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Savory pies give operators a savvy way to use ingredients, boost sales

Take a meal that people already like and wrap it in a crusty package, and they’ll probably like it even more.

That seems to be the idea behind the current upsurge in savory pies. From empanadas to samosas, stromboli to turnovers, restaurateurs are imbuing foods with new life by dressing them in dough. The process also allows chefs to repackage leftovers or present less common ingredients in a familiar way.

At the recently opened Pan American in New York City, for example, Fernando Riquelme put oxtail turnovers on the menu. 

The filling is a take on a traditional Dominican and Cuban dish called rabo encendido, which means “tail on fire.” 

The oxtail is braised, then chilled. The fat is skimmed off, the meat is shredded, about a tablespoon is used to fill a 3-inch turnover, and those are baked to order. Three of them sell for $8.

“I think the way we prepare it gives you a real good hit of beefiness, but it’s also airy and crunchy,” Riquelme said.

Villa Fresh Italian Kitchen, a quick-service chain based in Morristown, N.J., has added three new stromboli to its menu for the winter.

They are a chicken club with bacon, ham, tomatoes, cheddar and mozzarella; a “Farmhouse Veggie” with spinach, tomatoes, broccoli, peppers, garlic, cheddar and mozzarella; and a pepperoni with mozzarella.

Brad Farmerie, executive chef of Public, Double Crown and the Monday Room in New York, said he originally added British- and Australian-inspired meat pies to his menu to get rid of leftovers. 

Black pudding was popular on his weekend brunch menu, but he still had some left over. So he mixed it with ground pork, flavored it with house-made curry paste and other spices, added some herbs “to freshen it up” and agar to keep the filling juicy while leaving the crust crisp, and made pie.

He said that, although the United States doesn’t have as big a savory pie culture as many other English-speaking countries, he found that diners’ ears perked up simply when they heard the word “pie.”

He serves his black pudding and pork pie with a salad of pear, arugula and pomegranate for $11.

“I really do see it like a soup or terrine; you can incorporate any end bits, and you can also sneak the fun stuff in front of people.”

Americans might not have as rich a savory pie tradition as do the British, Australians and New Zealanders, but they do have pot pie, which these days is being filled with everything from traditional chicken to lobster. 

The former can be found at Ernie’s Bar & Grill at PGA West in La Quinta, Calif.

It’s a classic recipe of chicken stock thickened with roux, mixed with roasted, diced chicken breast and sautéed carrots, celery, peas and potatoes. The only upscale touches are the local vegetables and Yukon gold potatoes.

That’s poured into crocks and topped with circles of puff pastry that are brushed with egg wash, seasoned, baked for five to 10 minutes and sold for $16 each. 

“We make about 3 gallons a night, and that’s what we go through,” said chef Joshua Amonson.

Lobster pot pie is part of the annual four-week “Lobsters & Libations” menu offered in December at the seven-unit Marlow’s Tavern in Atlanta.

Executive chef John Metz sautés lobster meat with garlic and then mixes it with winter corn, English peas and a brunoise of carrot, potato and celery. 

He makes a velouté out of lobster stock and then adds an herb mix of thyme, oregano and basil. The crust is croissant dough with those same herbs mixed in. He rolls it into a sheet and cuts it into circles, which go on top of the bowl in which the pie is served. They’re topped with a lobster claw and then baked.

He charges $15 for the dish. 

Contact Bret Thorn at [email protected].

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