Story of the Down Under Pies

When visiting Australia, I am always trying to come to terms with what Australian food really is. There is a core theme that runs true in every area I visit. Queen Mum's favorites, such as Fish and Chips, Beef Roast, and Meat Pies still reign. But don't get the wrong idea about Australian food- Fast and Fresh Asian is an enormous part of the food scene. It’s astonishing how much home cooks know about Asian cooking.

World-class wine and cheese make Australia a formidable contender for other parts of the culinary world competing to be the best. The real message is that Australian is very much like American food. There is no one cuisine across the land. It has been influenced by so many immigrants that it is a melting pot with pockets of exotic flavors and ingredients with roots in the traditions of its settlers.

As a professional chef, always traveling on my stomach; tasting what the locals consume is what it's all about adventuring in the land down under. Of all the national edible treasures I sampled, the Meat Pie impressed me the most which spurred my husband and me to embark upon a hunt for the best pie. Lucky us, we happened to be visiting during national pie week. Every September in Sydney for a week, it attracts pie makers nationally and is the last authority on meat pies.

My favorites were the exotics like green chile, chicken with exotic spices, and British cheeses. My husband, who grew up in Oz is a purist, so he stuck to the meat varieties served with tomato sauce (known as ketchup to us Yanks). We did have tasting standards, we refused to eat any frozen varieties and none with peas or veggies (akin to its American cousin). Steak and Kidney, Sweet Chili and Cheese, Green Thai Chicken, and Beef and Bacon were the arrays of selections on the menu during the pie week. Our discovery was with the influence of other cultures, pies have many colors and flavors that show the true diversity of a sunburnt land that is often mistaken for cowboy country.

Thai Pie

This filling is reflective of the strong Asian influence of Australia.

Yield; 1 large 9" double-crusted pie

For Dough:

Prepare or buy frozen pie crust for two 9 inch pies, or prepare the crust for six 4 1/2 inch pies.

1 egg, beaten for washing and attaching dough lid

For Filling;

2 teaspoons hot sesame oil

5 green onions, sliced thin (1/2 bunch both green and white parts)

1 (1 inch) piece fresh ginger, grated

3 cloves garlic, minced

3 1/2 cups boneless, skinless chicken breast meat, diced in ½ inch pieces (about 1 1/2 pounds)

1 teaspoon freshly grated lime peel

Juice of 1 lime (about 2 tablespoons)

1/4 cup all-purpose flour

1 can (14oz) lite unsweetened coconut milk

1/4 cup fresh cilantro, chopped

1/2 tablespoon fish sauce

1/2 tablespoon soy sauce

1/4 cup half-and-half cream

Instructions for Filling:

In a 3 quart saucepan, Sauté green onions in hot sesame oil over medium heat for one minute. Add ginger and garlic and cook for 2 more minutes.

Add chicken breast, lime peel, and lime juice. Cook for about 10 minutes until firm and white.

Sprinkle flour on cooked chicken mixture and stir until blended. Add can of lite coconut milk and bring to a boil. When boiling, simmer until slightly thickened and chicken is cooked thoroughly.

Add Fresh cilantro, fish sauce, soy sauce, and cream. Adjust fish sauce and soy to taste.

Let mixture cool before pouring into the prepared pie shell. (See recipe for pastry crust)