Few things are more British than a pork pie. It takes humble ingredients – fatty pork, jelly made from bones and pastry made with lard or suet – and (when
properly made) transforms them into something simultaneously delicious and substantial.
It is the best-known member of a family of ‘raised’ pies – Jane Grigson’s English Food gives recipes for Cheshire pork and apple pie, game, chicken or rabbit pie, veal, ham and egg pie, and raised mutton pies – that take their generic name from the hot water crust pastry that is raised, still warm, with the fingers around the side of the pie mould.
The pork pie has a close, slightly smarter, relative: the gala pie, distinguished by the inclusion of hard-boiled eggs. Nobody is sure where the name ‘gala’ originates, but one idea is that it was enjoyed (along with copious ales) at miners’ galas, at which a plain old pork pie might have seemed mundane.
The commercially produced gala pie is made in a long loaf tin: ingeniously, to make sure each slice features a perfect slice of egg, it contains what is known in the trade as a ‘long egg’. The process involves separating a lot of eggs, then – using various gauges of tubing – cooking a hollow cylinder of egg white, then cooking it again with the yolk in the middle. YouTube has several instructive videos on the subject, should you feel the urge.
Jesse Dunford Wood, chef-patron at The Parlour, in Kensal Rise, prefers a simpler method: hard-boiling the eggs, then trimming their ends and pushing them tightly together in the middle of his pork mixture. “They need to be trimmed by a ridiculous amount,” he says, “but the leftovers make a lovely egg salad.
His pork comes from Mary Holbrook at Sleight Farm, near Bath – “she brings in half a pig with her goats’ cheeses every couple of weeks” – and Dunford-Wood breaks down the carcass himself, reserving the fatty belly for his pies. Half the meat is chopped, the rest minced, then it is seasoned with mustard seeds and herbs. He includes a handful of whole pistachios, which have a jewel-like effect in the finished pie.
The pastry (you can microwave the flour, to help maintain its heat) needs to be just cool enough to handle. “If you’re quick, the pastry from the lid will still be warm enough to roll once you’ve filled the pie,” says Dunford-Wood. Then half the pie mix goes in, with a hollow for the eggs, then the rest of the filling. “You need to overfill the pie with the filling because there will be a lot of melted fat once it’s cooked.”
Once cooked and drained of fat, the pie needs to be solidified with jelly, using the same holes in the lid from which the fat was drained. Instead of the traditional meat jelly, Dunford-Wood uses a simple jelly made with cloudy apple juice and gelatine, which he describes as “a surprising foil to all that pork, egg and pastry”.
Once set and rested, Dunford-Wood slices it carefully, taking care not to damage the easily chipped corners. He serves it as a starter, at room temperature, with home-pickled vegetables to add crunch and bite. A gala in The Parlour, you might say.
For the filling:
1kg belly pork, half minced, half chopped into 1 cm dice
Pinch of white pepper
10g black mustard seeds
10g white mustard seeds
30g chopped fresh sage and thyme
15 hard-boiled eggs
For the pastry:
450g strong flour
100g shredded beef suet
Pinches of salt and white pepper
For the apple jelly:
500ml cloudy apple juice
5 gelatine leaves
1. Mix all the filling ingredients except the eggs together and leave in the fridge for a few hours.
2. Line a terrine mould or loaf tin (roughly 32cm x 12cm) with two pieces of baking parchment to cover the base and sides, hanging them generously over the sides and ends. Fold 60cm of tin foil into a 5cm wide strip and line the mould lengthways.
3. Heat the milk, water and suet until the suet dissolves. In a bowl, mix with the flour, salt and pepper to form a dough. Knead for a few minutes, until glossy and smooth.
4. Wrap a quarter of the mix in cling film and keep warm. Roll out the rest of the pastry thinly enough to cover the base and sides of the tin: try not to disturb the lining and press it well into the corners, leaving plenty of overhang.
5. Heat the oven to 180°C. Fill the mould with half of the meat mixture, leaving a hollow along the middle to cradle the eggs. Trim the eggs so that the yolk is visible at both ends, then push them tightly into the hollow.
6. Cover the eggs with the rest of the meat, mounding it up in the middle. Leave the pastry edges exposed and paint them with egg wash.
7. Roll out the reserved pastry for the lid and drape it over the pie. Smooth it over the filling, slice off the overhang, reserving a few scraps to plug any holes later, then crimp it firmly at the sides and ends. Make two 1 cm holes in the top, then egg wash all the exposed pastry.
8. Bake on a tray (to catch any fat) for about 45 mins, until a skewer inserted into the middle is warm. Leave to cool for an hour, then tip the pie upside down very carefully and drain the surplus fat. Chill in the fridge.
9. Soften the gelatine in a bowl of cold water. Bring 100ml of the juice to the boil in a saucepan, drain and squeeze the gelatine leaves, then add them to the hot juice and whisk until melted. Remove from the heat, add the rest of the juice and stir well. Strain and pour into a jug.
10. Take the pie out of the tin and check around for any small holes, plugging them with pastry if necessary. Wrap it tightly in cling film, making two holes in it to correspond with the holes in the lid, then fill up the cavity with apple jelly. Put it back in a cleaned tin overnight to set properly, and eat within a few days.
● Adapted from Modern British Food: Recipes from Parlour by Jesse Dunford Wood, Absolute Press, £20