Comfort food? The pies have it

Who do you think makes the best pies? Check out our list below and add your favourite by leaving a comment.

IT’S getting darker earlier, and when the sun goes down there is a definite chill in the air.

Yes, it’s almost that time of year again. The time for the humble meat pie to shine.

Home-made, store-bought or ordered at a cafe or restaurant, the pie is a winter staple.

Food Standards Australia New Zealand estimates that Australians eat an average of 12 meat pies a year – that’s 270million pies. In New Zealand they are even more popular, and the average Kiwi consumes 15 meat pies a year.

Popular they may be, but the meat pie has had its share of negative publicity over the years. The so-called mystery bag that confronted pie consumers in years past was addressed by Food Standards Australia New Zealand in 2010’s standard 2.2.1, which governs meat and meat products.

The standard stipulates that a meat pie must contain a minimum of 25per cent meat flesh. This includes flesh from buffalo, camel, cattle, deer, goat, hare, pig, poultry, rabbit or sheep. If offal is used, it must be declared on the label.

Not something most of us like to think about, but still of some comfort.

Most pie manufacturers specify beef in their ingredients list. If manufacturers don’t specify what meat is being used, it could be one of the other meats classified as meats: snouts, ears, tongues roots, tendons and blood vessels.

Of course, there are pies and there are pies. More often than not you get what you pay for. If you buy a chef-made pie, you can expect fresh pastry and quality ingredients.

If you pick up a pie at a late-night service station, or buy the cheapest packet in the supermarket freezer section, you take your chances in terms of freshness and meat content.

Russell Cox, owner of the award-winning Heatherbrae’s Pies for the past 11 years, knows a thing or two about pies.

He has a number of theories as to why the pie remains a staple Australian snack, or main meal. But in the end, he said, it comes down to two factors: convenience and comfort.

‘‘A pie is a very handy savoury product to eat. It’s easy to get sweet things but a pie is a convenient way to eat a savoury meat wrapped up in the pastry,’’ Cox said.

‘‘And it’s nostalgic. I think most of us can look back to our childhoods and remember pies. It’s very much a traditional Australian food.

‘‘It’s a comfort food, too. Our consumption of pies increases in the cooler weather. You’re feeling cold, you’re feeling lousy, you want something warm. It’s a convenient, warm product to eat.’’

Heatherbrae’s Pies has about a dozen different flavours of pies available at any one time. They are made fresh daily on the premises by pastry chefs.

‘‘We can manage that number quite easily when we’re producing fresh pies every day,’’ Cox said.

‘‘There’s probably a number of other pie outlets that can offer a much wider range, but in order to do that they typically have to be frozen. ‘‘Our philosophy here is that the freshness of the product makes eating the product more enjoyable. The meat’s not so much of a problem – that will freeze and come up well, it’s the pastry that doesn’t reheat so well. It’s like fresh bread, you just can’t beat it when it’s fresh out of the oven.’’

Their most popular pie is the steak mince pie.

‘‘We try to stick to the mainstream traditional flavours : chunky steak and vegetable; chunky steak cheese and bacon; chicken and vegetable; steak and mushroom, curry steak,’’ he said.

As for tips about how to make a good pie, he offered the following advice.

‘‘If you want a good pie you really will need good ingredients, both in the pastry and in the filling itself,’’ he said.

‘‘The last thing anybody wants is a mystery bag, where you bite into it and gristle comes out. ‘‘So you need good meat and you need to cook it well so it’s not tough. The longer you stew a stew the more tender it becomes.

‘‘You also need good quality ingredients in your pastry, such as flour and oil.’’

Cox said wheels were in motion to open a Heatherbrae’s Pies on the Central Coast.

Speaking of wheels, mention pies in Newcastle and inevitably Harry’s Cafe de Wheels will come up.

Franchisee of the Newcastle foreshore outlet, Buddy Sahyoun, said the most popular pie on the menu was Harry’s signature pie, the Tiger.

This chunky lean beef pie served with mushy peas, mashed potato and gravy is a favourite among late-night revellers.

It could be that the pie is giving the after-hours kebab a run for its money.

Go humble or gourmet grub

In an emergency, there’s always the servo. But when time is on your side try these to please.

*Jordan’s Bakery Cafe, 315 Wharf Road, Newcastle. 49296644.

*Heatherbrae’s Pies, corner Masonite Road and Pacific Highway, Heatherbrae. 49875561.

*T & P’s Firestation Pie Shop, 31 Union Street, Cooks Hill. 49293544.

*Red Neds Gourmet Pie Bar, shop 3/17-19 Stockton Street, Nelson Bay. 49841355.

*Baker’s Cottage Cafe, Chelmsford Drive, Metford. 49337437.

*Blakeney’s Pies, 235 Maitland Road, Mayfield. 49676722.

*Ridgey Didge Pies, Industrial Drive, Mayfield North. 49676582.

*Harry’s Cafe de Wheels, 199 Wharf Road Newcastle. 49262165.

*Thompson’s Pies, 7 Nevin Close, Gateshead. 49421319.

*Darby’s Fresh Bake has various locations including Darby Street, Cooks Hill; Hilltop Plaza, Charlestown; Ailsa Road, Broadmeadow; and Stockland Mall, Jesmond.

*Barry’s Quality Pies, 67 Turea Street, Blacksmiths. 49711995.

*Pubs generally have a pie on the menu, for example, the Burwood Inn at Merewether’s open beef and guiness pie.

*When in dire need of a late-night pie, don’t forget you can always make a mercy dash to your nearest service station.

More on delicious pies in today's Good Taste

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