07 August 2013

Canada Food Day: A tray full of sunshine: Jamaican Beef Patties

I know there are those who complain this summer is too cold.  We've only had one heat wave, the lawns are still green and relatively few people have collapsed of heat exhaustion.
And they think this is a bad thing.
Me, I LOVE this year's summer.  It's been a comfortable temp, I don't really have to have my air conditioner on, my little front garden is plumptious with blossoms and well...I'm still on my first bottle of sunblock.  The sun is shining and the birds are singing.  What more can I ask?
This past weekend was the August long weekend and it was gorgeous (again). Perfect to celebrate Canada Food Day.
What I really like about this day of food is that whatever you decide to make is perfectly okay. As far as I can tell, there aren't any real rules, except it must be food and part of the Canadian fabric.  And really...with a country that's embraced multiculturalism, that means every cuisine is welcome.
I'll admit this year, I decided to satisfy a bit of a craving I've had for a while: Jamaican patties. A friend made some last month, and I realised it's been a couple of years since I last had good Jamaican patties. Almost every patty has come from the freezer aisle of the decidedly non Jamaican market.  Having my friend's version sort of set off a lightbulb...I could make my own.
Jamaican patties were never something I'd contemplated making...and gosh...they're just savoury handpies.  I've had some good ones--flavourful and zingy...and I've had some bad ones--bland, tough...I even had ones that were decidedly sour.
So after some research, I came across this 2005 recipe from the New York Times and decided to give it a go.  It's pretty easy--no curveballs thrown.  But then I tasted it during the simmering stage.  Hrmm...it was decidedly lacking, if not a little boring--don't get me wrong.  It was hot, but that's all it really was. It needed a bit more sweet, a bit more sour and some deeper flavours.  Out came three bottles: nam pla, HP sauce and Worcestershire.  Et voila...my first Jamaican patties.
A relatively quick trip into the oven and out popped trays full of spice sunshine.  Nummy, nummy spicy sunshine. A friend who's favourite snack are these zesty little handpies tried one.  His opinion: definitely better than the grocers and he preferred my pastry because the others are too flaky for his liking.  I'll take that victory

Jamaican Beef Patties
adapted from Jamaican Beef Patties by the New York Times.  
Yield 12
500g (860ml/3.5c, less 1Tbsp) ap flour
1.5tsp (10ml) salt
1dsp (10ml/2tsp) turmeric
1tsp (5ml) curry powder
250g (320ml/1.25c plus half tablespoon) lard (see notes)
100ml ice water
500g (1lb+ 2oz) lean ground beef (see notes)
15g (1Tbsp) butter, melted and cooled (see notes)
1dspn (10ml/2tsp) dried thyme
vegetable oil
1 onion, finely chopped
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 Scotch bonnet pepper, seeded and finely chopped, divided
0.5tsp (2.5ml) paprika
0.5tsp (2.5ml) ground allspice
0.75tsp (3.75ml) salt
1tsp (5ml) black pepper
1tsp (5ml) sugar
1tsp (5ml) nam pla
1Tbsp (15ml) HP sauce
1dspn (10ml/2tsp) Worcestershire sauce
375ml (1.5c) water

Pour the melted butter over the meat and sprinkle with thyme. Lightly mix and set in refrigerator for at least five minutes or until the butter is solid
For the pastry:
Mix flour, salt, turmeric and curry powder in a large bowl.
Grate in fat and rub together with flour, until the mixuture looks like fine rubble, with some pieces the size of peas, and others smaller.
Pour in iced water and lightly mix with your hands or a couple of forks, adding more ice water, a tablespoon at a time, until mixture forms a slightly sticky dough.
Knead dough for two minutes, form into two disks, wrap in plastic and refrigerate while you make filling.
For the filling
Slick the bottom of a large pan with oil and heat over a medium flame. Add onion, garlic and half the chili pepper. Sweat the ingredients, stirring often.
Add paprika and allspice and stir to coat. Add beef mixture, breaking up any lumps.
Add enough water water to cover meat. Mix in salt, pepper and sugar. Bring mixture to a boil and set to simmer for 30 minutes.
At the 15 minute point, stir in the nam pla, HP and Worcestershire sauces, and chilli. Adjust flavours to taste--it should be slightly sweet, earthy, hot with a hint of acid. Simmer until the meat is soft and the gravy reduces to a clingy sauce-- about another 15 minutes.
Remove from heat and let cool.
To make the patties
Heat oven to 190C/375F/moderately hot oven/ Line two cookie sheets with aluminum foil. Pour some water into a small bowl and have a fork on hand.
Remove one disc of dough from the refrigerator and divide in half.
Lightly flour the board and quickly roll out the pastry to about 2mm thick or large enough to cut three 15cm/6" circles (approximately the size or a teacup's saucer).
Divide the filling into 12 equal portions (approximately two generous tablespoons). Place one portion of filling on the lower half of one circle.
Damp your finger with the water and run it around the edge of the circle. Fold over the pastry, so you have a half moon (or rising sun!). Crimp the edge with a fork and transfer to a prepared pan.
Repeat with remaining dough and filling to produce 12 patties.
Bake for 25 minutes, or until the top is firm and slightly tinged with brown.
Serve warm, or in a soft potato or hamburger bun.


  • The Jamaican patties I've had have had a flaky pastry. This pastry is more like a shortcrust, than a flaky crust--to add flake, use half lard and half butter.
  • If you have a flaky pastry crust you like, make enough for 1kg/2lbs of pastry, adding the salt, turmeric and curry powders to the mix. 
  • If you are using regular minced beef, do not add butter.