Japanese Beef Curry Hand Pies
Everytime I drop my daughter off at practice, I grab a snack at the Mama Said Hand Pies shop next door to the circus school. Husband and wife team Gabe and Hiroko have mastered the art of small-bite-satisfaction and when I had their Japanese curry hand pie a few weeks ago, I knew instantly I wanted to feature it in the cider club zine. I told Gabe (a 20 year veteren of the hospitality industry, including Gramercy Tavern in NYC) I thought the pie was the ultimate pairing for cider and he said: “Of course it is, it has apples in it!” That, and the perfect combination of warming spice and silky satisfying savory all wrapped up in a buttery crust. These awesome, talented folks have generously shared their recipe. You can learn more at mamasaidhandpies.com and follow them on instagram at @mamasaidhandpies and when you're in Ithaca, go grab a pie at their shop in Pressbay Alley.
I first tried Japanese style curry with beef at my aunt’s house in Tokyo. It was a trip of many firsts, and I was 23 years old. I had eaten many other curries before this, in India, Thailand, England (via Indian chefs), and the States, but I hadn’t ever had one with this unique silky quality. I felt the expected lovely warm comfort of a bowl of curry with rice, followed by just a hint of outrage that I had been deprived of this particular curry for 23 years. The rest of my trip involved eating many bowls of it at restaurants, and kare pan (curry rolls) at bakeries. The rolls are basically fried savory donuts, filled with a bit of curried vegetables, and are the inspiration for the beef curry pies we make for our shop.
There are a few methods to make Japanese style curry, but this recipe is specifically designed for a dry version that can go into pastry. If you’ve made other types of curry before, you might raise your eyebrows at some of the ingredients and methods here. I suggest breaking up your prep over 2 or 3 days, such as making the pie crust and the filling the day before you plan to assemble the pies.
This recipe is for about 40 hand pies, which can be kept in the freezer until you are ready to bake them. They keep for about 3 months if tightly sealed, but if you see ice crystals forming, you should bake them sooner. You can halve the recipe, use stew meat instead of ground beef, throw in some winter squash or other vegetables that don’t release a lot of water, or use a replacement for the beef. You can use store bought pie crust, or make your own. Probably puff pastry would be great, too. Just make sure it’s a good quality pastry. (If you’re making it without dairy, I recommend Nutiva shortening for the best flavor and ingredient sourcing). It might seem like a lot, but a small batch would leave you without leftovers and very little desire to go through the whole process again for a few more pies.
Before you Start:
Tools needed for cooking: sharp chef’s knife or santoku knife, peeler, bowls for prepped items, a large (preferably wide, not tall) pot or braising pan, slotted ladle, and a stirring spatula with a flat edge for scraping the bottom of the pan. For the roux, a whisk and bowl, and a medium non-stick pot or pan. Grater for the apple.
Time needed: Plan on 3-4 hours, if you’re making your dough from scratch. You can break this up by prepping ahead. The time it takes to form the pies is hard to predict, since it’s based on you. Many hands make many hand pies, so get everyone in the kitchen to help! Extra dough and filling can be frozen.
|I use grass-fed beef, which contains omega-3 fats, 90:10 or 95:5 ratio of protein:fat.
|2-3 large cloves (15g), minced
|About 1 packed TBSP once minced
|Once peeled, 15g, minced; you want to approximately match the garlic
|Slice thinly across the grain, then mince. Alternatively, you can grate it. Avoid long fibers.
|1 small bunch total; use 2-3 TBSP at the beginning, and the rest (about ½ cup) later in the recipe.
|Trim and wash well (I immerse them in water to wash silt out that may have gotten inside). Slice thinly, against the grain.
|2 medium onions, around 150g, diced small (you should get about 1.5 cups)
|Make sure they are smaller than ½”; large onion bits in hand pies really stand out.
|3-5 carrots, around 250g,peeled and diced (you want about 2 cups)
|Dice should be ½” or smaller
|2 large potatoes, around 350g, peeled and diced
|match carrots in dice size and volume
|Ground cumin seed
Ground coriander seed
S&B Oriental Curry Powder
All Purpose Flour
|1 ½ tsp
2 1/2 TBSP
|Blend dry spices and flour together to prepare for the curry roux. S&B has a few ingredients that are unique compared to other curries. I have not tried to substitute with other curries, but I would guess that you could get great results with an Indian or Caribbean curry powder.
|1, any size is fine
|1 cup for the big pot + 1 cup for the roux
|Use a good quality one for more rich flavor
I use one without corn syrup, but any will do
|1 large or 2 small
|diced small; have the peeled apple waiting and finely dice or grate once the roux is done
Start with browning the meat on medium-high heat in the large pot or braiser, along with salt and pepper. If your meat is very lean, add a little neutral oil. You want a nice crumble, no big chunks. Once browned, use a slotted spoon to scoop it into a bowl while reserving about 2-3 TBSP of fat in the pan. If you have more than that, you should discard some.
Add the garlic, ginger, and small portion of scallions, and lower the heat to medium. Stir well, and cook for about 1 minute or until very fragrant but not browned. Add the onions, stir well, and let the onions cook for a few minutes before adding the carrots and potatoes. Cook for a few minutes, stirring occasionally, and then add 1 cup of water and the bay leaf, and simmer the vegetables until they are nearly done (don’t forget to stir). Add the beef back in along with any pan juices that have collected in the bowl. Simmer on low heat, and prepare the roux.
For the roux, you will need to stay at the stove from start to finish.
In the non-stick medium pan, melt the butter on medium-low heat. Once it is fully melted, add the flour/spice blend while simultaneously whisking. It will ball up in the pan after a minute. Gradually add 1 cup of water, stirring all the while. You can add the water ¼ cup at a time, fully incorporating it before adding the next bit. Lower the heat if it seems to be going very quickly or if it’s threatening to burn. Add the soy sauce and ketchup and whisk again to ensure it isn’t lumpy. Simmer, stirring constantly, for about 5 minutes. Turn off the heat and transfer the roux to the main pot. Once you’ve added the roux, grate the apple and add it to the pot. Gently stir it all together and simmer until it is thick. It should cook for about 15 minutes or so, without covering it. If it seems watery, you can remove most of the filling and simmer the liquid down, but don’t overdo it. Roux always thickens more after it cools. The roux can stick the bottom of the pot, so keep stirring every couple of minutes.
Taste the curry and adjust it to your liking. You may want a little more soy sauce or ketchup, or curry powder. If you find it is just not getting thick, you can sprinkle a bit more flour into the pot. Once it is done, you need to cool the filling completely before making any pies with it. Once cold, it should have very little, if any, noticeable liquid. If for some reason your roux didn’t work and you have a very liquidy curry even after cooling (hopefully delicious nonetheless!), you can just fill the bottom of a pie pan or individual ramekins with it, and put pie crust or puff pastry on the top only.
Forming the hand pies:
You will need 3-4 recipes of your favorite pie dough (somewhere in the neighborhood of 8 cups flour, 4 sticks of butter, 1 rounded tsp of salt, and cold water as needed. A splash of vinegar in the water is a good thing, but not essential). Like rice, making good pie dough is simple, but there are plenty of ways to mess it up. Please consult the plethora of cookbooks and bloggers who have covered this topic in depth, with recipes. If you are using pre-made dough, you need about 4 lbs.
Take your pie dough out of the fridge. If you’re making your own dough, roll it out to about ⅛” thick. Take care not to over flour the dough. You have a lot of method variations available to you at this point. You can cut rounds, rectangles, squares. Whatever size or shape you choose, you want the filling to take up about ⅔ of the surface area of your dough once it is spread out from the center. So a 4” round or square might take about 2 TBSP of filling. A 6” round would take more like 3 TBSP or so. Fold the pie in half and line up the edges. You need the rim to seal all the way. If your rim won’t seal, use just a little bit of beaten egg or water to ensure it is closed. Then use a fork, or pinch the rim in a pattern to your liking. Look up images of “empanadas” or “hand pies” on the web for ideas on how to design the edges. Don’t over handle the dough or it will get too warm. We use parchment paper to line trays for the pies. If you are planning to bake them right away, preheat the oven to 375F, and prepare a beaten egg for eggwashing the pie. Space the pies 2” apart. Cut or poke a steam hole of some design in the top of your pies. A couple of small cuts with a paring knife, or a few holes poked with a chopstick work great. Put pies in the fridge or freezer while the oven heats up, and keep folding, so you have some for the freezer. Making the dough cold again before baking is actually important for a nice bake. Form the extra pies, put them on a paper-lined tray in the freezer. Don’t let pies touch until they are actually frozen. Once frozen, they can be consolidated into bags for storage.
Bake your pies at 375F for about 20 minutes, or 25-30 minutes from the freezer.