Savory Pies: A Culinary Tour of Comfort

Savory pies are a beloved comfort food enjoyed the world over. With a flaky crust on the outside and a warm, satisfying filling within, these versatile dishes have become a staple in various cultures, each with its unique twist. Whether you’re indulging in a hearty meat pie, a vegetarian quiche, or a seafood-filled pastry, the world of savory pies is as delicious as it is diverse.

The Origins of Savory Pies

The history of savory pies dates back to ancient civilizations, where they were often used as a means to preserve food. The crust, usually hard and inedible, served as a cooking vessel for the filling, which could contain meats, vegetables, or fruits. Over time, the pastry shell became an integral, and scrumptious, part of the dish.

British and Irish Classics

Steak and Kidney Pie

A quintessential British comfort food, steak and kidney pie is a savory delight that combines cubed beef, kidney (often from lamb or pig), and rich gravy encased in a shortcrust or puff pastry. This hearty pie is a fixture in British pubs and home kitchens, where it is often served with mashed potatoes and peas.

Cornish Pasty

Originally a portable lunch for Cornish miners, the Cornish pasty has a thick crust that can be cradled in one hand. Traditionally filled with beef, potatoes, swede (rutabaga), and onion, it’s a complete meal in itself. The distinctive D-shape and crimped crust make it easily recognizable.

Shepherd’s Pie and Cottage Pie

Though not technically pies as they lack a pastry crust, shepherd’s pie and cottage pie are beloved British dishes with a similar concept. Shepherd’s pie is made with lamb, while cottage pie uses beef; both are topped with a layer of creamy mashed potatoes, then baked until golden.

French Savory Tarts

Quiche Lorraine

Hailing from the Lorraine region of France, Quiche Lorraine is a savory tart filled with a custardy mixture of eggs, cream, and smoked bacon or lardons. The addition of cheese, usually Swiss or Gruyere, adds richness to the flavors. Quiche has become a global favorite for its simplicity and elegance.


Tourtière originates from Quebec, Canada, but its roots can be traced back to French cuisine. It is a traditional meat pie enjoyed particularly around Christmas and New Year’s. Filled with minced pork, beef, or game meat, and flavored with a blend of spices like cinnamon, cloves, and nutmeg, it’s the holiday comfort food of choice.

Mediterranean and Middle Eastern Influences

Spanish Empanada

The empanada is a stuffed bread or pastry that can be found in many countries from Spain and Portugal to Latin America and the Philippines. The Spanish version often contains a filling of tuna, sardines, or chorizo, mixed with a tomato-based sauce, peppers, and onions.

Greek Spanakopita

Spanakopita is a savory Greek pie made from phyllo pastry, spinach, feta cheese, onions, and seasonings. The flaky layers of pastry and the rich, salty bite of feta cheese combined with the freshness of spinach provide a delightful taste sensation.

Turkish Börek

Börek is a family of stuffed and baked pastries made from thin layers of yufka dough in Turkish and Middle Eastern cuisines. The fillings can vary widely, including cheese, minced meat, or vegetables. One popular variant is the spinach and cheese börek, which is savory and satisfying.

Latin American Savory Pastries

Argentinian Empanadas

Similar to their Spanish cousins but with a distinct South American twist, Argentinian empanadas are typically filled with a mixture of minced meat, onions, boiled eggs, olives, and spices. They are a staple at parties and family gatherings and can be baked or fried.

Chilean Pastel de Choclo

This South American meat pie is unique due to its corn-based crust, which gives it a sweet and savory flavor profile. Its filling usually consists of ground beef, onions, hard-boiled eggs, olives, and raisins, making it a delectable example of Chilean cuisine.

Asian Savory Pies

Indian Samosas

While not a pie in the traditional sense, Indian samosas share the concept of a pastry-enclosed filling. These triangular pastries are usually filled with a spicy mix of potatoes, peas, lentils, and sometimes meat. Samosas are commonly enjoyed with a side of chutney.

Chinese Mooncakes

Mooncakes are traditionally made for the Mid-Autumn Festival but can be enjoyed year-round. While mostly known for their sweet versions, there are also savory varieties filled with lotus seed paste and salted egg yolk, pork, or mixed nuts.

American Contributions

Chicken Pot Pie

Chicken pot pie is an American classic featuring a creamy chicken and vegetable filling — typically peas, carrots, and potatoes — encased in a flaky pie crust. It is the epitome of comfort food, often found in both home-cooked meals and as a staple in diners across the country.

New Orleans Crawfish Pie

Crawfish pie is a Louisiana specialty, rich in flavor and history. This Cajun-inspired dish combines crawfish tail meat, the “holy trinity” of onion, celery and bell pepper, with a roux-based sauce, all baked in a delicious pie crust.

Preparation and Tips for Perfect Savory Pies

Creating the perfect savory pie involves attention to the crust and filling. For the crust, use cold butter and ice water to ensure flakiness, and do not overwork the dough. As for the filling, ensure your ingredients are well-seasoned and cooked just right before encasing them in pastry – overcooking can lead to a dry filling.

Finishing touches, like brushing the crust with egg wash, will give the pie a golden, appetizing glaze. And don’t forget to vent the top crust to allow steam to escape, which prevents the pastry from becoming soggy.

Finishing Thoughts

Savory pies offer a comforting embrace of flavor and tradition. From the rustic Cornish pasty to the sophisticated Quiche Lorraine, the culinary tour of savory pies around the globe reveals not only the versatility of these dishes but also the universal love for food that warms the soul. Whether you’re a seasoned chef or a curious cook at home, the world of savory pies invites you to explore and enjoy its rich flavors and heartening history.

Frequently Asked Questions

What exactly is a savory pie?

A savory pie is a dish consisting of a crust, usually made from pastry, that encloses or covers a filling of various savory ingredients. These fillings can include meats, vegetables, cheeses, and sauces, often cooked together to create a hearty and satisfying dish. Unlike sweet pies, savory pies are typically served as a main course or appetizer rather than dessert.

Can you give examples of savory pies from different cultures?

Yes! Savory pies are a staple in many cuisines around the world. For example, in the UK, there’s the classic steak and kidney pie, and the Cornish pasty. Australia and New Zealand are famous for their meat pies. In the United States, the pot pie, usually filled with chicken and vegetables, is popular. Spain has its empanada, and Italy offers the calzone. The Middle Eastern region has fatayer, and Latin America enjoys various versions of empanadas as well.

What are the most common ingredients used in savory pies?

The most common ingredients can vary depending on the regional recipes, but typically they include one or more types of meat (such as beef, chicken, pork, or lamb), vegetables (like potatoes, peas, carrots, or onions), cheese, and a rich sauce or gravy. The crusts are usually made from shortcrust pastry, puff pastry, or dough similar to bread dough.

How do I make the perfect crust for a savory pie?

The key to a perfect pie crust is keeping the ingredients, especially the fat and water, as cold as possible throughout the process. This ensures a flaky texture. Use a pastry cutter or your fingertips to blend the fat into the flour until it resembles coarse crumbs. Avoid overworking the dough, and let it rest in the refrigerator before rolling it out, which helps to prevent shrinkage during baking.

Are there vegetarian options for savory pies?

Absolutely! Vegetarian savory pies are just as delicious and can be filled with a variety of ingredients such as mushrooms, lentils, beans, cheese, and a plethora of vegetables. Spices and herbs are also used to add depth of flavor to the filling.

What makes the savory pie a comfort food?

Savory pies are often considered comfort food because they are warm, hearty, and satisfying. They contain a rich mix of flavors and textures that appeal to many people, and the act of cutting into a crust to reveal a steamy, aromatic filling can be quite comforting. Additionally, they are often shared with friends and family during gatherings, adding to the sense of comfort and community.

How can I serve savory pies?

Savory pies can be served in various ways depending on the pie and occasion. They can be served hot or warm, and are often accompanied by a side salad or vegetables to balance out the richness of the pie. Mini savory pies or hand pies can also make great appetizers or snacks.

Can savory pies be made ahead of time?

Many savory pies can be prepared in advance and stored in the refrigerator or freezer until ready to bake. This makes them a convenient option for meal prepping or for having a ready-to-go meal for unexpected guests. Just be sure to adjust baking times accordingly if you’re baking a pie straight from the freezer.

Are savory pies suitable for a potluck or dinner party?

Yes, savory pies are great for potlucks and dinner parties. They can be a centerpiece dish that’s easily shareable and enjoyed by many. Since they can be made in large sizes, they are perfect for feeding a crowd. Additionally, individual hand pies can be a fun and portable option for guests.

What’s the best way to store leftover savory pie?

Leftover savory pie should be cooled to room temperature before being covered and stored in the refrigerator. It will typically last for a few days. You can reheat it in an oven or toaster oven to maintain the crust’s crispness. Microwaving is also an option, although it may result in a softer crust.