It’s a long, long reach back into history to zero in on the beginnings of that French–English rivalry thing. It seems most historians agree that it was about the time of the Hundred Years War (1337–1453) that it really began. Odd, too, that it coincides with a culinary enhancement that made eating meat safer: the concept of cooking forcemeat inside pastry to prolong its shelf life.
Initially, the crusts were not made to be eaten, but, quite swiftly, better pastries were used that were edible, and jelly was added to further improve the package in which the meat was able to be kept for longer. But of course, the French and the English have differing approaches to the whole exercise and historically have taken them in very different directions.
The French have made a fine art out of pâté en croûte. There are endless versions of intricate tins, hinged and with pins and wires to facilitate the removal of the highly decorative finished object. There is a subtle art form of layering the forcemeat so there is a glorious pattern when the pâté is cut. And the jellies are of intense flavour and jewel-like clarity.
And then there is the English pork pie, traditionally a “hand-raised” pie, needing no intricate tin, simply a wooden dolly or block to mould the pastry around. And the pastry itself is a very different beast, being a hot-water lard pastry that behaves a little like plasticine for grown-ups. Having said that, both are delicious in their own way.
This version bridges the rivalry and is a happy middle ground between the Plantagenets and the Valois. The filling is a simple pork mince, sage and bacon filling. It is imperative that you use really good-quality bacon. I make my own, but it is best to buy a piece of belly bacon or kaiserfleisch for the recipe. The pastry I use is a butter shortcrust. It gives a flakier, better-flavoured result than the traditional hot-water pastry, but is a little more delicate to handle. And the jelly? Well, that’s the bit that takes the most amount of time. It’s a rich, viscous stock made from trotters and veal bones reduced down till it sets from its own gelatinous properties. If you want to cheat on the jelly, buy a litre of good-quality beef stock and add a quantity of gelatin that will create a firm set.
I form my pies in an English-made tin with a removable bottom, quite similar in size to a 375-gram tin of tomatoes, and I make three pies. But this quantity could also be used to make one big pie in a 23-centimetre springform tin. And it’s delicious served with an array of French and English condiments: mustard, cornichons, pickles and chutneys.
2014 Domaine Dubois Bourgogne Rouge pinot noir (vieilles vignes), Premeaux-Prissey, France ($25) – Peter Watt, sommelier, du Fermier.
This is a slightly more “French” version of a pork pie.
- 2 pig’s trotters
- 1kg veal bones
- 1 bay leaf
- 1 carrot
- 1 onion
- 1 stick celery
- 6 peppercorns
- 250g butter
- 420g plain flour
- large pinch salt
- 2 eggs
- 60ml cold water
- 600g pork shoulder
- 2 tbsp chopped fresh sage leaves
- ½ nutmeg grated
- 10g salt
- 2 tsp pepper
- 200g piece bacon
- 1 egg, mixed with a little salt and water for egg wash
- To make the jelly, place the bones and trotters in a lidded saucepan with six litres of cold water. Bring to the boil and skim.
- Add the coarsely chopped vegetables, herbs and spices, return to the boil and skim again. Reduce heat and simmer for six hours, skimming regularly. The stock should become a beautiful brown colour.
- Strain the stock, then return it to the heat and reduce for another 30 minutes until it becomes quite viscous. Check the seasoning. Leave the jelly to cool.
- The shortcrust pastry can either be made by hand or in a stand mixer using the paddle attachment. Chop the butter through the flour and salt until it resembles coarse breadcrumbs.
- Make a well, add the eggs and water, and bring it together into a dough. Pat into a disc, wrap in cling film and refrigerate for at least half-an-hour before rolling.
- Preheat your oven to 180ºC.
- For the filling, dice the pork and mix with the sage and seasoning. Put this through the mincer using the plate with the larger holes.
- Cut the bacon into a very fine dice and add to the mince. Check the seasoning is to your liking and refrigerate.
- Roll out your pastry to about three-millimetres thick and line your chosen mould. Fill with the forcemeat. Carefully attach the pastry lid, using the egg wash to glue it down. Make a hole in the top.
- Bake for about 40 minutes, depending on the size of the pie you are making. A digital thermometer should read 87ºC–90ºC.
- Remove from the oven and cool for at least two hours. When the pies are cold, warm some reduced pork and veal stock until it becomes liquid and then carefully pour it into the top of the pie until it is full.
- Refrigerate the pie until the jelly is set, and serve with mustard and cornichons or relish.
This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on Feb 24, 2018 as "Pie to the power of two".
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