Saturday, December 22, 2012

Waiting for the Hogfather: English Pork Pies

After a night spent drinking my homemade (and very alcoholic) eggnog and wrapping Christmas presents, it only seems appropriate that the first official Christmas post go up.  And by Christmas, I mean Hogswatch.

As I mentioned in my first blog post, I love Terry Pratchett's Discworld, along with the plethora of food mentioned throughout the Discworld series.  And so when I began my Christmas reading earlier this month, I knew I had to reread Hogfather, Pratchett's wonderful satire of Christmas.  Instead of Christmas, the children of Ankh-Morpork celebrate Hogswatch, when the Hogfather rides his sleigh around the Disc, delivering children to all the good boys and girls.  This Hogswatch, though, the Hogfather has been targeted for elimination by the Discworld's craziest Assassin, and so Death himself takes up the red robe, the beard, and the "HO HO HO" to save the Hogfather and the belief of children everywhere.

I'd say it was one of my favorite Discworld books (and it is), but I could say that about so many Discworld books that it would grow repetitive.  Quickly.  It was the third book I read, and the first that featured Death (one of my favorite characters) and his granddaughter Susan.  Susan aptly sums up this spirit of Hogswatch thusly: "This is Hogswatch!  It's supposed to be jolly, with mistletoe and holly, and--and other things ending in olly!  It's a time when people want to feel good about things and eat until they explode!"

Like our Christmas, Hogswatch is a time of traditional foods.  And while I left out milk and cookies for Santa, well... things on the Discworld are different.  On Hogswatchnight, it is tradition to leave out a pork pie and a glass of sherry for the Hogfather, and turnips for the boars that pull his sleigh (Gouger and Tusker and Rooter and Snouter).

Meat pies are something I can get behind.  I've been making meat pies since I bought the Unofficial Harry Potter Cookbook several years ago.  They're both extremely delicious and work excellently as a bargaining chip (i.e. "if you do this for me, Alec, I'll make meat pies.").  Works every time.

So it was clear what I was going to be making for Christmas.  Hogswatch.  Whatever.

Pork pies.

Meat pies are a classically British thing.  Think Sweeny Todd, minus the cannibalism.  I don't know why they haven't worked their way more into American cuisine.  They're amazing.  They're meat made portable in a golden, flaky pastry.  Nothing can go wrong with meat pies, well, with the exception of Sweeny Todd.

This recipe is a bit complex, and involves pig's feet.

But never fear! You don't actually eat the feet (this time!  But I do have 3 still in the fridge that I'm intrigued by...).  Instead, you boil them to make a jellied stock that goes into the pies after baking.  One of the recipes I read said that instead you could use a combination of powdered gelatin and pork bouillon, but where's the fun in that?

These meat pies are delicious.  And, as Albert says in Hogfather, "They're a treat with mustard."  Use English mustard if you have it, but I found spicy brown worked well.  And, if Gouger and Tusker and Rooter and Snouter don't eat all the turnips you leave out, you can make mashed turnips to go with your leftover pork pies.  Though there may not be any.

English Pork Pies
(serves 4-8, depending on appetite and size of pies)
adapted from Saveur and Really Nice Recipes

For the Stock
1 lb pig's feet
8 oz pork bones (can use neck bones or the bone from pork shoulder)
6 whole black peppercorns
1 yellow onion
1 large carrot
1 rib celery
1 bunch parsley
3 qt water

For the Filling
2 lb pork shoulder, trimmed and cut into 1/4" cubes
8 oz pork belly, cut into 1/4" cubes
8 oz bacon, cut into 1/4" cubes
1 1/2 tsp salt, to taste
1/2 tsp freshly grated nutmeg
1/2 tsp ground mace
1/2 tsp ground black pepper
1/2 tsp ground white pepper

For the Hot Water Pastry
6 oz lard
2/3 c. water
3 c. flour
1/2 tsp salt
1 egg

Chop the onion, carrot, celery, and parsley.

Place all the ingredients for the stock in a 6 qt. saucepan and bring to a boil.  Lower temperature and simmer for about 4 hours.  Strain into a large bowl.  Return stock to saucepan and boil until reduced to approximately 2 cups.  Remove from heat and let cool.

For the filling, toss all ingredients together in a large bowl.  Set aside.

Preheat oven to 350F.

Pork pies require a hot water pastry dough.  You could go with a normal pastry crust, but this crust is so good that I wouldn't if I were you.  Go find some lard and make this dough.  I'm going to switch to using this recipe for my other meat pies from now on.  It's just worth it.  With a hot water pastry dough, you can hand shape pies and they will hold their shape as they cool.  I used springform pans for this recipe, but will try handforming next time.  After baking the pies, the crust becomes fairly water-resistant, which allows them to be filled with the jellied stock.

Note: I found lard at one of the Schnucks nearby, though it's not at all of them.

Whisk together the flour and salt, and make a well in the center.  Crack the egg into the well, and then use a spoon to cover the egg with some of the flour mixture.

Cut the lard into pieces and put in a medium saucepan with the water.  Heat over medium until the lard has melted and has almost reached the boiling point.

Pour the lard mixture around the outside of the flour mixture, then cut it into the flour with a knife until combined.  If it looks very wet, add a little more flour.  It will be a wetter dough.

Cover with a damp towel or clingwrap and let sit for 10 minutes to rehydrate.

Roll out to 1/4 inch thickness.

As I said, I used 4.5" springform pans for these pies.  You can also make them in large muffin tins.

Use the bottom of the springform pan to cut out the bottom of the dough.  Press into the pan.

Cut out a strip for the sides of the pan, and press into the pan and seal along the bottom.

Fill with the pork filling.  Really press it in there.

Briefly beat together 1 egg mixed with 1 tbs of water.  Brush the tops of the dough with the egg mixture.  Cut out the top circle of dough, place over filling, and crimp to seal together

Using a funnel, make a hole in the middle of the crust.  This will allow you to fill it with the jellied stock after baking.

If desired, you can decorate the top with the traditional triangles of scrap dough.  Glue them on with the egg wash, then brush the wash over the entire crust.

Bake in preheated oven for 30 minutes.  Reduce heat to 325F, and bake for another two hours.  Let pies cool, then gradually pour the jellied stock into the hole on the top of each pastry, waiting as it distributes through the pie.  If it starts to leak out, just wipe it off and stop filling.  Chill pies in the refridgerator to set the jelly.  Serve cold, with mustard if desired.

Happy Hogswatch!

1 comment:

  1. We are celebrating Hogswatch this year. Im Aussie, so meat pies are awesome. You should try some Australian ones. Pastry is way easier. I commend your use of a true shortcrust and bow down to your amazing creation. Im 43 and cant do pastry for the life of me. ( no, really, I failed a pastry making class).