Fried meat-filled pastries, known as meat patties in Jamaica and empanandas on the Spanish islands, are popular snacks. The heritage undoubtedly stems from the Cornish pasties of Britain, but the chili-laced filling is pure African-Caribbean.
Jamaican Meat Patties
In the mid-80's, one of my favorite lunch spots was a little place in College Park called, Aunt Eva's Patty Palace. Eva made the most delicious Jamaican meat patties, both mild and spicy. I always opted for the spicy hot ones. The ground meat and spices were liberally laced with fiery, minced chilis and the pastry wrap was rich, flaky and fried.
My patties are good, but they don't hold a candle to Aunt Eva's. The meat I use is probably too lean, no lard in the pastry and I bake them instead of frying them and she had her own secret spice combination. Nevertheless, homemade patties still beat the frozen supermarket version. They're a great treat to zip from the freezer into the oven when my mouth cries for a spicy bite. The patties make a fast lunch with a bowl of soup or a little salad. And they're especially good as an hors d'oeuvre with a cold beer, a chilled Chardonnay or better yet, a tall, cool Planter's Punch made with native Jamaican rum.
Several years ago, my neighbor, Ann, surprised me with a kitchen gadget called "The Pocket Gourmet". Ann said when she saw it, she just knew it was something I'd find a good use for. . .and she was right. Billed as the "ultimate kitchen tool", though I wouldn't go that far, it has made patty-making a much easier task. I use the larger one for luncheon patties and the smaller one for appetizer size.
The Pocket Gourmet
I think making Jamaican patties is worth the effort, particularly if you break up the task into two sessions. Cook the meat filling and make the pastry dough one day, then refrigerate both. The following day, form the patties, freeze them individually on a lined cookie sheet, then wrap them in batches in freezer paper and slip into a zip lock bag for storage. Or you can bake off the whole batch and then freeze them and reheat as you use them. I've done both and prefer the freshly baked version as opposed to reheated. The following quantity of ingredients makes about three dozen small patties.
Jamaican Meat Patty Filling
1 1/2 lbs ground beef or pork or combination
2 TBS annatto oil or vegetable oil
4 green onions, including tops, finely chopped
1 yellow onion, chopped
1 fresh green or red chile, minced (more for spicy)
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 tsp paprika
1/2 tsp dried thyme, crushed
1/4 tsp ground allspice
dash of ground cloves
1 cup canned tomato sauce
salt and pepper to taste.
In a nonstick skillet over high heat, brown the meat until crumbly. Remove the meat to a bowl with a slotted spoon and discard any fat remaining in the skillet. In the same skillet over medium heat, warm the oil then add the green and yellow onions and the chile. Saute until softened, about 3 - 4 minutes. Stir in the garlic, paprika, thyme, allspice and cloves and saute for another 30 seconds, then stir in the tomato sauce and return the meat to the skillet. Reduce the heat to low and season with salt and pepper to taste. Continue cooking over low heat for about 20 minutes to let the flavors blend. The filling should be fairly firm. If too loose and wet, stir in a couple of tablespoons of bread crumbs.
Pastry for Meat Patties
3 cups unbleached all purpose flour
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp turmeric
2/3 cup shortening
2/3 cup cold water
In a mixing bowl, combine the flour, salt, baking powder and turmeric. Using a pastry blender or fork, cut in the shortening until the mixture resembles coarse meal. Stir in the water and using a fork or fingers, mix to form a ball.
Take walnut sized pieces of dough and roll them out on a lightly floured board to make 4" circles. Place a couple of tablespoons of the filling in the center of each circle. Fold the pastry in half and pinch to seal the edges with the tines of a fork.
To Bake: Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Place pastries on an ungreased baking sheet and bake until golden brown, 25 - 30 minutes. Serve hot or at room temperature. I like to drizzle them with three pepper lemon sauce as I eat them for an even greater heat punch!
Till next time. . . keep cooking!