Sunday 1 December 2013

Jamaican Beef Patties

These are one of my absolute favourite snacks. I live in Toronto which has a remarkable Caribbean community. Jamaican patties are widely enjoyed and come in a variety of different fillings but beef is very popular and my personal favourite. They are kind of like a curried empanada. Like pretty much all West Indian cuisine, Jamaicans have a taste for heat and spice. Beef patties tend to be spicy but do come in milder versions. Traditionally you would use Scotch Bonnet pepper for this dish. If you can't find Scotch Bonnets then Habanero will work just fine. If you're someone who likes to try the fares of different cultures but doesn't enjoy spicy food, you can leave the spicy pepper out of the recipe. I do feel the need to warn you that in doing so you will sacrifice authenticity. 

If you leave the seeds of the chili pepper in, it will be considerably hotter. It's all up to you. You can remove the seeds completely or leave them in. I left some of the seeds in but removed a little over half of them. That was the perfect amount of heat for my preference. Habaneros and particularly Scotch Bonnets are very hot so handle with care. The stuff in chilies that make them spicy is called capsaicin and it can linger on your fingers and spread to anywhere you touch (including your eyes, nose, mouth and wherever else). Use rubber gloves if you're not confident handling them. If you do end up with an uncomfortable tingling sensation from the peppers, soap and water doesn't do much to get rid of it but fresh lemon juice will help.   

There is no denying that even though it is still technically autumn, old man winter has taken its firm and bitter hold where I live. Some love it, some don't. I am of the latter but luckily recipes like these can warm me up and bring me thoughts and feelings of warm, tropical beaches and festivities. If you are similar then you should really give this a try.

In sharing this recipe we are going to delve a little deeper into the world of pastry. Recently I shared a recipe for pâte brisée which is a flaky French pie pastry. In that post I stressed the importance of keeping the fat cold. This technique isn't as strict in that sense (in fact, we're actually going to melt the butter instead of keeping it ice cold). I wanted to make these as authentic as possible and from what I've researched that is just what they do in the West Indies, so who am I to argue? Here I'm using half shortening and half butter for the pastry. However if you can get your hands on beef suet use that instead of the shortening (same amount). Beef suet is hard fat found around the loins and organs of a cow. I don't blame you if you think that doesn't sound appetizing but it has the exact same function as shortening here and will add a sensational flavour. Your butcher can likely get it for you if he or she doesn't already have it on hand. I recommend it 100% if you can... What, did I say these were for dieters?  

This is also the first recipe on the blog that calls for curry powder. Depending on where you live in the world that might be confusing. Curry powder is a blend of spices suitable for curry. It is not, however, the same as garam masala which is another spice blend used in curries. They are different spice blends that are usually not interchangeable. Though curry powder and garam masala may share a lot of the same spices, curry powder tends to be yellower in colour due to its content of turmeric and fenugreek. There is no set recipe for either curry powder or garam masala.You just gotta trust me on this one. If you can't find curry powder, just use the same amount of plain turmeric. 



3 1/2 cups (approx 1 lb) all-purpose flour
1/2 cup ice water
1/2 cup vegetable shortening
1/2 cup (1 stick) melted butter, unsalted
1 tsp salt
1 tsp turmeric
1 tsp curry powder


1 lb lean ground beef
1 medium onion, finely chopped
4 scallions, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 Scotch Bonnet or Habanero pepper (any colour), minced
2 stalks fresh thyme, leaves only
1/2 cup breadcrumbs
1 cup chicken broth (you can use beef or veggie broth or just plain water)
1 tsp salt
1 tsp pepper
1 tsp paprika
1/2 tsp ground allspice
1/2 tsp sugar
1/4 tsp fresh ground nutmeg
2 tbsp oil for frying

The pastry needs an hour to rest so start that first. When you're ready, preheat your oven to 375F/200C.

Sieve the flour and combine with the salt, turmeric and curry powder in a large bowl.

Add the melted butter and the shortening and work them into the flour with rapid movements. The best tool for this part is your bare hands. 

Once the mixture is roughly the texture of breadcrumbs, add the ice water little by little while continuing to work the dough with your fingertips. With a little patience the mixture should just come together into a slightly sticky dough.

Roll the dough into a ball, wrap in cling film and let rest is the fridge for at least 1 hour . During which you can carry on with the filling.

Sweat the onion and scallion in 2 tbsp of cooking oil in a heavy bottomed pot or dutch oven. Fry gently for a few minutes but do not brown. Between medium and medium-high heat works best I find.

Add the Scotch Bonnet/Habanero, garlic, thyme, spices and sugar. Stir and cook for a minute or two before adding the beef. Break the beef up as much as you can. Large chunks of beef in a patty is not the look.

When the beef has browned completely, drain the excess fat (if any). Add the breadcrumbs and the broth and stir well.

Stir frequently while the liquid reduces and the entire mixture takes on a thick, saucy texture. Set aside and allow to cool completely.

When your dough has rested, it's time to roll it out on a lightly floured surface. Best case scenario: you have lots of counter space in your kitchen and you'll be able to do it all at once. If not, divide the dough in half (or more) and roll out each piece separately. The dough should be rolled to a thickness of 1/8 inch. This is much easier to do if you have more counter space to work with. I have a tiny kitchen with an embarrassing amount of counter space. This sometimes results in dough not being rolled thin enough. Unfortunately it came to bite me again in this recipe. My pastry ended up a little on the thicker side. Just do the best you can. 

Cut circular shapes out of the dough for the patties. You want them about the size of a saucer. You can use an actual saucer or a cereal bowl to help carve out perfect, uniform shapes. Any excess dough can be combined and rolled out again to make more patties but you'll need to let the dough rest for at least 20 minutes before rolling the second time. Otherwise your dough will be tough and uncooperative. You should end up with 8-10 discs of pastry.

Place a heaping tablespoon of filling on one side of each disc leaving the edges bare.

Using your fingers, moisten the exposed edges around the filling with a little water and fold the other side of the dough over to envelope the filling. Moistening the edges will help them to stick together, Then use a fork to crimp the perimeter of the edge. This is for esthetics and to seal the patty completely.

Cover a baking sheet with metal foil and arrange the patties so that they are not touching. Then place them in the middle of your preheated oven for about 35 minutes. Normally when we bake pastry we brush it with an egg wash to create a beautiful golden colour. Since the pastry is already yellow from the turmeric and curry powder there isn't much point in doing it here, but if you insist go right ahead.


When finished, remove them from the oven and allow them to cool for a few minutes (the filling will be piping hot). These are best served warm but can be eaten at room temperature or even cold. Any patties not eaten right away should be kept in your fridge and eaten within a week.

Ladies and gentlemen, you just made a batch of Jamaican beef patties. Maybe a little more on the intermediate level due to the number of steps and things to keep in mind but generally not that difficult at all. These are flaky, spicy and irresistible. Had my pastry been the right thickness they would have been perfect. That's why I make mistakes, so you don't have to. lol!

I hope you enjoyed this recipe. If you've never had Jamaican patties before I'm going to have to insist that you give these a try. They are so worth it. Ten may look like a lot but they don't last very long (at least not between my roommate and I). There is always an element of fun when making a recipe from scratch that involves pastry. You really get to put your skills and creativity to work. 

Until next time,


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