By Tony Jackman
Raindrops on roses, cream-coloured ponies, crisp apple strudel, schnitzel with noodles. Who drew up that bucket list? What was Julie Andrews on? Were those really snowflakes that were staying on her nose and eyelashes or some other white substance?
No. Give me the stars on a Matjiesfontein night, the full moon rising over Devil’s Peak. Give me the storm gathering, the thud of a hoof in the veld, the red earth spattering with rain.
Give me the smell of baking bread, wafts of coffee grounds as they meet boiling water. The twist of the cap on a jar of ginger preserve, the scrape of butter on toast. The basting of the roast, stoking of the coals, the clink of the glass, the cup to lip. These are a few of my favourite things.
Give me the Karoo. The Lamb. And the Pie. My Karoo lamb pie was one of the two biggest sellers on my menu when we ran our first restaurant in our first Karoo town. And it dawned on me the other day that in three-and-a-half years of writing these columns I had yet to write about them.
I found, on returning to the old recipe, that I’ve moved on, so the recipe you’ll find here will, I hope, be an improvement on the old one. It’s not vastly changed, and even in those days the pies were not identical every time. I sometimes added blue cheese, sometimes used roast leg of lamb, lamb shank or neck. And you can use any of these, or for that matter the meat cut away from chops or even the cheapest cuts, as long as you allow enough cooking time for the meat to be perfectly tender.
The aromatics can vary as much as your imagination allows or to suit what’s in the fridge or larder. But there should be a goodly amount of sauce, it must be moist, and there must be loads of flavour.
As for the pastry, I unashamedly and unapologetically use bought – yes, sit down, Daisy dear, ready-made pastry, the horror, the horror – yes, bought puff pastry. You’re welcome to make your own, but even some very serious chefs admit to using bought puff now and then, and there’s nothing wrong with doing so.
Another favoured ingredient was nagmaalwyn, the communion wine you can buy in most liquor stores. You’ll find it where they stock sherries, ports, muscadels and the like, it’s really cheap, and it amused me to use this in cooking, fancying that a tannie might throw her hands to her face in outrage, which never happened.
So this recipe is for Karoo lamb pies made with nagmaalwyn, and because this makes it rather sweet I chose to include a trio of key spices and one herb. It also has a good whack of garlic. You don’t have to use nagmaalwyn … muscadel, sherry, hanepoot, jerepigo, any of these will do. And depending on the strength of sugar in it, use a little less if you like, or use half of that soeters and dry red wine.
Karoo Nagmaalwyn Lamb Pie
Makes 4 pies
200g lamb meat per pie, no bones or fat
1 large onion
2 or 3 cloves garlic
3 Tbs butter
1 star anise
1 curl of mace
1 Tbs flour plus more for dusting
400g ready-rolled puff pastry (or make your own – be my guest)
Salt and pepper to taste
You need a large muffin pan, by which I mean one with six cavities for large muffins. Grease this well with softened butter. Cut away any bones and fat, and cube the meat. Keep the bones for making a stock some other time.
Finely chop the onion and garlic. Melt butter and over a low heat simmer the star anise, peppercorns, cloves and mace to develop the flavours.
Add the onions, garlic and rosemary sprigs and simmer for a few minutes. Let the onion start to brown before adding the meat, to get plenty of flavour out of them. (Mace, Daisy, is the outer coating of nutmeg. You buy it in spice shops.)
Add the meat and cook for a few minutes more. Sprinkle a tablespoon of flour over and stir, then cook for a few more minutes.
Add the nagmaalwyn or other sweet wine or a combination of it with dry red wine, bring to a simmer and cook gently at a low heat, covered, until the lamb is very tender. This should take anything from 90 minutes to two hours or more.
Season with salt and more ground pepper. Stir now and then to ensure nothing sticks or burns. It should still be very moist, really saucy, when the meat is done.
At some point in the cooking process, try to spot the mace, star anise and rosemary and remove them.
Flour a flat, clean surface and carefully roll out the softened puff pastry. No, you cannot use it frozen, Daisy. Use a large glass, round bakkie, whatever, to cut rounds out to fill each of the muffin cavities and pat up the sides with your fingers so that it comes up to the brim. Beat the egg and brush the top edge with this.
Use a toothpick to prick a few holes in the bottom of the pastry. Spoon in the filling – be generous – and cut smaller rounds to place on top. Press down around the edges. Use a sharp knife to make an incision in the middle.
Brush the top with eggwhite and bake in a 180ºC oven for at least 20 minutes. It may take up to 25 or 30 minutes but not more. Remove, let it cool for a few minutes, then carefully slide a knife down the sides of the pies and serve with either mashed potato or potato wedges, and oven-roasted root vegetables, which are another two of my favourite things.