Rumbling Ramblings: Baa Baa Balsamic Lamb Pie

Words: Karl Tessendorf

When it comes to food, everyone has their favourite. For me, ever since I can remember, it’s been pies. They are my absolute Achilles’ heel and for good reason. I mean who doesn’t like pastry? It’s the crispy, golden food of the gods, and when you pack it full of meat and gravy… come on. Speaking of Achilles, I’m pretty sure that had the Greeks arrived at the gates of Troy with a boatload of pies instead of warriors, they would have had a much warmer reception.

The inspiration for this adventure comes from a trip to the Knysna Oyster Festival. After a conversation with a fellow pie enthusiast, I stopped at the Peregrine Farm Stall in Elgin on the way home. He told me that their springbok pie was his ultimate, so naturally I had to try one. I bought two just to be sure, along with two pepper steak for further research purposes. I smashed one in the parking lot before leaving and I have to say, Peregrine makes a pie that I’d happily offer up to the gods.

So, with a satisfied feeling in my belly and pie crumbs in my beard, I began to plan my pie for Rumbling Ramblings. Originally I had another recipe in mind, which involved braaied peri-peri chicken, but after an epic dinner at a friend’s house everything changed. My friend Kate whipped up a simple red wine and balsamic-braised lamb dish. As soon as I tasted it, I knew I had my pie filling. The lamb was fall-apart tender and the braising liquid had reduced to a dark, almost sticky consistency. It was sweet and tart at the same time, and because it’s made with lamb knuckle, you get to slurp the marrow out of the bones.

I’ve used an easy-to-make, hot water pastry because it gives a golden, buttery crust. There’s also no need to blind bake the pastry before filling, just remember to remove (and slurp) the bones before filling the pie. I’m a sucker for anything country, so I’ve used a round dish for added country charm. If you really want to evoke some children’s storybook memories, you could leave it to cool near the windowsill and let the scent of freshly baked pastry permeate the neighbourhood.

Thanks to Kate for sharing the lamby goodness recipe, and to whoever invented pastry, you have my eternal gratitude.

Baa Baa Balsamic Lamb Pie
Serves: 6
Difficulty: moderate
Prep time: 1 hour
Cooking time: 5 hours (2-3 hours braising + 1 hour in the oven for baking pastry)

Lamb Pie Filling
2 kg lamb knuckle
salt and freshly ground pepper
flour to dust the knuckles
splash of oil for frying
3 medium-size onions, thinly sliced
4 garlic cloves, finely chopped
1 Tbsp (15 ml) fresh rosemary, chopped
1 Tbsp (15 ml) fresh thyme, chopped
1 C (250 ml) balsamic vinegar
2 C (500 ml) red wine
2 C (500 ml) lamb or beef stock

Easy as Pie Pastry
450 g cake flour
1 Tbsp (15 ml) salt
200 ml water
180 g butter
2 egg yolks for egg wash

Balsamic Onion Topping
splash of oil for frying
1 large onion, thinly sliced
½ C (125 ml) balsamic vinegar
1 C (250 ml) red wine
1 C (250 ml) lamb or beef stock
salt and freshly ground pepper


Preheat the oven to 160 °C.

Grease a ceramic dish well with butter (approximately 23 cm in diameter and 7 cm deep).

Lamb Pie Filling
To braise this lamb to perfection you’re going to need an ovenproof pot – something cast iron like a Dutch oven works well. This recipe starts on the stovetop and will then go into the oven to continue braising.

Firstly, season the lamb knuckles well with salt and pepper and then dust with flour. Heat a splash of oil in the cast iron pot and fry off the lamb in batches to seal. Remove the lamb and set aside. Add a little more oil to the pot and fry off the onion until soft. Add the garlic and fry for a minute, and then add the herbs and balsamic vinegar.

Bring to a boil, add the wine, and continue to boil until the mixture reduces by half – by doing this the alcohol, and the sharpness of the vinegar, cook off. Add the stock and bring back up to a boil. Add the meat back to the pot, cover with the lid and whack it into the oven for 2 hours to braise. Check it about an hour and a half in; if it needs more liquid add some extra stock. After two hours, the lamb should be fork tender. If there’s still a lot of liquid, continue to reduce on the stove until it is nice and sticky. Once the desired consistency is reached, remove from the stove and set aside to cool.

When the lamb is cool enough to work with it’s time to debone. Remove the meat, debone and add back to the gravy. Set aside and begin to work on the balsamic onions.

Balsamic Onion Topping
Making the balsamic onions follows the same process as the first batch of onions – the only difference is that the mixture is halved, and that there are no herbs or garlic. So to recap, place a frying pan over a medium heat, add a splash of olive oil, and fry off the onion until soft. Throw in the balsamic and bring to a boil. Throw in the wine and cook until reduced by half. Add the stock, bring to a boil, and reduce until the onions are dark and sticky. Remove from the heat until ready to use – these will top the lamb filling when assembling the pie.

Easy as Pie Pastry
Start by mixing the flour and salt in a large bowl. Bring the water and butter to a boil in a small saucepan. Make a well in the flour and toss the melted, hot butter and water mixture into the middle. Mix with a spoon until it starts to come together. When you’ve got a nice ball of dough, you’re done. Let it cool for a few minutes and you’re ready to roll.

To assemble the pie, start off by preheating the oven to 180 °C.

Divide the dough in half for the top and bottom. Dust a rolling surface with flour and get started on the base.

Roll the dough into a rough circle, about R5 coin thickness. Make sure that you have enough pastry to line the base and sides of the dish, leaving enough to create a little lip above the dish. This is important, as the lid needs something to stick to. Gently lift and place the pastry into the greased dish, lining the bottom and sides. Trim excess pastry.

Spoon the lamb filling into the dish and try not to eat it all before you seal the pie. Take the extra balsamic onion topping and layer it on top of the lamb.

Using the other half of the pastry, start to roll the top. Again, roll it out to about the thickness of a R5 coin – ensure that it’s large enough to cover the top of the pie dish, with enough allowance to bring the base and top together and trim.

Before you gently lower the top onto the pie, brush the edges of the base pastry with egg wash. This will act as glue. Using the tips of your fingers, gently pinch the top and base together and trim excess pastry, if need be. Once sealed and secure, cut 3 slits into the centre of the pastry ‘lid’ to enable the steam to escape. Brush the top and edges generously with egg wash.

Place the pie into the oven on the middle rack and bake for 1 hour. Keep an eye on it, when it’s golden brown, it’s ready to come out. Be sure to leave the pie to cool for at least 10 minutes before you tuck in.

Serve with creamy chive mash, peas and a good glass of red for a country-inspired feast.

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