamy and savoury mixture of chicken, vegetables, and a rich sauce. This hearty and satisfying dish is versatile and can be made in various sizes, from individual servings to larger family-sized pies. In fact, it is often associated with home-cooked meals and is a staple on many dinner tables.
Key components of Chicken Pot Pie include:
Flaky Pastry Crust: The crust is typically made from flaky pastry dough, which can be store-bought or homemade. The pastry is rolled out and used to line the bottom and top of a pie dish, creating a golden and crispy shell.
Chicken: Cooked chicken is a central ingredient. It can be in the form of diced or shredded cooked chicken breast or thigh meat. Rotisserie chicken or leftover roasted chicken is commonly used for convenience and flavour.
Vegetables: A mix of vegetables is added to the filling, typically including carrots, peas, and sometimes corn and green beans. The vegetables contribute colour, texture, and nutritional value to the dish.
Creamy Sauce: The filling is bound together by a creamy sauce. This sauce is often made with a combination of chicken broth, milk or cream, and flour or a roux to create a thick and luscious consistency. Seasonings such as salt, pepper, thyme, and parsley are commonly used for flavour.
The filling is poured into the pastry-lined pie dish, and a second layer of pastry is added on top. The edges are sealed, and the top crust is typically scored to allow steam to escape during baking. The assembled Chicken Pot Pie is baked until the crust is golden brown and the filling becomes bubbly and cooked through. The aroma of the baking pie is often irresistible.
The world of savoury pies is a culinary journey rich in diversity, flavour, and cultural significance. Whether it is the comforting embrace of a classic Australian Meat Pie, the bold spices of a Moroccan Pastilla, or the iconic crimped edge of a Cornish Pasty, each savoury pie tells a unique story of tradition and innovation and invites us to celebrate the artistry and diversity found in every delicious bite.