Spiced Lamb Pies

Tuesday, March 06, 2018

March always makes me think of lamb. "In like a lion, out like a lamb" as the saying goes, which seems to be holding true considering the nasty windstorm that hit us over the weekend!  We're a few weeks away from all the spring holiday inspired menus featuring fancy lamb roasts, but there's never a bad time to utilize ground lamb in your recipes. It's an easy swap for ground beef, takes really well to bold seasonings, and is usually only a dollar or two more per pound. I was in the mood for a project today, so I tackled this recipe for meat pies that I've wanted to finalize for quite some time. I originally made them about a year ago, at the time inspired by Jamaican beef patties and a Moroccan spiced Shepherd's Pie made with ground lamb.

In my last post, I shared how I experienced some issues with the crust, but a client's request for Nigerian meat pies led me down a more successful path. The final version of my recipe I'm sharing today incorporates all of these ideas. The crust is flaky and buttery like the best pie crust, but holds its shape better after baking. I kept the lamb filling - though this works just as well with ground beef - but the seasonings are more of a nod to West African and West Indian cuisine. The meat is slightly spicy and fragrant, with hints of scotch bonnet, tomato, garlic, ginger, white peppercorns, cumin and cloves. I also added more of a gravy to keep the filling moist inside of the crust, something I picked up from a Nigerian meat pie video tutorial by Ivonne Ijayi, which was so helpful during this process!  It's a two step process, so make the crust first, because that needs to rest in the fridge for at least an hour before rolling it out. The filling can be made in that time, and will also need to chill completely before using. Both components can be made a day or two in advance so it doesn't have to be done all in the same day!

Spiced Lamb Pies

1 lb ground lamb or beef
Kosher salt, to taste
Neutral cooking oil, as needed
1 red onion, diced
1 red bell pepper, diced
3 cloves garlic, grated
2" knob fresh ginger, grated
1 scotch bonnet, minced
1 tbsp tomato paste
1 tsp paprika
1 tsp white pepper
1 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp poultry seasoning, such as Bell's
1/2 tsp ground cloves
2 Yukon gold potatoes, peeled and diced
2 tbsp flour
2 cups water, or as needed
2 tbsp Worcestershire sauce
2 tsp apple cider vinegar
2 tbsp minced cilantro 
1 batch of prepared dough for hand pies
1 egg yolk mixed with 1 teaspoon cold water

Serves: Makes 12 pies
Active Time: 1 hour
Total Time: 2 to 3 hours
Special Equipment: Heavy duty sheet pansdough scraper, pastry brush, rolling pin, parchment paper.

As I mentioned above, you can use ground lamb or beef for this recipe, but I do hope you try the lamb! If you go with beef, stay in the range of 80/20 or 85/15, as meat that is too lean will result in a sad, dry meat pie filling.

Start out by browning the meat in a large nonstick skillet over medium high heat. As you cook the meat, break up any large chunks. Cook until no pink remains, then drain excess fat to leave only a couple tablespoons behind. If at any point you need more fat in the pan during this cooking process, use a little bit of the drained grease or supplement with cooking oil.

Add the diced onions and peppers to the skillet. Season with a pinch of salt, then stir the veggies into the meat so they start to make contact with the pan. Cook just until the veggies start to soften, one or two minutes.

Stir in the grated garlic, ginger, and scotch bonnet pepper. Scotch bonnets are extremely spicy, so use gloves when handling, or if you're like me and refuse to adhere to that advice, at least remember to wash your hands really thoroughly afterwards. If you can't find scotch bonnets at your store, habaneros will work although the flavor will be different. This is a really versatile recipe though, so use what you have - even crushed red pepper flakes would work well.

Push some of the meat over to the side to make room in the skillet. Add a little oil or fat, then drop in the tablespoon of tomato paste and all spices. Stir the paste into the skillet to cook out the raw tomato flavor and bloom the spices, which takes about a minute.

Stir the tomato paste into all the ground meat now, until it's coated and starting to sizzle. Pour in a cup of water, using your spoon to scrape up any browned bits at the bottom of the pan (also known as fond.)

Next, stir in the potatoes. You want just enough liquid in the pan to barely reach the level of the meat and potatoes, so add a little more if necessary. The potatoes should be diced on the smaller side so that they cook quickly and evenly. Gold potatoes will hold up in the cooking process better than Russets, which would turn to mash by the time the meat pies are baked.

Turn down the heat to medium low and allow the meat to simmer just until the potatoes are knife tender but still have a little bite left, which should take about 5 minutes.

Sprinkle the contents of the skillet with a thin coating of flour, then mix it in being careful not to leave any lumps. Cook for another minute, while continuing to stir. This is essentially combining with the fat left in the skillet to make a roux, which will thicken the sauce.

Pour in another cup of water, the Worcestershire sauce, and vinegar. Also add the minced cilantro.

Turn the heat back up slightly and stir the contents of the skillet. Bring it up to a gentle boil, then reduce the heat back down to low and allow it to simmer until most of the water has evaporated and the resulting sauce has thickened like a gravy. Do a final taste test for salt. You should be able to drag your spoon across the pan without the filling immediately spilling back into the empty space. Let the mixture cool down, then transfer to the fridge for at least thirty minutes to chill completely.

Meanwhile, if you haven't already done so from the previous post, prep your pastry dough. It should be chilled for at least an hour after the final step, and divided into twelve even sections. Keep all but a couple sections of the dough in the fridge as you work, so that it stays cold.

Prep two sheet pans by lining each with parchment paper.

Once the meat filling is cold, you can begin assembly. On a lightly floured surface, press one of the dough portions down with your hands to start creating a flat, round disk. Use your rolling pin to roll it out to about six inches in diameter.

I didn't have a bowl that was the right size, so I used this pastry ring to guide me, trimming about 3/4 of an inch or so around its circumference. It doesn't really matter what you use so long as you figure out a way to keep all your circles about the same size.

Once your circle of dough is cut out, place two tablespoons of filling in the center.

Then carefully bring one side of the dough up over the filling and press it onto the opposite side. Use your fingers to press the ends of the dough together, sealing the edges all the way across. Try not to tear the dough. If you find that the pies are too hard to close, cut back a little bit on the amount of filling you're using.

Use a floured fork to crimp the edges of the pie, which helps to make sure they are completely sealed.

As you fill each meat pie, transfer it to a parchment lined sheet pan. Keep the sheet pan in the fridge or freezer. As you start to fill the pan up, you can move the colder pies over to the side and stack them up a bit; they won't stick as long as they've already firmed up. That way you won't have to make room for two pans in your fridge or freezer. It's going to be a lot of back and forth to the fridge between grabbing dough and transferring filled pies, but this makes sure that all your uncooked pastry stays as cold as possible.

As I mentioned in my last post, dividing up the dough first yields very little scraps compared to rolling out the whole batch and then cutting circles. This was all I had left at the very end, not even enough to roll out a full circle!

Preheat your oven to 425° F. Once you have filled all the pies, divide them between two pans so that they are in one layer with at least an inch of space between them. Beat an egg yolk with a teaspoon of water until frothy, then brush the tops of the pies with the egg wash. This helps create a golden finish when baked. Use a fork to poke a few holes in all of the pies, which will help release steam as they cook.

(Note: You don't have to bake all the pies now. If you want to save half for a rainy day, return the other sheet pan to your freezer. Let them freeze, uncovered, until solid. Then they can be transferred to a freezer bag and stored in the freezer until needed. If you plan to keep them for longer than a month, you may want to wrap them individually in plastic first to help prevent freezer burn. When ready to bake, don't thaw. Just arrange the frozen pies on a parchment lined pan again and follow the regular instructions. They make take a few minutes longer to bake.)

Place the pies in the oven, as close to the middle rack as possible. As soon as you put them inside, turn the oven heat down to 350° F. The initial high heat blast will help puff up the pastry, but to cook more evenly they do better at a lower temperature.

Bake for 20 minutes, or until crusty and golden brown. Be careful not to overcook them, as the filling will start to spill out. This can also happen if you missed a spot when sealing the pies, as you can see in one of mine below! Luckily even the imperfect pies will still taste just as delicious.

Let the meat pies cool for a few minutes before serving, as the filling will be extremely hot! These are great warm, at room temperature, or even cold. To reheat leftovers, simply place on a pan and warm them in the oven for a few minutes at 350° F. You can use the microwave instead, but they may not stay as crisp that way.

Look at those layers! I was thrilled with the crust and the seasoned lamb was perfect. (I tested beef at the same time, so I promise it's just as good!) This is definitely a project and a half, but it's a great one to knock out over a weekend and stock up your freezer. You'll be happy when you can pull one or two out for a snack or light meal!

You Might Also Like


  1. We had a warm day here in Chicago and my father smoked lamb chops on the grill. 😍

  2. They look amazing Angela, here in the UK it would be called a cornish pasty i'm going to try to make these at the weekend, thanks.

  3. look so beautiful and interesting! Can I create it for my picnic trip? wuxiaworld

  4. Hello,
    I wanted to know if there was a substitute for cilantro?
    I haven't come across some where I live so I just wanted a substitute if it proves hard to find.