|Pork pie, done properly|
A defining memory for me is that of my mother making a huge pork pie1, for which the process seemed to start with half a pigs head. I loved that pork pie, possibly partly because my Mum made it, and there is an unconditional need to enjoy every course up to pudding and cake2 lest I miss out on some due to having four brothers.
Speaking of which, I have to offer a hat-tip to my little brother for being the catalyst for this little experiment. A recent visit to see him resulted in me leaving with a very nice home-made pork pie for lunch on the way home. I'm not saying I'm competitive or anything, but I'm damed if he's going to beat me at making superb food.
It got me thinking about how to incorporate more beer into some of the cooking I do and in doing so giving me blog topics which I hope are inspirational to the reader. As an introductory post to this subject it seems I have quite a bit of information to disseminate, please bear with me, I am hopeful that it will be useful. It seems quite difficult to spend 3 days trying to perfect a pork pie recipe and not have a few things to say about the subject.
Hoppy beers, especially when dry hopped, are not best suited to incorporating into food3. This could put Hardknott beers at disadvantage. Making a slow cooked stew with Azimuth for instance will likely be the route for making a bitter stew and ruining a great beer.
Time for a cunning plan, which I hope will ripple through to a series of beer recipes over the next couple of weeks or so. I started with my own version of a pork pie, incorporating not one, but two beers.
There are many great pork pie recipes. There is little need to recreate them here. There is a solid one on the BBC food website. I shall try to focus on the detail of the beer incorporation in my own way and leave the reader to seek out his favourite recipe.
|Pigs trotters make for the best jelly ever.|
As it turns out I didn't need 8 pigs trotters. Two perhaps would have been quite sufficient. On the other-hand, we now have a significantly over-spoilt dog who really doesn't know he is born, and a dinning room floor that resembles a cave inhabited by a huge pack of carnivores. We also have sufficient pork jelly to make any amount of pork-related dishes. It'll freeze well I expect.
I covered the trotters with water in my biggest pan, which is about 12 litres. After simmering very gently for about 6 hours and straining5 the result was around 6 litres of a stock of the loveliest consistency, which seemed like it would probably set easily if chilled without further treatment. However, I decided to reduce6 it to around a quarter of the volume until the hot bubbling stock was really thick and almost like syrup. On cooling it set quite hard similar to those jelly cubes you buy for kids parties. This was exactly as I required. Effectively I've done all the boiling needed before adding any beer and in so doing removed the liquid volume that the beer will later replace.
|My pork stock reduced to the|
minimum gloopy sort of consistency
I decided to use Newton's Downfall for the beer-jelly. Well, it is 30% apple juice and apples and pork are a good match. I took a full 330ml bottle and made it up to about 500ml with my pork jelly concentrate. I then warmed the beer-jelly mix very gently to get the jelly thoroughly dissolved in the beer, but only just so as to not over-heat the beer. This can then be put in the fridge until needed for finishing the pie. This quantity should be about right for the size of pie I'm suggesting here, so long as the pie is greedy for jelly, which can be tricky to achieve, as I'll come to. I am also planning on trying to use the idea in some sort of terrine, work in progress.
To the pie itself. I did decide to strip all the meat and other soft tissue from the trotters to incorporate into my first prototype. Having now done it once I'd say it's a bit of a ball-ache and it's best just to give the lot to the dog and let him sort out what he wants. However, I am considering laminate flooring to replace the carpet in the dinning room.
|Nutmeg, black pepper, chopped garlic, thyme, sage,|
mace and salt as the seasoning mix for the pork meat
I added nutmeg, mace, salt, sage, thyme, chopped garlic and black pepper. Most recipes ask for white pepper, I prefer black, personal choice and exact choice of herbs and spices, and quantities, is down to individual taste. I do really like the mace and nutmeg combo though, it's the defining spices in Cumberland sausage.
Scott suggested I try using Dark Energy in the pastry. I was, and if I were honest still am a little unsure about this idea, but I'm running with it for now. On the positive sides the finished pie browns easier and somehow the pastry is smoother and better bound. However, I only did one trial without so there is too much human factor to consider in the variability.
|Filled pie, with apple on top, just before the lid goes on.|
Next time we see inside it'll be cooked and scrummy.
None-the-less on making the hot water crust I ensured that I heating the beer until just boiling and no more and then immediately dumped in the flour. Kneading the resultant ball of dough as quickly as possible seems to be the key. The dough at about 60 degrees it's hard to handle, but ensuring a smooth dough and getting it made into your pie case quickly brings rewards. I strongly recommend, by bitter experience, using a pie tin with a removable base. A less satisfactory solution is to use a solid pie dish with foil lining.
For reference I used;
250ml Dark Energy (other beers can be used)
200g lard or pork fat (The fat recovered from the stock works well)
560g plain flour
1 tsp salt
Once the pie is cooked and started to cool we want at some point to get our jelly into the pie.8 I seem to have perfected a way of preventing most issues with this. While the pie is still warm, about an hour or two after finishing cooking, wrap the underneath of the pie with clingfilm and place back in the pie dish. This way the jelly cannot leak out of the pastry case but everything is still warm enough for the jelly to percolate all the little nooks and crannies it needs to get into. Warm the jelly just enough to get it nicely liquid. It took me several hours of topping up the jelly to get my best pie as full as I could, and it took most of my 500ml of jelly. The idea is that the jelly and the pie contents are more-or-less cooling at the same rate thereby eliminating food safety risks.
Cool and then chill, preferably overnight.
Share and enjoy, washed down with lots of beer, whilst recounting the story of the time one of your brothers stole all the chocolates of the Christmas Tree whilst the other got the blame. That's porkie pies for you. (it wasn't me)
1Well it seemed huge, I was only little at the time.
2We all knew we wouldn't get pudding if we didn't eat up our mains. When you have brothers who will happily eat your share of cake you daren't miss out, even if it does mean you have to eat sprouts.
3Do I hear you ask why? Basically, beers that have great hop character without being over bitter generally have hops added late in the boil or in dry hopping. Us brewers are looking for lots of juicy flavours and aromas but without the isomerisation of alpha acids.
Alpha acids come from hops and are the source of bitterness in beer, but these compounds only create that bitterness after being in the boil for a period of time. To minimise that bitterness production but to maximise on the lovely hop characteristics we want we put most of the hops in very late in the boil or in dry hopping. However the alpha acids are still there and will convert to bitterness quite quickly should we boil the beer again. Additionally the great flavours and aromas we love in good hoppy beers come from compounds that are a lot more unstable or volatile and will be destroyed or driven off by heating.
4Making stock doesn't create the most exiting bit of on-line entertainment, but I did a little video a while back about chicken stock. We do this all the time in this house and have a quantity of chicken stock in the freezer meaning I can rustle up a savoury rice in about 30 minutes. If I have one culinary tip to give anyone to improve their home cooking it's learn how to make stock. Once you try it you'll see why I object to stock cubes. You can watch the rather boring video here.
5Once I had strained the stock off the bones etc I skimmed the fat off the stock and tried to leave the sediment behind. This is easier done by cooling and chilling overnight in the fridge. This way the fat is solid and can be scoopped off the top and then the bulk of the now jellyfied stock dug out off the solid sediment. You need patience, an spare day and a big fridge. I currently lack all of these things.
6Stock reduction by boiling is a great trick to use when trying to concentrate flavours and consistencies. Of course many commercial convenience additives are made the same way. Classics are tomato sauce, chutney and jam. Commercial gelatine is no doubt produced in a similar way.
7I do know that alpha acid utilisation becomes significatly less efficent in strong beers like barley wines and double IPAs. If we couple that to a sweetening effect of the carbohydrates in the wheat flour we may get an explanation of a flavour that actually does work quite well.
8We have a number of conflicting constraints to worry about. Number one is that we want this high risk food to be chilled as soon as possible. A big pie like this isn't going to cool quickly. If it cools too far and we try to get the jelly into the pie it will set and not permeate the pie well enough. If we pour in hot jelly into an already cool pie we risk local reheating of the meat and so create a potential bacterial growth. If we pour warm jelly into a hot pie the jelly will run out of any small hole it can find in our not-quite-perfect pastry. For reasons of food safety most recipes call for the pie to be chilled and the jelly only just melted before application to the pie. I can confirm this is a silly thing to do as you will get a thimbleful of jelly into the pie before the jelly sets and blocks the steam hole, unless you have feeble watery jelly that isn't worth diluting your pie with. Equally we should still worry about damaging the flavours of the beer with heat.