The Bucket List Part One – Pork Pies

Pie internals
by Northern Man

[Author’s note – this may be a very short series of articles as my bucket list is not especially fulsome. To give you an idea, item one on it was “Own a bucket”. This might be the only article, though one of the other
items on my list was “Write a multi-part article for GP”.

For the avoidance of doubt I am not, as far as I know, heading towards death any faster than I ever have been.]

I have, for a long time, been a lover of the simple pork pie. Wherever my travels take me I always find the local butcher in order to buy his (other genders are available, though not prevalent in the world of butchery) pork pie. As a teenager I loved the pies from Smith and Robinson in Harrogate and as an adult I had a standing order with my local butcher to prepare me a low salt version of his pork pie for me every week.

There is just something about a nice pork pie that works for me – the protective pastry, the meaty interior and the comforting jelly that wraps around it. Given the wide availability and range of fillings available there is absolutely no reason to make your own, but I’ve always fancied giving it a go.

I did a bit of rootling around online and found a few different recipes, finally settling on two to try in a head to head competition – one from Nigel Slater and one from the Hairy Bikers. I used the same pastry and jelly recipe for both pies.

Step one – the pastry

  • 150g/7oz lard
  • 50ml/2fl oz milk
  • 50ml/2fl oz water
  • 450g/1lb plain flour, plus extra for dusting
  • salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 free-range egg, beaten, for brushing

Put the lard, milk and water in a pan and warm gently until the lard melts. Sift the flour into a mixing bowl and make a well, then pour the still-warm lardy milk water into it, mix with a wooden spoon until it is cool enough to handle then knead for a minute or two and form into a ball.

Making the pastry
by Northern Man

Traditionally pork pies are “hand drawn” – the pastry is pulled up the sides of a wooden pie “dolly”. I don’t have one of those so I used an empty vitamin pill jar and covered the base in cling film (planning ahead).

Keep a quarter of the pastry to make lids and roll the rest out. I made this about half an inch thick then cut out a circle which was d + 2h wide (d being the diameter of the pill jar and h being the height I wanted the pie to be. Maffs innit.).

I struggled to get the pastry up the sides of the dolly (presumably it sticks to wood better than it does to shiny plastic – I should have thought of that) so I turned it upside down and got gravity to help me.

Pie head
by Northern Man

I then wrapped some greaseproof paper around the pie, secured it with string and turned it the right way up. Getting the dolly out was pretty simple due to it being wrapped in cling film. The cling film stayed in the pie case as the dolly came out and I then pulled the cling film out.

by Northern Man

I doubled the portions above, which gave me enough pastry for three biggish pies and one smaller one.

Part two – the fillings

  • 14oz pork shoulder
  • 6oz pork belly
  • 2oz smoked bacon lardons

Nigel Slater variant – 1 tsp thyme, 1tsp sage, ½ tsp ground mace, ½ tsp white pepper, pinch of nutmeg, salt, black pepper

Hairy Bikers variant – ½ tsp allspice, ½ tsp nutmeg, salt, black pepper

I don’t own a mincer so this was where the faff started. I sliced the meat thinly then used sharp kitchen scissors to cut the meat into small pieces, which took a while. Red wine was involved as a lubricant rather than an ingredient.

Simply mix all of the meats together, then, in this case, split the mix in half for the two seasonings. I split each mix again as I had some black pudding in the fridge and wanted to try that, so I had both a Nigel and a Hairies with and without black pudding.

Mixing up the filling
by Northern Man

Roll the mix into a ball and place in the pie case. Roll out the remaining pastry to make lids, cutting a hole in each lid. Brush the inside of the top of the pie case with the beaten egg and then pich the lid onto the pie. I made little pastry balls so I could number the pies from one to four for taste testing purposes.

Part three – the jelly

The “proper” way to make the jelly involves boiling some bones with onion, carrot, celery and whatever else you fancy then leaving it overnight. I couldn’t be arsed with that (and it would have stunk the house out) so I just mixed some packet gelatin powder with some vegetable stock (I didn’t have a ham stock cube). I added some white pepper to give it a bit of bite.

Part four – the baking

Brush the tops of the pies with the beaten egg then place on a baking tray in a 180C/350F/Gas mark 4 oven for 45 minutes to an hour (check after 45 mins and leave them in if they haven’t browned enough).

Remove from the oven and leave to cool.

Once cool, pour in the jelly mix then pop them in the fridge to chill and to set the jelly.

Jelly is poured
by Northern Man

Part five – the tasting

I was slightly apprehensive when I took the paper wrappers off the pies. Although none had split they were a bit wonky. Still, call it “rustic” and double the price.

A moody slice
by Northern Man
Pie internals
by Northern Man

The unanimous verdict in the man household was that the herbier Nigel Slater recipe was the better one and that the addition of the black pudding worked for those who like it and didn’t for those who don’t (what are the odds?).

The jelly was a bit of a disappointment for me as it didn’t really set properly. I took a last-minute decision to add some home-made quince jelly to it which I probably shouldn’t have done. The pastry was too thick as well but I couldn’t get the pie casing to stay stood up when I tried with thinner pastry.

Epilogue – take two

Given the qualified success of my first foray into the world of pork pie making I decided to give it another go. This time round I bought a couple of pie tins with removable bottoms (ooer missus) which I greased gently with some lard. This allowed me to use thinner pastry and I also made the jelly without the added quince jelly.

I added an extra half teaspoon of white pepper to the Nigel recipe for the filling as I like a peppery taste to a pork pie.

I was delighted with the results the second time round. The pies were easy to remove from the tins (I just stood them on a jam jar and pulled the side down).

Pie pots
by Northern Man
Pots with casings
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Et voila!
by Northern Man
by Northern Man

I have thought about buying a mincer but to be honest I find the manual cutting up of the pork quite therapeutic.

I think I’m going to be branching out into game pies and chicken and ham soon. If anyone has a go please do post pictures of the result. If you have your own favourite recipe and don’t mind sharing…

© Northern Man 2020

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