Pie

A Cheeseburger Goes to New Zealand, Becomes a Mini Pie

March 16, 2018

The moment we arrived in New Zealand, the long line at the car rental station made it clear to me that most visitors prefer to view the country by driving through it. Sure, you could easily take a short flight to go from the top of the North Island to the bottom of the South Island, but you would miss the ever-changing, mind-blowingly beautiful landscape that New Zealand has on offer. You’d also miss the opportunity to grab some of the best pies you’ll ever eat—from any gas station along the road.

Every gas station I went to in New Zealand carried a wide range of warm hand pies ready to be picked up and eaten on the go, no utensils required. You’ll find them in hot cases near the checkout counters. Flavors are a-plenty, ranging from bacon and egg to steak and cheese, butter chicken, chicken and mushroom, smoked fish, and my all-time favorite—mince and cheese.

Mince and cheese pies = cheeseburger pies, sort of. Photo by James Ransom

These mince and cheese pies feature ground beef encased in a thick, dark, beefy gravy interspersed with pockets of melted white cheddar cheese. No flaky, buttery pastry shell I tasted was soggy or leaked any filling. We tried pies from coffee shops and restaurants, but they didn’t stack up to the gas station pies. According to my cousin, it’s not a matter of ingredients; she told me that even the beef used in the gas station pies is grass-fed, due to the warm climate and endless abundance of fresh green grass all year round.

We tried pies from coffee shops and restaurants, but they didn’t stack up.

As soon as I got back home, I wanted to figure out how to recreate NZ pies in my own kitchen. There are a lot of varying recipes out there, and what most had in common was puff pastry. I started there, using puff pastry as the base for the pies. I needed a pastry that was flaky enough to bite into but strong enough to avoid getting a soggy bottom, while holding lots of beefy gravy. I found the key was making sure both the filling and the pastry were totally chilled before being filled and baked. (It helps to make the filling the day before.)

I also avoided adding any extra vegetables for nutrition because, well, mince and cheese pies don’t need them. That’s why I opted to make these in a muffin pan, instead of in a larger individual pie size, which is what you would find in New Zealand. Two, plus a salad, can be lunch; one is a tasty snack.

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Now that I have a stash in my freezer, if I feel like eating one in the car, I can heat one up and eat it on the go. The only caveat is that I’ll just have to settle for city views instead of breathtaking landscapes around every bend.

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A New Way to Dinner, co-authored by Food52's founders Amanda Hesser and Merrill Stubbs, is an indispensable playbook for stress-free meal-planning (hint: cook foundational dishes on the weekend and mix and match ‘em through the week).

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4 Comments

bronwyncarlisle April 27, 2018
Yep, agree with the other comments - generally short crust on the bottom and flaky on the top is best. Mind you, my favourite pies (from a café close to my work) have flaky top and bottom, but they do tend to be a bit messy to eat.
 
PJ J. March 19, 2018
Another kiwi here (were are very passionate about our pies). To make the perfect kiwi pie, flakey pastry is a better choice than puff as you don't want the pastry top getting too high, crispy or dry nor the base to rise too much. To make the best pie it should be flaky on top and a shorter in the base. I read an article from a kiwi chef (Peter Gordon) trying to develop a recipe and they found the the following: <br /><br />"The tops were more or less virgin pastry, the bases a mixture of seconds and virgin. So, what we ended up with, and what I think most New Zealand pies are, is a flaky top and a nice firm, but not tough, bottom".
 
Bee March 18, 2018
Kiwi here, mince and cheese are my favourite too. The pie warmers in the petrol stations and dairies do something magical to the crust, despite my best efforts I’m yet to successfully recreate a pie warmer crust in my oven.
 
andrea D. March 16, 2018
New Zealand meat pies ARE the best - at ferry terminals, gas stations, well...anywhere at all. Smoked fish pies near Rotorua were a fave, and everything in pastry at the gas station/airport in Te Anau was amazing!