So during my experience as a Utah girl transplanted to Louisiana, my feelings about this place have ranged from complete and utter despair (think August…humidity…mosquitoes…cockroaches…) to the thrill of living in a place so steeped in history and folklore. And the fact that I pretty much never have to wear pantyhose. One of my favorite places to visit and to take visitors is a little town called Natchitoches (pronounced NACK-it-esh; don’t even ask). Check this out:

That is not a prettied-up version–it’s exactly what it looks like. It’s this fabulously charming little town (actually, the oldest settlement in Louisiana) with a historic district where you just stroll around and pop in and out of little shops and restaurants. There’s almost always something going on, the people are friendly (one lady, complete stranger, offered my dad some cracklins when he asked him what they were. Turns out they’re pieces of fried pork fat.), and the food is amazing. Natchitoches is famous for its meat pies and you can pop into pretty much any little restaurant and find “the [supposed] best meat pies in Natchitoches.” During all the fairs, festivals, and shows that always seem to be going on, meat pie vendors will set up carts and you can hold onto a pie while you stroll around at a slower pace, feeling like you’re magically in a simpler time. I know, I sound like I’m totally romanticizing this place, but what can I say? I’m a girl in love.

Louisiana is such a melting pot of cultures; along with the traditional Southern foods like fried chicken, grits, and barbecue, different regions of Louisiana are also heavily influenced by the Europeans who settled there. Natchitoches was settled by the Spanish, so the meat pies you find there aren’t terribly different from empanadas that you find in Spain, Portugual, and South and Central America, they just have some Cajun flair. And oh, my, they are so delicious.

I made a few discoveries while playing around with these over the last few weeks:

–The meat mixture gets better over the course of a few days. This is great because you can make the meat mixture and let it hang out in your fridge for a few days, which cuts way down on the time that you have to spend all at once.

–Both the saltiness and spiciness of the meat will be toned down once it’s baked in the pastry, so don’t stress out if the meat mixture tastes a little too salty or spicy when you’re testing it. Also, unless you absolutely cannot handle ANY spice, these should have a bit of a bite to them, so keep that in mind when you’re seasoning the meat mixture with Tabasco. It’s a good idea to make it a touch spicier than you’d normally want it to be.

Homemade pie crust makes a world of difference here. I’ve tried it both ways. There are times when I think a refrigerated pie crust is just fine, but the meat pies I made with homemade crust were incredible and homemade pie crust is really not hard. Like…at all.

–The egg wash also makes a huge difference, both for their appearance and for the texture of the pastry. Unless you have egg allergies, I think you should definitely do the egg wash.

–Although these are traditionally fried, I found that frying is not only harder, unhealthier, and messier, but I like them better baked. We’re talking about pie crust here…not exactly health food to start with, you know?

I also love that these are perfect party food. You can make larger pies for a meal or use a round cookie or biscuit cutter to cut small circles of dough and make little appetizers.

They’re festive and fun and a little different from your typical holiday or party fare. They also reheat and freeze beautifully; my husband loves to take them to work for lunch. Have I blabbered on long enough? Yeah, probably. Shut it, Kate…

Natchitoches Meat Pies
Recipe by Our Best Bites, adapted from Chef John Folse

1/2 lb. lean ground beef
1/2 lb. ground pork
1/2 green pepper, chopped
1/2 red pepper, chopped
1 onion, chopped
2 stalks celery, chopped
5-6 cloves garlic, minced
2+ tsp. Tony Chachere’s Creole Seasoning (it’s the cheapest, best, and widely available)
Tabasco sauce to taste (start with about 1/4 tsp.)
1 can beef broth
Pie Crust, tripled
1 egg
1/4 c. cold water

In a large skillet, brown ground beef and ground pork, breaking the meat into small pieces. When it’s about halfway cooked, drain excess fat (if necessary) and then add green and red peppers, onion, celery, and garlic. Cook until vegetables are tender and onions are translucent. Add 2 tsp. Tony’s and 1/4 tsp. Tabasco. Add beef broth and bring the mixture to a boil over high heat. Cook for about 20 minutes or until most of the liquid has evaporated. Season with additional Tony’s and Tabasco if necessary, keeping in mind that the seasonings will mellow in the pie. You can refrigerate this mixture for 3-4 days before baking the pies.
Prepare pie crust and roll the entire ball onto a floured surface. For large (meal-sized) pies, I use a bowl that’s about 6″ across the top; I just invert the bowl onto the dough and trace a knife around it to cut the dough.

Place about 1/4 c. of the meat mixture onto one half of the dough circle, keeping about a 1/2″-1″ margin from the edges.

Fold the other side over and gently pinch the edges shut.

For the decorative edge, you could crimp the edge with a fork or use your fingers to flute the edges. You could also use a calzone or empanada mold (used in these pictures).

Preheat oven to 400 and spray a baking sheet with non-stick cooking spray.  Place prepared pies onto your baking sheet. In a small bowl, whisk together egg and cold water and brush over the pies.

Bake 25-30 minutes or until golden brown.

Allow to cool a few minutes and then eat as soon as humanly possible. So good. There are…no words.

Makes about 12 6″ pies or lots and lots of small (biscuit cutter) pies.

FREEZER INSTRUCTIONS: You could do this one of two ways; you can freeze them unbaked and just add the egg wash and bake them for an extra 15-20 minutes, or you can bake them and heat them up in the oven or microwave, whatever suits your needs better.



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