Ode to the pork pie that never was

Deconstructed pork pie – sadly the jelly never made it inside the pie’s crust.

Now that a week has passed, I’m about ready to write about the tragedy that was my pork pie. It was an ambitious project…and I could have pulled it off. But I didn’t.

Don’t let this put you off though – I know exactly what went wrong, and I want you to learn from my mistakes, so that when you come to make this little beauty, it’s nothing but perfection.

There were two contributing factors to the pork pie’s collapse: impatience and over-excitement. I’m not going to lie – when you’re creating a pork pie, it’s hard to curb these two animal emotions. So my first two tips are to leave lots of time, and also to adopt the right mindset. Perhaps do some yoga beforehand, or put on some calming music – anything to keep you in a composed, meditative state.

Now, you’re not going to be able to find all the ingredients at your local Tescos, but don’t let this put you off.
Speak to an actual butcher – they’re really nice, and they’ll be able to scout out all the cuts for you, which are, incidentally very cheap. Bonus.
So, here’s everything that you’ll need:

Ingredients
For the Stock
A few pork bones
A pig’s trotter or a very small hock
1 onion, halved and studded with six cloves
A stick of celery, chopped in half
Six black peppercorns
Parsley, thyme and bay leaves
Roughly 2 litres of water

For the Crust
100g butter
100g lard
200ml water
550g plain flour
1.5 teaspoons salt
2 large eggs, plus another for glazing later
1 bay leaf

For the Filling
1.3 kg pork shoulder
250g smoked back bacon
250g belly pork, minced
1 heaped tablespoon chopped sage
1 tablespoon chopped thyme leaves
1 generous teaspoon salt (don’t go overboard as the bacon is salty)
1 generous teaspoon black pepper or to taste
1 generous teaspoon white pepper or to taste
Half a teaspoon of ground mace (substitute nutmeg if you don’t have it)

The first step with a pork pie is to create the jelly.
You’ll need to do this a couple of days before you plan to feast on the pie, so organisation is key.
It’s pretty much identical to making a stock…only you chuck in a trotter or two, and this amazing thing happens-the collagen breaks down, and turns into gelatin, which is the main ingredient of an old school jelly – it’s terribly exciting.

Tom’s insatiable excitement over a pig trotter

Just to clarify, at this stage you’re chucking all the ‘stock’ ingredients in a big pan, then gently simmering for at least three hours.
Strain out all the left over feckle, bones and other solids and then pour the delicious juices into a jug which, when put in the fridge overnight, turns into jelly.

Next is the pastry. One of the first things you have to do is try to expel anything you’ve been told about pastry-making from your mind, because the method for pork pie pastry is very different to your standard short crust.

Melt the butter and lard with the water over gentle heat.
If you were being spoiled (as I was) by having access to a Kenwood chef, then attach the K-shaped beater. Gently mix the flour, salt and eggs. Once it has started to come together, add the buttery-watery-lard very slowly-after a minute or so, the pastry should have naturally formed a ball.

If you’re not lucky enough to have access to a Kenwood chef, then mix everything in the same order in the way you usually would with handmade pastry – cut it together with a knife, and then use your hands to bring the pastry together in a ball.

Wrap the pastry in cling film, and then pop it in the fridge while you conjure up the juicy, meaty filling.

I used scissors to cut up the bacon into tiny pieces. Then I diced the pork shoulder into 1cm squared cubes. This was quite time consuming, but also very satisfying.
Put the bacon and the pork shoulder in a mixing dish, then add the minced pork belly, thyme, pepper, sage and a teeny weeny bit of salt (though be careful, because bacon really is notoriously salty anyway, and it’s a lot easier to add salt rather than take it out).

Now, take the pastry out of the fridge, and roll out 2/3 of it into a square.
The pastry should be nice and springy, so you shouldn’t have any problems with it disintegrating or behaving in an annoying fashion like a very short, shortcrust pastry.
Try and nail your rolled square first time though. When I scrumpled it up and tried to roll it out a second time, the pastry lost its elasticity, and was suddenly quite uncooperative.

I found that quite a deep, 18″ cake tin worked perfectly for the amounts in this recipe.
Whizz round the sides of the tin with some old butter paper so the pastry won’t stick.
Next line the cake tin with the pastry, and then tip in your meaty filling.

Roll out the final 1/3 of the pastry for the lid, and using very slightly wet hands, crimp together the sides and the top. Finally, stick a bay leaf in the lid to create a hole which will stay open during cooking, and brush the top of the pie with an egg yolk.

Pop the meaty pie in an oven at 180C for 30 minutes, and then reduce the heat to 160C to cook for another hour….

By the end of cooking, my pie was looking like the most handsome thing you’ve ever seen. Oh, never have I experienced such maternal pride at the sight of this wonderful, porky baby.

But our time together was to be short-lived, because this was the moment where things started to go wrong.
The instructions I was following told me to brush the whole pie with egg yolk, and give it a final ten minutes in the oven so that the outside turned golden.
I loosened the sides of the cake tin, and pushed the pie out, so that it was sat on the base. I could (and should) have quite easily brushed just the sides of the pie, and left the bottom alone. So why, oh why then did I decide that the base of the cake tin should come off too?
With the pie weighing quite a lot, and the pastry base being warm and supple, and a little bit damp from the meat juices, when I tried to slide the pie off, the base stuck and the rest of it moved, detaching the top of the pie from the bottom, and flooding the kitchen floor with meat juices.
There was a motionless twenty seconds where we just stood and stared – interrupted only by the steady drip of meat juice onto the floor tiles. Then Tom and Andy jumped into action, ushering me out of the room, away from the scene of devastation, and pouring me a large gin and tonic.

Disaster strikes as the bottom falls off and the insides fall out – shame.

For a pork pie to be a pork pie, it must have a jelly layer between the meat and the pastry. Without a tightly sealed pie to pour the liquid jelly in, it’s impossible.
The plus side of this story is that the pie was devoured as a ‘meat pie’ rather than a ‘pork pie’ – everyone generously told me that they didn’t like the jelly part anyway. Such good friends.

Hopefully by this point, you will have learned from my mistakes though, and as you are reading this part of the recipe, you’re sat next to a proud, in tact pork pie. So, I shall instruct you on how to finish the recipe.
Wait for the pie to cool, then remove the bay leaf – if you do this while the pie is still hot, then it might spew hot meat juices up through the hole, which would discolour the pastry lid and be a great shame.
Now, heat up 250ml of your porky jelly so it turns back into a liquid. Using a funnel, pour through the hole in the lid, and then put the pie in the fridge overnight, so the liquid-jelly has a chance to cool and set.

Finally, create a haiku to celebrate your pork pie, invite all your most carnivorous friends round for lunch, and add the achievement to your CV.

Savoury tarts for a posh picnic

It’s been a true British summer so far – the sun’s been teasing us by skulking behind clouds, re-emerging in its full glory just as we’re packing up to go home.

But don’t let the weather dictate your picnic. The trick is the mindset: British stoicism and determination to have a damned good lunch, come rain or shine.

Anyway, I thought I’d do a post on a classic picnic recipe so that you’ve at least got the food part sorted…even if it does get washed away as soon as you lay it out.

By doing savoury tarts, you’re cutting down on all the faff, coordination and packaging that can mar a cocktail sausage and scotch egg-based picnic. All you need is one container for the tarts, a bag of salad, and a jam jar of dressing (or- even better, an old mustard pot so you get the dregs of the mustard flavouring the olive oil, vinegar and lemon).

No chasing packaging caught by gusts of wind, or lugging home bags full of empty plastic containers – but a simple, sophisticated and delicious picnic.

Ingredients (makes 12 tarts – 6 of each)

Pastry
500g plain flour
250g butter
18 teaspoons of cold water

Filling
600ml creme fraiche
4 eggs
slosh of milk
2 red onions
slosh of balsamic vinegar
1 pack of goat’s cheese
fresh thyme
5 lumps of frozen spinach

Start off by making the pastry. Mix together the flour and butter, then stir in the water. If you’re the lucky owner of a Kenwood Chef with a K-whisk, then use this. If you don’t, then get your hands involved. Once it’s bound together, and moulded into a ball shape, then wrap in clingfilm and put in the fridge for at least 10 minutes.

People get hysterical about pastry, but it really is quite easy-go on, give it a go-you’ll taste the difference!

Roll out the pastry. Make sure there’s lots of flour on the board and on your rolling pin to stop it from getting too sticky. You can roll it all out in one go, and then use pastry cutters to lift out all the circles for your cases.

I tore off little blocks from the ball of pastry, and then rolled them out one by one, then pressed it into the (buttered) cases.

Now the controversial bit. Conventionally, you’d start messing about with baking beans and greaseproof paper to blind bake the cases. BUT, I think that it changes tart-making from being a relaxing and quick(ish) activity to being quite a fiddley and arduous task. (and I always find it so demoralising when I blind bake a fairly shallow tart case, only to take it out and see that the pastry’s shrunk and the filling won’t fit.) The contents of the tart should mainly prevent the pastry from developing bubbles-and if the odd one does happen…well, it’ll just make it look rustic.

Next, fry the red onions in butter, then add a couple of cap-fulls of balsamic vinegar for a bit of bite. Cook until they’re soft.

For the base of the flans, mix the creme fraiche and eggs with a slosh of milk and lashings of pepper. The beauty of this is that you can now flavour it with pretty much anything.

I divided the filling-base in two. For my first six tartlettes, I lined the bottom of the flan cases with the red onions, then poured the mixture on top. Finally, I topped with goats cheese, thyme and a generous grind of pepper.

Next, I popped the frozen spinach in the microwave, and then added it to the other half of the filling-base. Once spooned inside the tart cases, grate a generous amount of nutmeg over the top – it adds a fresh and interesting taste to the spinach tarts.

Pop the tarts in the oven at 180C for 20-25 minutes. Check half way thorough, because if you’re cooking all the tarts at once, you might have to switch round some of them in the oven so they’re all done evenly.

Voila!

These make a brilliant picnic treat. No messing about with cocktail sausages, scotch eggs and fussy packaging. Pack the tarts, a bagful of salad, and dressing in a jam jar.

…or if you fancy treating yourself to a posh packed lunch, then that works just fine too!