I discovered meat pies on the family trip to London two years ago. Our visit to the Tower of London included lunch, and, in the spirit of the adventure, I ordered a beef and ale pie. It was a pastry shell about four inches around and three inches high, wrapped around a rich, almost bourguignon-esque filling. It was so good I ordered it again when we visited Hampton Court, which was provisioned by the same food service.
This month’s Charcutepalooza challenge was “packing,” either pâté en croute or English pork pie. Guess which I chose. I’ve had mixed results with pie dough, but my most recent attempt was a success, so I hoped I could build on my experience by making a fully-encased pie. I used the recipe in Charcuterie, but made some technique and ingredient substitutions of my own. And I had the previously-documented expertise of She Who Must Be Obeyed to fall back on if things started to go pear-shaped.
I started with the crust, assembling the flour, butter, egg and water mixture, and lard, which I rendered from my a chunk of leaf lard I had in the Deep Storage Facility. I cut the butter into the required quarter-inch cubes, but attempting to do the same with the lard was a non-starter – it was just too soft. (I kept thinking that “cubing the lard” was an unsolved problem in kitchen mathematics.)
Rather than use my fingers to combine the flour and fat, I used a dough blender that I had chilled in the freezer.
With the fat incorporated (a possible name for my proposed catering business), I mixed in the egg and water, divided the dough in half, and wrapped each piece in plastic. She Who assured me that the visible chunks of butter and fat would ensure a flaky crust.
While the dough chilled in the fridge I turned my attention to the filling, which was pork shoulder cut into one-inch cubes, smoked ham cut into quarter-inch dice, salt, pepper, thyme, minced garlic, finely diced onion, and ramen broth. Although the recipe calls for chicken stock, I figured the pork-based ramen broth would add depth and some gelatin to the filling.
I sweated the onion and garlic, ground the pork and seasonings through the small die of my grinder, and when everything was cold I mixed the filling, slowly adding the broth and then the ham until the components were evenly combined.
I let the filling chill, then returned to the dough. I knew it would be soft and sticky, so I got clever and rolled it out on floured parchment paper instead of my countertop. Once I had a twelve-inch disc of dough, I molded the filling into the center, shaping it to be about five inches in diameter.
In theory I should have been able to fold the dough around the sides of the filling – lifting it up with the parchment – and have enough extra to creat a bit of overlap on the top. That didn’t happen:
To compensate for the lack of overlap, I cut a larger circle of dough for the top – about seven inches – and cut a vent hole in the center. I coated one of the sides with egg wash, placed it wash side down on top of the filling, and crimped it around the edges to seal the pie. I cut some extra bits of dough and arranged them around the top before applying another coating of egg wash.
At this point the pie looked pretty good: round, a bit squat, but with straight sides and some decorative flourishes. I don’t know why I thought it would retain that shape once it hit the oven, which would cause the fat – the only thing providing structural integrity – to melt. And melt it did, into a dome-shaped finished product.
I had planned on serving the pie at room temperature the following day, which would have given me time to make aspic and pour in into the pie through the vent hole. Unfortunately, the vent was blocked by the filling, so I set that idea aside. (I had it all worked out, and planned on using the clarified liquid from trotter gear in the place of aspic.)
After an overnight rest in the fridge, I let the pie sit at room temperature for a few hours before cutting into it.
As you can see, there was plenty of space between the crust and filling for aspic. When (not if ) I make this pie again, I’ll either scoop out a bit of the filling from the vent hole, or leave the cutter in the hole to provident it from clogging. I cut the aspic-less pie into thick wedges and served them with a simple parsley salad to provide brightness and acidity. She Who and He Who Will Not Be Ignored added a healthy glob of whole-grain mustard as an additional accompaniment.
He Who expressed some doubts about eating “meatloaf pie,” but he was surprised by both the texture and flavor of the filling. It had the coarseness of a country pâté with textural variety provided by the ham, and a rich, porky flavor. A little of this pie goes a long way because it’s so hearty, but we’re looking forward to eating the leftovers.
When I make this again I will probably try to mold it into a soufflé dish in the hope of producing the straight-sided pie that I think of as the ideal meat-encasement vehicle. Until then, I think I can force myself to eat this version again.