This weekend I fulfilled my year-long plan to make my own pork pie from scratch.
I used Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s recipe from River Cottage Meat. Well… sort of. I used his recipe for the pastry, but screwed around with the meat content quite a bit.
Hugh calls for 1kg of pork shoulder, 250g belly pork and 250g salt pork. Well, I didn’t have any belly or salt pork spare, but I did have a pig’s head that needed using up. So I followed the recipe for making brawn right up to the point just before you set it in jelly, then added that to some pork shoulder we had left in our freezer. Making the brawn was actually the longest part of the recipe, as it’s 24 hours soaking in brine and 4 hours simmering in stock. I ended up with about 900g of lean shoulder meat, 900g of fairly fatty head meat, and 250g of fat from the head.
To make up the meat mix, I finely chopped all of the above – the head meat pretty much as finely chopped as if I’d minced it, the shoulder cut into roughly 5mm cubes. (That sentence barely describes the work involved – that’s a *lot* of chopping.) Then mixed with herbs and spices and a little salt.
Making the pastry was pretty easy. A 50/50 mix of butter and lard is added to some water, and melted over a gentle heat, and then mixed with some beaten egg into plain flour. It’s a pretty weird process – there’s something kind of disgusting about melting lard and butter together, and it gets worse as you stir it into the flour, which looks like it is sort of curdling before your eyes. But if you press ahead and keep mixing, it comes together nicely. The dough is pretty strange though. Texture-wise, it’s light and springy like bread dough, and very moist, almost sweaty, in a way that normally would call for more flour to stop it sticking to your hands – but in this case, it doesn’t stick at all.
After all that faff, it was pretty plain sailing. After an hour in the fridge, the pastry is rolled out and used to line a tin, the meat is packed in and then a pastry lid put on the top. A couple of hours in the oven and it’s done – a crisp, crunchy pastry and savoury meat filling. Yum!
A few of things merit further comment. First, although I had about 50% more meat than the recipe called for, I ended up needing more than double the amount of pastry. I’m not sure if I was just generous in how much pastry I used for each pie, but I ran out on the first batch and had to do a second.
Second, the brawn substitution seemed to work fine. However, the filling’s structural integrity wasn’t all that good. The meat crumbled a bit when the pie was cut. I have no idea whether that is what would have happened with the basic recipe.
Finally, I followed the traditional advice, to pour pork stock in to fill the gap that was supposed to develop between the filling and the pastry lid as the meat shrunk during cooking. The idea is that it fills the gap and then sets as jelly. What actually happened was that I poured the stock in, until it seemed to have filled the gap (a lot of stock used), and left it in the fridge. When I cut the pie open I discovered there wasn’t any gap to fill – evidently the meat hadn’t shrunk at all – and the stock had apparently been absorbed by the pastry, making it look a bit soggy and uncooked. On the second batch I didn’t bother with the stock, for this reason.
One of the disadvantages of spending hours on end processing a lot of pork, especially meat from the head, is that I end up feeling a little over-porked, so to speak. I probably won’t feel like actually eating my pork pie for a while. Nevertheless, it feels like quite an accomplishment.