Tara, one of our very favorite meat-eating vegetarians, is on the San Francisco leg of her book tour. Happily for us, we’ve been able to see quite a bit of her when she’s not chatting with admirers, moderating debates between militant vegetarians and ethical carnivores, and seducing the crowds with her prose.
We got to talking about meat pies in general and pork pies in particular, and Tara told us about something that she had read in Danny, The Champion of the World, by Roald Dahl. The passage, which she first encountered when she was very young, describes a cold meat pie with hard-boiled eggs buried in it. The description struck a nerve, and it stayed with her into adulthood (apparently, she’s not the only one).
I love meat pies. Love, love, love, love. Cornish pasties, forfar bridies, empañadas, pot pies, steak pies, pork pies, you name it; there’s just something completely, utterly, and ineffably right about the combination of meat and pastry. Tara hadn’t even finished her story before Anita and I were waggling our eyebrows at each other and grinning like schoolkids. “So,” I asked the woman who has only recently begun to forge a relationship with meat after a lifetime of vegetarianism, “Want to make a pork pie?”
What fun! While Anita weighed and diced up the filling, Tara pulled together the hot-water crust with the quick, sure movements of a woman who has been cooking almost since she could walk. I caught the briefest of hesitations when she turned to the next step, but undaunted, she was quickly up to her forearms in a bowl of three different kinds of cold chopped pork. In honor of Mr. Dahl’s Danny, we buried hard-boiled eggs in the filling, and then I rolled out the top crust and crimped it in place.
This is my third time through this recipe, taken from The River Cottage Meat Book, and it’s a winner. The recipe doesn’t call for hard-boiled eggs, but they did just fine when we popped them in there.
The only downside of pork pie is that — because it’s best cold — you don’t get to taste it until the day after you’ve made it. We put together the pie on Sunday and it was our Dark Days Challenge dinner on Monday night, with pickles and mustard on the side.
Raised Pork Pie
- adapted from The River Cottage Meat Book
2# pork shoulder, cut into 1/2 inch cubes
8 oz fatty sausage meat (or ground pork belly)
8 oz salt pork, pancetta, or bacon, finely chopped
5 to 6 hard-boiled eggs, top and bottom trimmed so yolk shows through (optional)
12 sage leaves, finely chopped
leaves from 2 good sprigs of thyme, chopped
1 tsp salt
1 tsp coarsely ground black pepper
1 t ground white pepper
1/2 tsp ground mace
A good pinch of cayenne pepper
1 bay leaf
1 cup good pork stock that will set to jelly
7 T lard, diced
7 T butter, diced
Scant 1 cup water
4 1/4 c AP flour (approximately 630 g)
1-1/2 t salt
2 medium eggs, beaten, plus 1 egg, beaten, to glaze
Make the hot water crust pastry first. Put the lard , butter, and water in a saucepan and heat gently until melted; do not let it boil. Put the flour and salt in a mixing bowl. Make a hollow in the center and add the beaten eggs, stirring them gently around with a knife so they are half mixed with the flour. Pour in the melted fat and water and mix together to form a soft dough; add up to 3 1/2 T extra warm water if it is too dry. Knead gently, adding more flour if it is too sticky to handle. Wrap in plastic wrap and chill thoroughly (at least 1 hour).
For the filling, mix all the meats with the herbs, salt, and seasonings (except the bay leaf), so they are thoroughly combined.
Now assemble the pie. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Cut off a generous quarter of the pastry and keep in the fridge, for the lid. On a floured surface, roll out the rest of the pastry into a 12 inch circle around 1/3 inch thick. Use this to line an 8 inch springform (or removable bottom) cake pan, pressing the pastry into the sides and flattening any overlap with your fingers. It should come 2-1/2 to 3 inches up the sides of the pan.
Fill with the seasoned pork mixture and push the bay leaf into the middle of it. (If you are adding eggs, lay down a thin layer of filling, place the eggs in a ring halfway between the center and the pie edge, and then add the rest of the filling around and covering the eggs.) Roll out the reserved piece of pastry into a circle about the size of the pan. Brush the edges of the lining pastry with a little beaten egg, and lay the pastry lid on top of the pie. crimp the edges together so they are sealed. Cut a 1/3-inch diameter hole in the center of the pastry lid.
Place the pie in the oven and bake for 30 minutes. reduce the temperature to 325 degrees and bake for a further 1-1/4 hours. If your top crust is concave instead of convex, a pool of juice and fat may form around the center hole during baking that you’ll want to remove with a turkey baster, or the crust may become soggy.
Remove the pie from the oven and carefully release the side of the pan. Brush the top and sides of the pie with beaten egg and cook for another 15 minutes to set the glaze. Take the pie out of the oven and allow to cool. The filling will have shrunk slightly, creating a cavity that is traditionally filled with jellied stock. When the pie is still a little warm, heat the jellied stock just until it’s pourable — not too hot! Carefully lift the edges of the center hold of the pastry with the tip of a knife, making sure you have good access to the cavity. Use a small funnel or, better still, a turkey baster to gently introduce the stock through the center hole. Tilt the pie from time to time to distribute the stock, then try and get a little more in. Stop when the stock begins to overflow from the hole. Leave the pie to cool, then put it in the fridge.
Farmers and food artisans who created the ingredients for this week’s meal:
Shasta Valley Farm, Gazelle: pork loin and pork sausage
Boccalone, Oakland: pancetta
Prather Ranch, MacDoel: leaf lard
Soul Food Farm, Vacaville: eggs
Guisto’s Vita-Grain, South San Francisco: flour, sea salt
Spring Hill Cheese Company, Petaluma: butter
…and our own homemade pickles, and homegrown celery and carrots (for pork jelly); sage, bay, and thyme
exemptions: pepper, mace, cayenne