Everyone loves Pi Day. Sure, there are other holidays that are celebrated by consumption excess. But I know of no other square on the calendar designated for the combined observance of food and mathematics. March 14 is it. And I will take the opportunity to celebrate such a ridiculous contrivance every time.
I’ll try to get to the point here. We celebrated Pi Day 2012 with a family pie competition. For the second year in a row, I was invited to participate, and for the second year in a row, Shira and I took home a top prize with a recipe that didn’t exist a week prior. I’m no baker, nor even a particularly skillful cook, but I apparently make a damn tasty pie. Last year, it was deep fried key lime and lemon pies. This year, we went the savory route and created the BBQ Brisket Pie.
I wasn’t exactly intending a professional documentation and publication of this event, so the photos aren’t perfect. But enjoy them and salivate nonetheless.
So, I start with a nice bowl of smoked beef brisket, sliced from the local BBQ restaurant. It was mostly of the lean variety, but I did mix in some of the fattier bits for added flavor (as if this dish needs additional fat). Obviously you should smoke your own, given the time and the means, but we lacked both.
I give it a little chop action, aiming for just the right texture. I thought a food processor might overdo it, resulting in more of a meat paste. I wanted it to be a little coarser than your average chopped beef sandwich, and the dull serrated knife actually worked great.
I left the chop a little coarse, because I intended to break it up a little more in this next step. I add ample barbecue sauce (a slightly sweet vinegar-based recipe) and mix it all up with a fork. Done.
So, next we had to figure out what else goes with brisket to include in the Brisket Pie. I thought a layer of sliced red onions would add the crunchy texture to an otherwise sloppy slice of meat pie. I also envisioned a layer of mashed potatoes to give it some more substance. Shira mixed up a buttery batch of creamy potatoes mixed with caramelized white onions, and I let it cook until a little dry to help hold the whole thing together when sliced. I planned to drizzle a layer of reserved BBQ sauce, infused with some minced jalapeño, over the potatoes, to keep things moist and add a little kick.
Yesssss. The Brisket Pie filling is coming together quite nicely.
Hold everything. The original plan was to start with a biscuit dough pie crust, but we thought it might become soggy after cooking. At some point in any improvised cooking project, one asks himself, “What would make this even better?” The answer at least 91% of the time is, of course, bacon. Yes, this is a Brisket Pie. But no one ever screwed up a meal by adding superfluous pork products. So, calling on my vast and varied experience with the Bacon Explosion, I aimed to weave a mat of delicious pig belly to create what—at least in my mind—would become a crispy bacon pie crust. And I had the genius idea to construct it on some plastic wrap to ease the transfer into a pie pan.
And after a quick flip, the bacon crust “dough” is in the pan. The 6×6 lattice fit perfectly after tucking some of the overhang beneath the rest of the crust.
I figure I can’t really go wrong with some more gratuitous bacon shots. And there’s an important lesson here. After a few minutes in the oven, 12 slices of bacon create a lot of grease, which I needed to eliminate to reach the optimal crispy consistency throughout. My solution? Bake the crust in a disposable aluminum pie pan. After about 10 minutes of cooking (shown here), I poke a bunch of holes in the bottom of the pan, allowing the grease to drip out onto the catch pan below. Then let it keep on cookin’. I also used a few toothpicks to hold down some of the edges which were starting to curl undesirably into the pan.
For something we just made up on-the-fly, this all worked remarkably well. It took a lot of baking because I kept opening the oven to check the status (and nibble crispy bacon edges), but it eventually came out as one nice, crispy, pie-shaped bacon weave. The next time, I might increase it to 7×7 slices to better accommodate shrinkage. Maybe start cooking it flat, and then work it into the pan shape once it starts crisping a bit. But I ain’t complaining.
The next day, we brought the glorious crusts and filling to the Pi party. Yes, you’re seeing that correctly. We actually made two Brisket Pies in anticipation of the exceptional demand a creation like this might generate. I also just wanted leftovers. So, on top of the bacon crust, I add a layer of mashed potatoes, the red onion rings and spicy sauce, and then a layer of chopped BBQ beef. Now it’s starting to look like a pie!
On one of the pies, I forgot to add the onions and sauce onto the potato layer as I had planned, so I just added them on top of the meat mixture. I mean, it’s not going to ruin the pie or anything. I used one jalapeño minced finely into maybe a half-cup of sauce. I’d probably opt for much more pepper in a future iteration, but I didn’t want to offend anybody’s mouthparts at the family gathering.
Final assembly step: mix up a batch of standard biscuit dough, roll into a flat sheet, and apply to the top of the pie. Cut optional holes for ventilation. Model the finished king-of-all-meat-pies. While this all came together quite nicely, I would make the top crust much thicker next time for more biscuity goodness.
Bake until biscuit crust is done (filling should also be nice and warm. Slice and serve with optional sour cream, or perhaps even some sweet cinnamon apple preserves. Perhaps. I also considered cooking it in a rectangular casserole dish to maybe make slicing easier (in squares). The round pie worked just fine, though.
And there you have it. My soon-to-be-famous BBQ Brisket Pie. Bacon bottom crust, biscuit top crust. Shepherds wish they had it this good. And the result at the 2012 Pi Day competition? First place, of course. Go Team Butberg! This thing was rich, savory, and undeniably delicious. It really exceeded my expectations, and I had high expectations. My recommendation: whip up a tasty BBQ Brisket Pie for your next gathering (or lonely Thursday). No one will complain.