Saturday 10 December 2016

A Hardknott Christmas - #1 Beer Pork Pie

My journey to being a brewer started with a general love of food and drink. My move away from a much better paying engineering job to the rather less financially secure future was driven by a passion for cooking and making tasty things. I still love all that sort of stuff and when I have time I spend hours making food that really, considering the man-hours, is incredibly labour intensive for the relatively small end result; but it's a labour of love that I cannot help myself getting drawn into.

Pork pie, done properly
Christmass is a time when many people who are normally far too busy to make great food start to turn to the Christmas classics. Be it a Christmas cake, a nice big ham, mince pies, yule log and of course the full turkey dinner complete with far too many sprouts and a healthy dose of stuffing and pigs in blankets. If you can't do it at Christmas when on earth should you?

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.
Jelly, this has to be the fundamental starting point for a pork pie, although it is actually used to finish the pie 😐. And jelly goes back to the even more fundamental culinary basic of a great stock4, it is my assumption that this is where the pigs head came in when my mother made pork pies. In my case I decided to go with pigs trotters, most really good butchers will let you have some for next to nothing and they make just about the very best jelly. In my case I got 8 in exchange for putting a couple of quid in the town clock fund. It helps that we prefer to buy in the local butcher rather than have to select the predictable shrink-wrap bollocks that are in the fridges of the local supermarket. He is a good chap our Paddy.

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
Of course a quick solution would simply be to carefully dissolve gelatine in beer, but I expect the result will be significantly less satisfactory and lack the meatiness I've achieved. The overall effect I was looking for was that of making a good solid jelly that also containing beer. One approach would have been to simmer the pigs trotters in beer. I knew this was foolish for all the reasons I've touch on already. I wanted to get beer into this jelly but by minimal heating of the actual beer as possible. My concentrated pig jelly was an absolute perfect starting point.

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
For the successful third attempt I used belly pork mixed with a little bit of bacon. Some people like to use leaner meat and add a little bit of pork fat. I am completely unsure why, as belly pork seems to get there much more economically. What is perhaps more of a question is the coarseness of the chop or grind of the meat. I think one of the defining things with my mothers pies was that it was not 100% pork mince. There were lumps of pork. I decided to simply chop up my belly pork into very small lumps rather than have it minced as I like the course texture.  Adding a little bit of chopped bacon certainly seems to help both flavour and colour wise. A total of about 1.5kg of pork meat seems about right.

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.
As the pastry is going to be baked I was concerned about the increase of bitterness. This it turns out does not seem to be an issue7. However, despite the raw pastry having a quite delicious looking chocolate colour, I'm not convinced the finished pie hasn't got a greyness about it when cut into that might be considered unappetising.

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

A couple of months ago I was given some windfall cooking apples by a kindly neighbour. At the time I made an apple pie, but still had loads of apples left, so I froze them. Pork pie with apples and apple beer? Seems perfect, so in went the apples.

My Newton's Downfall and Dark Energy pork pie.
Also useful as a doorstop or any other application
where significant matter and energy density is required
and absolutely no use whatsoever as part of a
calorie controlled diet - please consume responsibly
and follow with a brisk 5 mile walk
I'm a bit of  stickler for food hygiene. I worry a lot about inappropriate heating or cross contamination, or meat not being cooked appropriately. Pork of course is a potential for health risk. I like to check anything I can with a meat thermometer. Most recipes seem to call for about 2½ hours at 250℃ and I can confirm by thermometer that this works well getting the core temperature to about 75℃.

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.


Paul Bailey said...

What a fantastic looking pie, Dave. It's making me feel really really hungry just looking at it.

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