Tuesday, 28 May 2013

Roy's Pie

A few weeks ago my Nan’s partner, Roy, died. He had been ill for a few months, but it was still a keen loss, especially as the last time all the UK based family had been together was for his 80th birthday last year.

Roy was an easy-going and funny chap. A man of very few words (with my Nan around you tend to get limited opportunities to talk) who loved nothing better than being out in his vegetable garden or pottering about his shed, cup of tea in hand. Despite knowing him my whole life I never really saw him get angry - even when he took us camping and me and my sister decided to write our names in the dust on his Range Rover. With pointed sticks. (It may have been many moons ago, but I still feel bad about that one, Roy.)

Another of the skills he honed in later life was cooking. After retiring to Norfolk he became very interested in taking on new projects, and, being Roy, he wasn’t satisfied with doing things the easy way. Soon he was churning out chocolate glazed choux buns filled with whipped cream and making a cheesecake that involved (literally) pounds of Philadelphia, that, when finished, he could barely lift off the table.

His crowning glory, however, was his hand raised pork pie or, more strictly, gala pie (with a layer of boiled eggs running through the sausage meat).  Every time I spoke my Nan, I would be told about the magnificence of Roy’s latest pie, and other members of my family regularly sung its praises, but, whenever I visited, it always seemed as though the last slice was snatched ‘only yesterday’.

So, in memory of Roy, here’s my interpretation of his great pie. Being a man of simple tastes, I’m not sure he would have really agreed with the layer of turkey and apricots but, if accompanied by a pint of Woodforde’s Wherry and some of my Nan’s green tomato pickles, I’m sure he would have still enjoyed a slice or two.

This pie is a real stunner, and perfect for the summer. Even if we all have to decamp indoors for a carpet picnic, this pie - with its bronzed pastry, layers of spicy pork, turkey breast and juicy apricots, held together with just enough wobbly, savoury jelly –will make centrepiece fit for any feast.

It is also deceptively easy, being possibly the simplest pastry-based comestible I have ever produced. No gentle rubbing in with fingertips, no cold hands and worktops and hours resting in the fridge, only for it to crumble into pieces when you try and roll it out. Think of it more as savoury Play Doh, with that gentle, yet unmistakeable, scent of boiled pig fat about it.

My recipe used 100% pork shoulder for the meat layer (because that’s all I had, and I was too impatient to go back to the shops), but most recipes specify a mix of belly, shoulder and bacon, for a good mixture of fat and flavour. Hand chopping half the meat it is a bit of a drag, but it does give you a better, rougher texture. Pulse all the pork filling very coarsely in a food processor if you prefer.

In order to distil the meat with that smokiness that the bacon would bring I had the rather genius idea of adding a little Spanish smoked paprika. This also lends a slight pinkish tint to the meat, making it more appetising than the standard, nitrate free, grey-hued meat pies. Little more was needed, other than a few classic herbs and spices, in the form of nutmeg, thyme and sage, and a some salt and black pepper.

Despite using, what I thought was, plenty of salt my filling was still under seasoned, showing how sodium chloride pumped most industrial pies are. If you also have a layer of turkey and/or sweet dried fruit in your pie, then the pork can take even more salt than if you’re using pork alone. If you are worried about the balance of flavours then cook a small ball of the filling in a frying pan and allow to cool before tasting (cold food needs more seasoning). A good pork pie should taste spicy and savoury.

Finally, the most divisive element of any good pork pie: the jelly. Initially I was undecided about using any, but in the end tradition won out. I didn’t fancy boiling feet and ears and stuff for hours, so I used a cheat of good chicken stock and gelatine leaves, making just enough of the savoury wobbly stuff to slip down and fill the gaps between the meat and pastry. Pie perfection.

Roy's Pork, Chicken and Apricot Pie

For the filling
1kg boned pork shoulder/pork belly/streaky bacon (see above)
300g turkey breast
150g dried apricots
2 sprigs of thyme
2 sage leaves
1 tsp salt (½ tsp more if not using bacon)
1 tsp ground pepper
1 tsp smoked paprika
½ tsp ground mace/nutmeg

For the pastry:
200g lard
220g water
575g flour
1 beaten egg 
1 x 20cm cake tin

Quick jelly:
Make up 300ml weak chicken or ham stock from a good-quality stock cube (For a fruitier flavour, use hot apple juice instead of water.) Stir in 3 gelatine leaves (soaked in cold water and squeezed) until dissolved.

Make the filling
Process half the pork/bacon in a processor along with the salt, pepper, sage and thyme leaves, paprika and nutmeg. Cut the rest into small cubes, about 5mm in size and combine thoroughly together
Make the pastry
Put the lard and water into a small saucepan and bring to the boil. Sift the flour with a good pinch of salt into a large bowl. Pour the hot lard and water into the flour, mix with a wooden spoon, then leave until cool enough to handle. The pastry must still be warm when you start to work it.
Set the oven at 180C/gas mark 4. Lightly grease and flour your mould or cake tin (with removable bottom). Pull off a quarter of the pastry and roll it into a lid that will fit the top of the cake tin. Lay the remaining pastry in the bottom of the tin and  firmly push the dough up the sides with your hands. Make certain there are no holes or tears or the jelly will leak out. 
Spoon half the pork filling into the lined cake tin and press it down. Add the turkey, sliced into thin strips, then the apricots, halved lengthwise. Add the rest of the pork, it should come almost to the top of the pastry.
Brush the edges of the pastry above the meat with beaten egg. Lower the lid into place and press tightly to seal with the edges. Poke a small hole in the lid to let out the steam and put the tin on a baking sheet. Bake for 30 minutes, then lower the heat to 160C/gas mark 3 and bake for 90 minutes until the pastry is pale gold. Brush with the beaten egg and return to the oven for 30/40 minutes.
Allow the pie to cool slightly then use a funnel to carefully pour in as much of the jelly as you can.
Allow the pie to cool thoroughly before slicing.
Serve with pickled onions and chutney.

Roy William Boffin 1932-2013

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