Easter is arriving a bit early this year and winter is leaving a bit late so I decided to make one of my favorite comfort foods, a traditional English pork pie to mark the occasion. While the weather still allows for rather heavy fare.
Some may be asking, what exactly is a pork pie? Since they are few and far between in most parts of the States (though Southern New England is blessed with Hartley’s Pork Pies). Essentially an English pork Pie is comprised of a bunch of finely diced and spiced pork (think big sausage), set in aspic, all in a hot water pastry crust. Usually served cold nonetheless (actually I usually warm mine a bit and serve it with brown sauce). Pork pies have been around for a long time. For a short history I will just borrow from the UK site perfectpie, and I quote:
The first recorded recipe for a pork pie was 1390 in the kitchen of the Court of King Richard and today’s pork pie is still a direct descendent of the medieval pie tradition. Pork pies came from farmhouses to be eaten by the household and, like beer and cheese, were made by the woman of the house – I like to think we’re continuing that noble tradition. Pastry was used then like we use tupperware – it wasn’t eaten but contained the food. In the 18th century their asset was portability as the growth of more accessible transport happened, and in the Midlands they were especially useful for fox hunting – robust pocket picnics. With the rise of the industrial food production they became a cheap staple made in factories – but in the Midlands and the North the traditional approach continued well into the 20th century, and every town had a pork butcher with a secret family recipe who would have queues down the street eager for a hot pork pie straight from the oven on a Saturday morning.
Pork pie’s staying power is possibly due to how absolutely delicious they are. And if you are not lucky enough to have a pork pie shop in your neighborhood you are going to have to make your own.
Pork pies are really easy to make including the hot water pastry crust. Which is much easier to work with than a cold shortcrust pastry. Traditionally the crust would have been shaped around a pie dolly and then filled, but I find a springform pan (or even a loaf pan in a pinch) to be easier to use. The recipe calls for pork jelly, and that is definitely good. But honestly I usually just cheat and use a mix of stock and gelatin. because it makes it a lot easier. You can decide for yourself on how “traditional” you want to be on that front.
For the Pork Jelly:*
- 2 pigs feet
- 1 lb. pork bones
- 1 large carrot, chopped
- 1 large onion, chopped
- 1 stick of celery, chopped
- 1 bouquet garni (bay leaf, thyme, and parsley)
- 1/2 T. black peppercorns
- Place all of the pork jelly ingredients into a large pan and pour in enough water to just cover. Bring slowly to the boil, then reduce the heat to a simmer. Cook for three hours over a low heat, skimming off any scum that rises to the surface, then strain the stock through a fine sieve and discard the solids.
- Pour the sieved stock into a clean pan and simmer over a medium heat until the liquid has reduced to approximately 2 cups.
* The easy cheat for pork jelly is to mix 2 cups of hot stock with 1 envelope of Knox gelatin. It cuts down considerably on the work and time required for the recipe.
For the Filling:
- 2 lb. pork shoulder, finely chopped (¼” cubes)
- 8 oz. pork belly, finely chopped
- 8 oz. of ham or bacon, finely chopped
- 1 T. fresh sage, chopped
- 1/2 t. ground nutmeg
- 1/2 t. ground allspice
- 2 t. Gentleman’s Relish (anchovy paste) or 2 t. of Worcestershire sauce
- 1 t. salt
- 1/2 t. ground black pepper
- 1/2 t. ground white pepper
- Mix all the ingredients in a large bowl and set aside.
For the Pastry:
- 7 oz. lard
- 3/4 c. water
- 1/4 c. milk
- 4½ cups flour
- 1/2 t. salt
- pinch of ground black pepper
- 1 egg, beaten, for brushing
- Place the lard, water and milk into a small pan and gently heat until the lard has melted.
- Sift the flour into a large bowl and season with salt and ground black pepper and mix well.
- Make a well in the flour and pour in the warm lard mixture. Mix well to combine, until the mixture comes together to form a dough. Knead for a few minutes, then form into a ball and set aside.
Let’s Make the Pie:
- Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.
- Cut off 1/4 to 1/3 of the dough, wrap in cling film and reserve for the lid. Roll out the remaining dough to a circle and then transfer to an 8 inch springform pan. Working quickly while the dough is warm and pliable, press the dough evenly over the base and up the sides of the pan. Fill with the filling mixture and pack down well. Roll out the dough for the lid. Place on top of the pie. Crimp all around the edge to seal the pie.
- Make a 1 inch hole in the center of the pie.
- Bake at 350 degrees F. for 30 mins then reduce the heat to 325 degrees F. and cook for 90 minutes. Brush pie with egg, bake until golden, another 20-25 minutes.
- Remove the pie from the oven, let cool in the springform pan.
- Use a small funnel to pour the pork jelly into the pie through the hole in the top. Pour in a little at a time allowing a few seconds before each addition. Place in the fridge to set overnight.
- To serve, cut the pie into slices and serve with mustard, piccalilli, chutney or brown sauce.