Nothing is ever easy for me. Frustrated by the poor quality of filling and pastry in local pork pies it is my mission to make the perfect one. Or at least start wandering down that route.
Where local artisans and manufacturers go wrong is the filling, which should be three types of pig chopped into different sizes and textures rather than one solid glump. The hot water crust pastry needs to be just so yielding with a hint of crisp. And the gap between the pastry and what is basically a terrine-like filling needs to be surrounded with fragrant melt-in-the-mouth jelly.
One of those meats required for a good pork pie is bacon, but the quality available here is poor. I favour streaky bacon. That’s thin slices striped with fat rather than fat flaps of meat sliced thinly. Therefore I start-out on my pie odyssey early with five days to cure my own streaky bacon (basically pancetta).
And it is very easy.
My basic recipes for the bacon and the pie are adapted from Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s The River Cottage Meat Book where he has researched age-old pork pie recipes.
Pork belly. I chose organic which cost about $12 for 750g.
0.5kg course salt
Finely sliced fresh bay and sage leaves
10 crushed juniper berries
100g palm sugar (he says soft brown but I was making do)
15g black peppercorns roughly smashed in a mortar
Being a daring devil I’ve deliberately left out the saltpetre, the nitrate that keeps certain bugs away.
Manhandle the meat, roughly rubbing in the salty mixture. I stored the salted cut is a plastic container in the fridge, raised from the bottom, where a pink liquid will leech, with an upturned chinese steamer.
Each day drain this liquid. Then, and this is a tip from Preserving the Italian Way, forcefully manoeuvre a rolling pin over the belly to squeeze out additional moisture. Roughly rub the salt in again and repeat this process for five days.
Now you have bacon, as salty as a fisherman’s tale. Rinse it and pat dry with your twidow/twidower’s favourite linen Tea Cloth. Wrap in Muslin and store, which for most of us in the inner-city will mean bunging it in the fridge, than hanging in a cool airy place.
You’ll need a steady hand to thinly cut this bacon, the kind only achieved at 8am with a couple of shots of espresso followed by a Marlboro and grappa chaser. Fry in a hot pan (note: not non-stick) and when near crispy add a free range egg or two.
Oh, and don’t forget you’ll need to save 250g of bacon for that giant pork pie, so large that it is bigger than my head. And to be served accompanies by a vat of home made piccalilli.