You dont need home-made pastry for a perfect lamb pie. Picture: Tony Jackman

Cape Town - Pastry epitomises pretentiousness in the foodie world. This thing about buying pre-made puff or shortcrust being something only a pleb would do, like biting your fingernails or licking the soup bowl to get the bits the spoon can’t scoop up. I wouldn’t do either of the last two, but I sure would do the first.

Having said that, I made rough puff pastry this week for the first time in years. It came out okay, had a good texture and taste, but it was a lot more trouble than simply buying the frozen product, defrosting it, rolling it out and Bob’s your cheapskate uncle who couldn’t be bothered to make something he can buy at the corner café.

There are many foodies far more accomplished than myself who say precisely the same thing – Gordon Ramsay has been known to advise the use of shop-bought puff pastry for a pie crust, as it is far safer than running the risk of having the pastry shrivel up after you’ve lined the pie dish with it.

Exactly that happened to me this week. I had allowed the pie tin – in fact, it’s a muffin pan I’ve used countless times in which to make pies – to become too warm, and the pastry just melted. It was more of a withering effect, really, as the once proud pastry became a flaccid mess. But that was quickly rectified by cooling the tin and, second time around, the same pastry lined the bottom and sides perfectly.

But these pies, while good, would have been improved by the use of good old-fashioned shop-bought puff pastry of the kind I have used hundreds of times to make my Karoo lamb pies.

This is the worst kind of snobbery. I’d go as far as to brand it a prejudice… to be against something in principle because of a pre-conceived notion of its superiority or inferiority, regardless of the facts: and the fact is that bought puff is certainly as good, perhaps even better. Without doubt, it’s hassle free.

I had some friends in my far-gone restaurant days who were insistent that pastry should only be home-made and so I served them my Karoo lamb pies for the first time. They swooned with compliments about how good home-made pastry was, and how you could tell the difference instantly and oh, how nice to have the real home-made variety and not that ghastly shop-bought stuff… and of course their faces were a picture of perplexity and embarrassment when I finally told them the marvellous home-made pastry had been in a packet in the freezer only that morning.

The trick, as with everything, is to know how to handle it. You do have to have it nice and soft at room temperature, just as if it had been freshly made. You do have to roll it properly, not too thick and not too thin. You do have to grease (or spray) the dish or tin. You do have to prick the base a few times, brush the rim of the pastry cases all round and then nip the edges once you’ve put on the pastry lid.

You do have to make a couple of incisions in the lid with a sharp knife, then brush the top with egg yolk, and cook it until crisp and golden which, in my experience, for pies the size of a large muffin takes about 25 minutes – although a few minutes more adds a tad more crunch.

And you can freeze these pies, defrost them, and then have them as good as new after 10 minutes or so in a hot oven.

These were pies for leftover lamb. I had braaied legs of lamb which I had marinated for eight hours in lemon juice, ponzu (citrusy sweet soy), chopped mint and rosemary, finely chopped garlic, salt and lots of ground black pepper. I braaied them on very hot coals, turning frequently, until pink in the middle. The next day there was plenty left over, which I sliced into thin slivers. Here’s how I turned those slivers into a pie filling – this would work for any leftover lamb, beef or chicken, as long as it’s tender and lean. Nobody wants gristle in their pies.


Leftover lamb pies

400g leftover lean lamb, in slivers

2 Tbs olive oil

1 small onion, finely chopped

2 cloves garlic, smashed and chopped

1 or 2 rosemary sprigs

1 glass dry white wine

100ml chicken stock

Salt and ground black pepper

1 heaped tsp cornflour

A little cold milk

Served with leftover baked potatoes sauteed in butter

Slice the lamb and set aside. Gently fry the onion and garlic in the olive oil until softened, add the rosemary sprigs, wine and stock, and simmer until slightly reduced. Season with salt and pepper to taste, and remove the rosemary sprigs. Stir the cornflour into a little milk and then quickly stir into the sauce to thicken. Add the lamb slivers to the pan and toss thoroughly. Spoon into the pastry-lined muffin cavities, following the processes outlined above, and cook in a 200ºC oven for 20 to 30 minutes. Keep an eye for the last 10 minutes and take out sooner if they appear beautifully golden and crisp. Ovens are different and there is no absolute guide to a cooking time for these pies, so you need to use your nous, Daisy.

By the way, the sauteed potatoes alongside the pie started life as baked potatoes (either done in foil in the coals or naked in a very hot oven). Trim the crusts away from the cold leftover potatoes, cut into small pieces and saute in butter, tossing now and then, then season with salt and pepper. Pleb food? That’s fine by me. - Weekend Argus