Why Hello, one and all, to the first Catastrophe of 2018! We’re very excited to announce that practically nothing has changed, structurally speaking! Sure, Jon has made the traditional resolutions to better understand and use social media, be more proactive in serving our Patrons, and so on, but, compared to previous years, this is drastically less severe! By comparison, January of 2016 marked the actual beginning of our site, and then, last January, we completely switched webhosts, servers, and the basic design for the entire site; Compared to those earth-shattering kabooms, “Jon vows to do his job better this year” is little more than an airy whisper. So, in honor of this site surviving another bleak midwinter, let’s talk about a recipe that harkens back to the fundamental gifts of this site: a recipe where the ingredients make no damn sense, the history is somehow both convoluted AND stupidly simple, and Jon’s finished result isn’t amazing, but it isn’t particularly bad either: Jamaican Beef Patty!
Patty-Cake Patty-Cake, Ja Mai Can!
First, let’s cover the most fundamental part of the recipe, and why it’s confusing to a great many people: a Jamaican Beef Patty is NOT, by most countries’ definitions, actually a patty. Meaning, in case you are Jamaican, or do not have the word “patty” in your vernacular, the dish we are making is not “a puck-shaped item of ground or chopped meat, or its vegetable equivalent”. You will not find a Jamaican beef patty inside of a Big Mac, for instance.
Though...you could probably fit them on if you made the burgers big enough...
Jamaican Beef Patties are meat-filled PIES. Like big, potent hot pockets, or more portable Pot-Pies. How did we get such a different name? Well, luckily, we already know exactly who to blame: The ENGLISH! And also the French. Because of course they’re both involved. We’ll start with the French, because, well…they started it.
As some of you may recall, back in July, I discussed Terrine, a layered gelatin food that originated as a type of Paté. If you didn’t read it, first off, hurtful, and second, here’s the summary of what’s important for today’s discussion:
Terrines are a form of Paté, a popular form of food in Europe, especially Medieval France and Ancient Rome. Pates were a predecessor to the modern meatloaf: a combination of meat, vegetables, and seasonings, meant to stretch ingredients.
Turns out the culinary urge that created this mess was "Well, we gotta eat SOMETHING."
The word Terrine arose because it was used to distinguish between the two basic forms of paté, pate en croute, a pate loaf encased in pastry, and pate en terrine, which was cooked in a small type of pan called a terrine.
What I DIDN’T mention back then was the real etymological root of Paté. See, the word comes from the same Latin root as Pesto, Pasta, and Paste: It means “Smashed”. Beef-, Turkey-, Whatever Pate, at the fundamental level, just means “BLANK, ground up.” And, as a quick aside: if “Pasta” looks weird in that line up, remember that you MAKE pasta by literally smashing flour and eggs/water into a dough that you then squish into a shape you like.
It's just kind of weird that most people pick "Ribbon I can eat" or "food string" as their shapes of choice.
Remember those Pate en Croute from earlier? A bunch of ground meat, veggies, and fat, wrapped in pastry (Oh, hey, there that same root again!)? Well, when the dish showed up in England, they preferred the breaded version. And, because they couldn’t tell if the Italians calling their meat-filled dough pasta or the French calling it pate were right, they called the dish a “pasty”. It was popular for centuries, eventually gaining particular renown among the metal miners of Cornwall, many of whom would later emigrate to the Great Lakes region of America, and that’s why Michigan also makes Pasties. Those same hardworking miners ALSO showed up Britain’s newest colonial jewel, Jamaica! And they brought the pasties with them. At which point, the Jamaicans took the word and made it “Patty”, presumably because they were listening to the same Frenchmen with Pate, and now the English with pasty, and chose the French style to piss off the dudes who conquered their country.
Maybe someday we’ll cover Pasties on the site, because I am actually a stupid big fan of hand-held meat pies, as we’ll all soon learn, but for now, let’s do things the Jamaican way, before I make a…Jerk of myself.
A Personal History of Culinary Idleness
So, the pasties of Cornwall are steak, potatoes, and turnips. The Pates of France are…basically anything. So what goes into a Jamaican Patty? Well, really any meat can go in them, but they’re mostly filled with chicken, Goat, or the big papa of the patties: Beef.
I’ve personally had a low-key interest in them for…probably like, a decade? I had one at the Taste of Tacoma, a small fair-like event in a larger city nearby my home. The event was dedicated to letting restaurants/caterers/general food vendors of the city set up small booths, so that people could try their food, and see if they were interested in the restaurant. A bunch of cities have similar festivals, some drawing restauranteurs from across the nation. Me, I went because my uncle always had a show with his band during the festival. One year, I somehow got my hands on a beef patty, ate it, and went “Hey, that was pretty good. If I ever have a chance to order another one, I’ll take it.”
I have never had a chance to order another one. I just somehow never ended up near a Jamaican restaurant or food vendor. I’d think about it every couple of months, maybe do a quick search on Google, and the results were always just far enough to not be worth the effort. And then, in early December, an opportunity presented itself: A magazine sitting in the Fred Meyer’s food section visited a Jamaican resort, and included a beef patty recipe. Looking it over, we’d only need to buy like, 2 things to make it happen! After a decade of idle interest, I had the option to make it myself! Which is of course why and how everything immediately went to shit.
A Ruinous Recipe
The first issue was, well, timing: as I’ve noted many times, with my father’s illness, he’s been very particular about what he’ll eat. And this recipe was NOT the kind of thing I’d suggest he’d like: curry powder all over the place, scotch bonnets in the mix, it screamed “I AM NOT AMERICAN FOOD”. So I needed to find a time when we had something for dad, and I could make something for myself/my brother. As so often happens when I try and aim for windows in this fashion, I ended up wasting resources: I’m pretty sure I bought Habaneros for this recipe 3 times, and they’d just keep going bad before everything came together.
That’s because of the second issue with the recipe: the timing of the dish itself. While simple enough in terms of cooking (Make a dough, make a filling, combine and cook), the timeline involved was about an hour and a half, which is just enough cooking time to FEEL daunting, while also being short enough that I didn’t feel like I needed to set aside time for it.
And time, like dough, is something this recipe...kneads.
Finally, I buckled down, and immediately ran into something of a cognitive block, that I can best explain with an example. Recently, my friends and I were playing a Christmas trivia game, and a question came up. It was something like “Which ingredient is there more of in a gingerbread cookie: Flour, Ginger, or Molasses?” My friends guessed Ginger and Molasses, while my brother and I laughed: of course it’s flour. If it wasn’t, the cookies would have no structural integrity.
So, when I ran into the fact that the dough for these beef patties needed four cups of flour, and SEVEN cups of butter and shortening, I became…confused. And reluctant. Those numbers COULDN’T be correct, I thought. And research seemed to back me up: I couldn’t find any pastry dough recipe with that kind of fat involvement. Hell, CROISSANTS don’t use that much butter. KENTUCKY BUTTER CAKE doesn’t have that much goddamn butter in it! Eventually, I decided to use a little over 2 cups of butter in the dough.
That's still a crap-ton of butter, to be fair.
That out of the way, the rest of the dough recipe is pretty simple. Mix salt, flour, and 7 tablespoons of curry powder. (Oh, by the way, this recipe uses a fuck-ton of curry powder, so…that’s something to be aware of.) Despite that sounding like a lot of curry, it’s actually not that big a flavor in the final product. It does make for some striking visuals, however.
Behold my mighty Spice Mountain!
Now, at this juncture, let’s recap how things have gone: I’ve wasted some money having my peppers go bad, I’ve had to change the recipe because it seems pretty clearly mis-written. The next step is to simply blend all the ingredients together, so this is where we crest the hump, and things start sailing smoothly, right?
No. This is where the actual shit begins. See, at this point, we need to mix the dough together. The recipe says I can use a food processor or a hand mixer. I look over, and I don’t see the food processor. And the bowl I have is too small to use a hand-mixer in. What follows is, in retrospect, a comedy of errors, but, in the moment, was a cacophony of woes.
This is just as much a failure as it initially appears.
First, I try and put the mix in our ninja food processor that we use for making margaritas. Immediately after placing the butter in it, I realized “Oh shit, this is way too small.” So I move it into our beastly VItamix blender. That’s one dirtied mixing device, with no progress. The Vitamix…has no ability to incorporate the mixture. I’ve seen this thing puree a lot of shit this year, but it hit this dough, and just gave up. The butter clung to the walls, and the flour just sprayed up and around, not gaining the traction to pull It off, it was all just too much. Frustrated, I shifted the ingredients into a third bowl, and pulled out our hand mixer. Which was way too old to stir this shit together. One of the beaters refused to stay in the mixer, popping out rather than mixing the dough. I later learned that, for reasons I can’t explain, we have two sets of beaters in the drawer with the mixer, one of which fits, and another that doesn’t. why we would KEEP BEATERS WE KNOW DON’T FUCKING WORK is beyond me, and also a problem of such aggressively infuriating nature that I literally couldn’t think about it at the moment, because it would just cause my brain to break and my mouth to vomit forth profanity and calumny like a water fountain of spite.
At this point, my mother walks in, and asks why I’m seething with fury at a bowl. I explain that every device I’ve used has betrayed me, I’ve made no progress, dirtied three machines, and all I want is something that fucking mixes food together. At which point she asks why I don’t use the Stand mixer I had to walk past to reach the blender.
How long have you been there?
The answer, of course, is that I didn’t see the mixer. Chagrined, I picked it up, plugged it in, and what do you know, it worked. As such, counter to the suggestion of the original recipe, I suggest you IN NO WAY try to make this dough using a hand mixer, and either use a powerful food processor or a stand mixer. It will save you a LOT of anguish. (That blender had to be washed 3 times before all the curry was removed from it.)
Beef it out, and Wrap it Up
Once the dough went into the fridge, I’m glad to say, we basically crested the hill and everything was smooth sailing. Sure, there were some problems that cropped up, but compared to the enthusiasm-destroying-failures of before, these were like passing white wisps of clouds before the sun of a summer’s day.
Like, we discovered that, contrary to the beliefs of myself and my mother, that we don’t have Allspice. A fact that was kind of hilarious, given that I had literally spent 20 minutes the previous day alphabetically organizing the spice racks.
Luckily, as I mentioned in my Winter Spices post, Allspice can be replicated with a mixture of cinnamon, clove, and nutmeg. All of which we DID have. There were some small substitutions we had to make, such as Scotch Bonnets not being available, so we used the previously mentioned Habaneros (if you have to make a similar substitution, just know that scotch bonnets are slightly sweeter than habaneros, so you can just add a very light amount of sweetness to better replicate it.)
Other than that, the biggest issue was, yet again, one of timing (man, it’s almost like I have one critical flaw in judgment, that causes a wide array of issues.) In short, after the draining experience of the dough, I spent the next half hour in a shell-shocked stupor on the couch, rather than pre-chopping all the ingredients to the filling. Which, given the earlier mixing issues, meant that dinner was clocking in pretty damn late by the time I started browning beef, so I said “I’ll just chop and add as I go”, which made that process a little more stressful than it needed to be (if I had pre-chopped, or had someone chop for me, the step would have been remarkably easy.)
"Put shit in pan and heat" isn't a complicated process.
IN the end, I rolled the dough out into…simply massive goddamn circles. We’re talking “a respectable size for a calzone” level expanses of dough. We filled them up, forgot to egg wash them to make them pretty, and baked them half-an-hour.
So, what was the result of my many switches, substitutions, and lamentations? A Jamaican Beef patty that was…pretty okay. The dough was dry, so clearly I cut back the fat a little too far in that part of the recipe, but the filling was nice and warm. Honestly, it was a little bland for my taste, despite having habanero, curry powder, allspice, and jerk seasoning. But with a bit of ranch or sweet chili sauce to hydrate the dough, it was a fine meal.
It ended up being the kind of “failure” that I really appreciate in the kitchen: while not all I hoped it would be, it was satisfying to all involved, and it gave me ideas for how to do it better next time. And for a first try cooking something from a culture I don’t know, using a recipe I doubted, and the wrong tools for the job, that’s really no failure at all.
As noted at the beginning, I’m trying to hold myself to better social media practices, so if you wanna help me keep to that goal, follow us on Twitter, where I’ll try to post something at least 3 times a week. You can also like our Facebook Page, where I’ll similarly be trying to keep things more alive and conversational. Finally, if you want to get the real inside scoop, and have a say in what’s coming up, support us on Patreon! Last year’s supporters almost completely offset the cost of our Squarespace account, (We only lost 40 cents for the whole year!) so we’re very close to offsetting all our technical costs with your guy’s support! As ever, we love to see people sharing our stuff, and trying our recipes! So get out there, and make 2018 an even more Catastrophic Year! (pun fully intended)
THURSDAY: JON REVISITS HANDPIES, AND TALK ABOUT ONE OF THE NICEST WEBSITES HE’S SEEN ALL YEAR.
MONDAY: I’M ACTUALLY GOING TO ASK MY PATRONS WHICH OF THE RECIPES I’VE GOT PRE-MADE SHOULD BE NEXT, SO IF YOU WANT A VOICE, CHECK OUT THE LINK ABOVE.
Jon’s Jamaican Beef Patty
4 cups flour
7 tbsp curry powder
4 tsp salt
2 cups unsalted butter, chilled
1 c vegetable shortening
1 c cold water
1 egg, beaten
2 tsp olive oil
1 yellow onion, finely chopped
1 lb ground beef
2 1/2 tsp curry powder
2 tsp fresh thyme, chopped
½ tsp allspice
½ tsp jerk seasoning
3 cloves garlic, finely chopped
¼ c Worcestershire
3 bay leaves
1 Scotch Bonnet pepper, seeded, deveined, and chopped (or 1 habenero and a drop of honey)
1. Make the dough: Mix together flour, curry powder, and salt. In a large food processor, or using the whisk attachment on a stand mixer, blend the butter and shortening together until it looks like coarse crumbs. Add the flour mix, and blend. Add the water, and blend until a ball forms. Remove dough, form into a ball, wrap with plastic wrap, and refrigerate at least 30 minutes.
2. Next, make the filling: heat oil over medium heat until hot. Add onions, and sauté for 3-5 minutes, until translucent.
3. Add the rest of the filling components, stir to incorporate, and cook until beef is thoroughly browned. Remove bay leaves.
4. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees, and roll out the pastry dough. You want 4 circles of roughly 1/8” thickness, roughly 6 inches across. Add ¼ of the beef mixture to each circle, folding the dough over to make a half-moon shape. Seal edges by crimping with a fork, brush with beaten egg, and bake on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper for 25 minutes.