Archive for April 17th, 2005

son of pork pie

My Lamb In Hay post from a couple of weeks back prompted a small amount of controversy, not least from one e-mail correspondent accusing Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall of being a reclusive, sherry-quaffing opium addict. And while my version of the dish wasn’t a complete success, I’m prepared to give Britain’s favourite Chef-in-need-of-a-haircut a second chance, for two reasons:

  1. His Meat cookbook, which I’ve been reading, comes wrapped in a clever wipe-clean binding. Why this is not common practice in culinary manuals, where a stray fleck of blackberry jus or an accident with the Bourguignon sauce can render the cover of the most expensive tome bin-worthy, I don’t know.
  2. I got really drunk with his literary agent once.

So there I was, wandering around the food hall at Selfridges, listening to NWA on my iPod, when it struck me. I would make a Pork Pie, combining one of Hugh’s more testing recipes with my own unceasing lust for the Pâté en croûte De Porc, as they probably don’t call it in France.

First up is the stock. I attempt to get some bones from my butcher of choice, a fine establishment run by Kent and Sons in St. John’s Wood, but apparently Tuesday is bone day, so I end up buying a fistful of pork ribs which I’ll have to eat in order to free up the scraps I need. Combined with leeks, onions and carrots, the stock is ready for cooking.

I let it simmer for a few hours, and begin to prepare the pie itself.

What is lard? Until proceeding with this project, I didn’t actually know. One quick Google later I discover that it’s an abbreviation of Laryngeal Reflux Disease, a manifestation of gastro-oesophageal reflux disease that occurs in the laryngeal region. This doesn’t sound quite right, but it’s required for the pastry, so into the mixing bowl it goes. Add some butter, a couple of beaten eggs, some salt and some water, and before you know it my 20cm high-sided springform is ready to accept its porky payload.

The meat itself is a mixture of finely chopped pork shoulder, minced pork belly and streaky bacon, combined with chopped sage and thyme leaves, ground mace, salt, pepper, and a bay leaf. Except that I’ve forgotten to buy some bay leaves, so my version doesn’t have one. And some cayenne pepper, which I do have, but forget to add. Oh dear. But it does look quite splendid as it waits for its pastry hat, as you can see below.

Carefully, I add the lid, manually crimping the edges. This task requires a great deal of patience, which I don’t really have, something which will come back to haunt me later on… but right now it’s ready to bake.

I start by baking the pie for 30 minutes at 180° before dropping the temperature to 160° for an hour and a quarter. At this point the point the pie is removed from the oven, glazed using a beaten egg, then returned to the heat for a final fifteen minutes. I retrieve the pie from the heat one final time and begin the most delicate part of the process, adding the stock I prepared earlier through a small hole cut in the top of the pie. What I don’t realise is that my lack of patience earlier in the procedure has caused a small tear to develop in the crust and, once the liquid has reached it certain level, it escapes through this fissure as fast as I’m able to add it. It’s too late to start again, so into the fridge it goes, cooling overnight. The next morning, it’s ready.

Wow. Would you look at that? It’s a pie of rare and tremendous beauty, if you ask me. To get an idea of the size of this beast, the picture below shows my creation alongside a copy of Hassidic New Wave’s avant-jazz-klezmer classic “Psycho Semitic”.

Finally, it’s time to eat. A couple of slices are carefully separated from the main body of the pie and rested on plates. After pacing up and down for a while I nervously raise a portion to my lips and take a bite. It’s delicious. The herby fragrance of the organic pork, nestling gently in a bed of ambrosial jellied stock, exquisitely wrapped in delicious pastry – it’s a sensation, if I do say so myself.

Result.