I’ve recently been given a great new book, Pig: A Passion for Pork, by Johnnie Mountain (yes that’s really his name) and was inspired to spend an afternoon in the kitchen. On this occasion an attempt at a swine classic was on the menu, the humble Pork Pie. I reckon I’d welcome the opportunity to have another shot at the pastry but I was pretty pleased with myself over the filling!
The pork pie challenge began as usual with a little research, comparing the various recipes from the books in my growing collection, followed by a bit of a surf online. A common theme amongst all the recipes I sourced goes something along the lines of, “it’s a lot of work but the rewards are truly worthwhile”. I would like to add my confirmation of that report to the collective file. Hand mincing one and a half kilos of shoulder, belly and loin is a tedious task but let me assure you once I had tasted this stuff I found myself dreaming about it at work, longing to get home to dive into another slice!
There are three components to the pork pie: the pastry, the filling and the jelly. You prepare these in reverse and I will list the ingredients here in relation to each.
For the jelly:
2 trotters (or substitute with one sachet gelatine)
pork bones – about 500g -1kg
2 med onions, quartered’
1 celery stalk, halved
5 bay leaves
1 tsp black peppercorns
2 tsp fennel seeds
For the filling:
800g pork shoulder
6 bacon rashers
200g fresh pork belly
200g smoked pork belly
4 sprigs fresh thyme leaves
8 sage leaves
1/2 tsp freshly ground nutmeg
1 tbsp ground all spice
For the pastry:
50g real butter
4 cups sifted plain flour
First the jelly (I really don’t like that word!), quite simply take out the biggest pot you have and put everything in it, cover with water and bring to the boil. I scored the skin on the trotters a little to make them a little more ‘interactive’. Note there is no salt added yet. Once boiling, turn down the heat and simmer for at least three hours. Strain the liquid through a sieve and return to the stove on medium heat until the liquid is reduced to about a pint (6ooml). Now is the time to taste for saltiness. The flavour will be deliciously porky and the liquid slightly sticky and oily. Yum.
Now for the filling, the first and most tedious task is to mince all the meat by hand. You can actually ask your butcher to mince all the meat for you, or part of it and then do the rest by hand. I did the lot by hand aiming for a better finished texture overall. Make sure you spend a few minutes sharpening your knife as this will make the exercise a lot safer and easier. The goal is to achieve an end product that is a combination of different chunk sizes with the biggest about 1cm cubed. Leave all the fat in, its prevents the meat from drying out both in the oven, and in the refrigerator afterwards.
Once you’ve minced your way through all of it, take about 1/3 and pulse it in a food processor to make something of a paste that will help to bind the remainder together. Transfer all the meat to a large mixing bowl, add the various herbs and spices and mix it up with your hands. Don’t be afraid to get stuck in and have a bit of fun! Once its well blended, have a taste (yes it’s raw but it won’t hurt you) and adjust your seasoning accordingly; as it is being served cold you can go a little heavier on the flavours you like but be cautious of oversalting. When you think it’s good, cover the meat directly with cling film and refrigerate.
Lastly, the pastry. Preheat the oven to 180C so it’s ready to go when you are. You’ll need to decide whether you’re going to do one big pie, or several smaller ones. For a single large one, a spring form cake tin 20 or 25cm diameter will be about right. For smaller pies, I recommend using ramekins to shape the individual pastries and it helps if you have one for each one you intend to make, more on that in a moment. This is the way I did it and for this recipe you will have enough for about 8-10 fist sized pies. You will also need a deep cup muffin tray to bake the pies in once you’ve formed them (I didn’t and this is where my plan fell down a little, more on that in a minute)
In a saucepan, melt the lard, butter and water until they are just beginning to boil, then turn the heat off and swirl it around thoroughly. The following needs to be done a little swiftly; don’t rush, but don’t take a phone call half way through either! Sift the flour into a large bowl, make a well in the centre and slowly pour in the liquid while stirring with a spoon. When the dough starts to come together, turn it out onto a floured surface and use your hands to knead it. It should be lovely, warm and soft and when rolled out be able to drape over your hand without tearing. Take off around a third and set it aside (this will be for the lids). Roll the appropriate sized circle(s) out; each needs to be fairly thick, about 4-5mm. Arrange the ramekins/small jars on a tray and drape a circle over each, shape it gently around the ramekin being careful to achieve an even thickness all over.. and don’t worry – rustic is OK here! Trim the excess and refrigerate for about 10minutes or until they firm up enough to be taken from the mould without collapsing. Take the remaining dough and roll out the lids. To fill each pie, roll the filling into balls, large enough to take up most of the room in the pastry, this will shrink in the oven, so you can be generous. Place the lids over and pinch the side and tops together, make sure they’re well sealed. Make two little slits in the top to let the steam out.
Once you’re done forming the pies, ideally you would then place them in a deep cup muffin tray, brush with a lightly beaten egg and put them in the oven for around 30mins at 180C before turning the heat down to 150C for a further 1-1/2 hrs. I say “ideally” because I made the mistake of returning them to the oven on a normal tray and then watched them all sag within 10minutes as they heated up and the pastry softened! An easy trap for rookie players I’m sure! I’m a bit too embarrassed to post the photos -it was all going so well!
Once they’re done baking, remove from the oven and cut a 1 x 1cm hole in the top of each. Using a funnel, pour the reduced jelly liquid into each pie (you may need to warm it slightly if it has already set) until it overflows. It would be worth doing letting the liquid find its way all around and do it a second time to make sure they’re really full, again something I will do better next time.
Refrigerate and relax, you’re almost done! Just another couple of hours to wait until the jelly sets, a great time to clean up the huge mess you’ve just made; I did say almost!
Now for the moment of truth. Serve cold or room temperature with anything you like, traditionally pickled relish or chutney. I hope you find yours to be just as rewarding as I did mine, it was totally worth the effort and everyone who tried it was squealing with delight!