Gala Pork Pie, Oh My!

A spiky tan and brown mushroom

A spiky tan and brown mushroom --can you identify it?

Despite having been born in England, I had never tasted even a modest shop-bought pork pie, much less the festive Gala Pie. I had seen mention of these savory meat pies in books, had re-wound a few British television programs and films to catch a glimpse of one, but somehow, improbably, I hadn’t actually eaten one. As a girl who appreciates arcane, extravagant, and tasty pig parts, I’ve been planning on embarking on a pork pie adventure for a while now.

Around the time I was pondering this pastry-clad porky project, I also discovered journalist Tim Hayward, who writes about food for the Guardian, as well as publishing Fire & Knives, a food magazine that I’d really love to read. And at the Guardian web site, I found exactly what I was looking for: a beautifully photo-illustrated set of instructions on how to make a really special version of the pork pie, called a Gala Pie.

Skip ahead to September: my life is in turmoil, as it has been for a year or so now. Moving twice since March, with a third move planned for the end of December; a renovation project on the building I live in which has swung between nightmarish and exhausting; and for the second year in a row –enough farm and garden commitments to keep me from my favorite pastimes of fishing, fly-tying, kayaking, silver-smithing –namely: of anything that smelled even remotely like smelling the roses. The farm and garden overbooking is entirely my own responsibility, and I wonder if in fact I could have handled it better were it not for the renovation and moving madness. I do really love growing stuff.

Okay, enough grousing, on to the pie. I was determined to not be rushing trying to get in just under the wire for the Charcutepalooza part of the pie project, so I made plans to start the pie project on Saturday, and finish on Sunday morning, and then I’d take the pie out along with my excellent farmer goddess friend for an afternoon of mushroom hunting and pie eating. That would give me four whole days to put together a good account of the pie adventure. I’d be grateful for the extra time more than once!

Sunday night I made a nice savory pig’s foot jelly:

Pig's feet, aromatics, herbs, and water simmering on the stovetop

Pig's feet, aromatics, herbs, and water simmering on the stovetop

The pig’s feet, aromatics and herbs were kept at a bare simmer for around three hours, until the flesh was falling from the bone.  After straining and cooling, I put the sticky fragrant liquor into the ‘fridge. One note: don’t be tempted to season (salt) your jelly until you’ve established that your piggy liquor will in fact stiffen into a proper wobbly jelly. I salted mine as I warmed it up just before use.

In the morning I started by making the forcemeat. I followed Tim’s recipe with a few tweaks; I ground all my spices fresh, and tossed in some dried sweet shishito peppers. They were right there next to the spice grinder and seemed a good idea, and I expect they did add a subtle sweet pepperiness. At the very least, the little red-orange flecks looked pretty in the finished product.

Forcemeat for the Gala Pie is mixed with a blend of spices

Forcemeat for the Gala Pie is mixed with a blend of spices

Where Tim ground half of his forcemeat blend and kept the other half as 1 centimeter dice, I blitzed three quarters of mine and left the rest as 3 centimeter dice.  After blending the blitzed and diced meat well by hand, I set the forcemeat aside to assimilate all the spicy and salty goodness, and set about making the pie crust.

Disks of pie crust for the body and lid of the Gala Pie

Disks of pie crust for the body and lid of the Gala Pie

This was also my first time making hot water crust pastry. I used lard and bread flour (our strongest locally available flour), and it turned out pretty well. It wasn’t as smooth as I thought it might be, from looking at Tim’s photograph, but I was able to roll it out and line the pie dish satisfactorily. Speaking of the pie dish: I did try to find a pork pie dish (via FreeCycle), but got no bites, so using the measurements given in the recipe as a guide, I settled on a small springform pan: 7 inches by 3.5 inches; it worked great.

Once I had lined the pie dish, I put 3/4 of an inch of the forcemeat into the bottom. Then, and I’m sad to say that I didn’t remember to get a picture of this part, I nestled four peeled hard-boiled eggs atop the forcemeat, arranging them neatly so that they formed an eggy cross. Tim has a great picture of this accompanying his recipe. Oh, and don’t forget when you put the eggs in to make marks on your pie dish so you can cut the Gala Pie open to best effect!

I continued to carefully add more forcemeat, a spoonful at a time, keeping the eggs in their cruciform arrangement and lined up with their marks, and trying to keep from creating air pockets.  Even with shaping a slight mound, I still had a bit of forcemeat leftover, which made a delicious brunch when fried for a few minutes on each side and accompanied by a fried egg and a slice of toast.

The pie filled with forcemeat and eggs, the edges of the pastry brushed with beaten egg

The pie filled with forcemeat and eggs, the edges of the pastry brushed with beaten egg

After rolling out the pastry lid, and brushing beaten egg around the periphery, I pressed it into place. I cut a hole in the center of the lid, then used a pair of scissors to trim the edges of the pastry seam, and then shaped a nice crimped edge with my fingers, and finally brushed it all over with beaten egg.

It was handsome, but I’d been dreaming of adding a bit of fancy to this pie, so I used the leftover scraps of pastry to shape some leaves, vines, and berries, which I affixed to the lid of the pie with extra beaten egg.

The top of the as-yet unbaked Gala Pie

The top of the as-yet unbaked Gala Pie

Oh, it’s already so fine!

You can see the marks I made on the side of the pan with a marker in this view

You can see the marks I made on the side of the pan with a marker in this view

I baked the pie in a 350° oven for 90 minutes, and it came out looking impossibly, deliciously beautiful:

The Gala Pie finished baking

The Gala Pie finished baking

By now it was early afternoon, and my mushroom-hunting plans involved a long drive, so I gave up my plans to finish the pie and take it with us. I set the pie to cool, and left for a deeply pleasurable meander in one of my favorite old woods with my farmer-goddess friend, and we found that the rain-washed forest was full of mushrooms. A beautiful pile of chanterelles, and a whole variety of boletes to spore-print and identify, and farmer-goddess found her very favorite prized chaga mushroom! A long, sweet drive home, and we agreed to meet for our Gala Pie picnic the next day.

Can you identify this handsome burgundy mushroom? We think it's a type of bolete.

Can you identify this handsome burgundy mushroom? I think it might be a young bolete of some sort..

By the time I got home, late, the pie had cooled completely, and it was time to unlatch the springform and look at the whole pie.  I found that the crust inside the pan was still a bit pale, and so I put the naked pie in a very hot oven for around 20 minutes; this crisped and colored the crust nicely. I set the pie to cool again, and went to bed.

The next day was busy. Upon waking I heated up the pig’s foot jelly and found a small funnel, then carried out the painstaking last step of filling the gaps inside the pie with jelly. Into the ‘fridge to set, and the work day commenced.  Once all the packing, chores, sundry appointments and such were finished, farmer-goddess arrived and we once again set off, this time with a picnic cooler full of savory porky extravagance along with some beers, pickles, mustard, and cider. And chocolate. And fruit.

One funny thing: before we headed to the spot I’d thought of for our picnic, I had a last appointment to see about temporary housing. Remember I said I need to move on the 27th of September? We got to the office of the woman in charge of these house rentals, and I had a great meeting with her. We discussed the particulars, exchanged contact information, and shook hands. I was leaving, and suddenly I turned back and asked her in a rush: “Wanna see my Gala Pie?” It’s a testament to what an excellent individual she is that she grinned and answered, “Yes!” So we went out and I showed her the pie all fine in the picnic cooler. She was really impressed, and I was beaming. Another round of hand-shaking, and the goddess and I were off.

While we hadn’t planned on more mushroom hunting, we found some really interesting specimens as we drove to the meadow where we’d be having our tailgate pie picnic, including one giant bolete, which I’m almost certain was a king bolete.

Could this be the prized king bolete, the cep, the porcini, or as we call it in Denmark, the Karl Johan?

Could this be the prized king bolete, the cep, the porcini, or as we call it in Denmark, the Karl Johan?

Turning down a dirt track and driving through a high meadow filled with a profusion of late summer wildflowers, lots of goldenrod, milkweed, and purple aster, we finally got to the perfect spot and set up our picnic on the tailgate of my truck.

The Gala Pie, along ith mustards, pickles, beer, cider, along with some fruit and a bit of chocolate

The Gala Pie, along with mustards, pickles, beer, cider, as well as some fruit and a bit of chocolate

Now came the moment I’d been looking most forward to, cutting into the pie. Would it look as splendid as I imagined? Would it be tasty? Would farmer goddess like it?

The Gala Pie sees first light! Sliced in half, the eggs look fantastic, and the meat looks yummy.

The Gala Pie sees first light!

We were both on tenterhooks as I sliced, and when I pulled the pie apart we both made happy exclamations of amazement. Farmer goddess breathed, “Wow.” I was enthralled and giggling.  I cut one of the halves in half again, and then cut one of the quarter pies in half again, giving each of us a slice.

These slices resemble alien anime pork pie beings, n'est-ce pas?

These slices resemble alien anime pork pie beings, n'est-ce pas?

The pig’s foot jelly sparkled in the late afternoon sun, and we each took a few of last year’s cornichons and some mustard.

How great is the pickle lifter? Even though Maille-brand cornichons are a bit spendy, the jar with pickle-lifter are worth it

How great is the pickle lifter? Even though Maille-brand cornichons are a bit spendy, the jar and pickle-lifter are worth it.

We decided that next time we’d bring forks, but this time we just used a knife to cut each of our slice into bite-sized pieces, and our fingers. The sharp English mustard was my favorite, while farmer goddess preferred my own home-made Dijon with green peppercorns. Both of us agreed that the pickles were the perfect bright foil for this splendidly luxurious pie.

We kicked back for a little while, munching on grapes and chocolate, quietly marveling at the glory of the pie, as the full moon rose.

Cheese shmeese. The moon is clearly a shining golden Gala Pie.

Cheese shmeese. The moon is clearly a shining golden Gala Pie.

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About mosaica

Ugly & fabulous, warm & obsessive, brilliant & dorkmeisterish: striving to be a warrior in her little context.
This entry was posted in bacon, charcuterie, pork, trotter and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

43 Responses to Gala Pork Pie, Oh My!

  1. Fantastic! I’m sooo impressed – the decorations are so pretty and perfect for the pie, and the photo of the interior with that little line of aspic is just great!

  2. Spec-freaking-tacular! WOWZERS! I see you used a pie dish. Would have been nice if the recipe I used suggested that – and at the time I was doing it I KNEW I needed a dish but because I am new to this and following recipes faithfully, I didn’t use one. I also had issues with the pastry :( Learning that a lot of this is instinct and I know more than I think. I do not, however, know how to make gorgeous pies like this. Perhaps you can tour around North America giving pie lessons? Well done! PS, I have a cornichon lifter too :)

    • mosaica says:

      Thank you Miss Mardi :-) Yeah, I also had some trepidation about this hot water crust pastry; it worked out in the sense that it is tasty and looks nice, but I fretted about it as I made it. Yeah! How GREAT is a cornichon lifter?!

  3. dadekian says:

    Wow! What a beautiful pie top! Very nice, Iliana.

  4. cathy says:

    Iliana – It’s gorgeous. I’m gob-smacked (see, I’m using my Brit-speak!)

  5. Mike says:

    That pie is a thing of beauty!

  6. Lynn says:

    Wow – that pie is art! I am blown away – and I bet it was fabulous.

    • mosaica says:

      Thank you, Lynn! It’s good to have a project that works out like this one, particularly after a less than stellar August project. Kudos on your excellent post this month, and congratulations/commiserations on your move ;-)

  7. That’s stunning – I’d be torn between dying to see how it looked inside and never wanting to cut it open. A-maz-ing, truly.

    Sorry to hear you have to move again… I’ve had to move several times too recently and it can really test your cheerfulness and devotion to charcuterie :D

    • mosaica says:

      Thanks Jackie! Yeah, wow, I think I’ve wavered between these projects being, on the one hand, One More Damn Thing to get done each month, and on the other, the one thing which has brightened the otherwise grueling battle that has been 2011. Wow, that sounds pretty melodramatic, eh?

      Seriously, sometimes I struggle with second-guessing my own perception of events: am I a big whiner or is current life really that crap? But then I have a project like this one which helps me regain my normal set point of joy & humor, and I realize that yes, I am currently smack in the middle of a sea of bah, but I’m not altogether becalmed, that one day in the not-too-far-distant future, all this moving will be a faded memory. I think my spiritual teacher might tell me that I don’t have to wait to feel more at ease, but I expect I’m not there yet ;-)

      Still and all, the pie was Real Good!

  8. SallyCan says:

    That is (was) one absolutely beautiful pie! Nice story and pics, and your picnic looks lovely!

  9. Kelly says:

    Gorgeous! I have to say I’m a little squeamish about the pig feet, but your pie looks absolutely delicious and I would sample a taste with zero hesitation. Very impressive!

  10. absolutely gorgeous! I had though of doing a meat pie with Italian sausage flavorings- the meat pie pictures kept reminding me of the timbalo in “The Big Night”. Your beautiful landscape on the exterior of the meat pie would be perfect for that. And, I so envy your equal distribution of aspic!

    • mosaica says:

      Oh, thanks! I very much like the idea of an Italianate version of meat pie. The aspic thing was part insane painstaking 3-handed fussing, and part smiley gods ;-)

  11. Elle Ross says:

    Wow that is gorgeous!

  12. Mary T says:

    That is the most beautiful pie that I have ever seen! Your photos are gorgeous, too.

  13. Jay says:

    incredible, a work of art. Such an inspired action.

  14. vtbee says:

    omg, i MUST come to dine with you!!! dine and learn! your work is beautiful! both food and photography! ps. did you end up making the blackberry drink you had hoped to try?

    • mosaica says:

      Hello Miss Bee, and thanks! I didn’t make it.. yet! I still have around 2 cups of the berries you gifted me with, and I might try using them.. or, I might make blackberry gelato with ‘em :-)

  15. Ryan says:

    Oh my, what a pie! I think I’ll be making one of these for Christmas. Wow!

    • mosaica says:

      Hey, thanks Ryan! These are super fun to make. One thing I think I’ll try next time around: before applying the lid, I think I’ll create two slight & subtle channels atop the mound of forcemeat in the shape of a cross, and have that cross not coincide with the figurative cross made by the cutting guide. I would also add a shallow small depression just under where the vent hole will be. The point of these will be to improve and ease the whole pouring-in-the-pig’s-feet-jelly part of the process.

      I got nice aspic-action under the lid, but not so much on the sides.

  16. Fred Lee says:

    Wow, those are some amazing dishes. You should open a restaurant, or at least do something with food. I am so impressed with the level of expertise you’ve displayed. The pork pie looks too beautiful to eat, and those sausages. Amazing,

    • mosaica says:

      Aw, thanks! I think I’m too lazy to run a restaurant, but I do love working with food. Hey, I had no idea you were a surfer! Really?

      • vtbee says:

        i agree with fred – maybe you could do 4 seasonal dinners each year. limit the number of guests and make it worth your while. not to mention OURS, with your skills!! sign me up!

  17. kate hill says:

    Brava! this is so beautiful Iliana, and so true to the genre. love the double eggs…

    • mosaica says:

      Kate, thank you! It’s all due to Tim’s great photo-illustrated article about the Gala pie; with such good instruction, one can feel confident enough to get stuck in :-)

  18. I”m just reading this now. AMAZING. I remember meeting Tim Hayward’s article when it came out and feeling mega-inspired. Good luck with the move too!

  19. Dave Roberts says:

    Wow! That’s a work of art as much as it is a pork pie! I’m going to have to see if I can make one for some mountain adventures – though I’m certain I’d never get it to look that good!

  20. Wow!!!!
    The pi looks amazing!!!!

    : )

  21. OOOOppss! I accidentally dropped the “e”.
    Hard to believe that my fingers move faster than my mind, ’cause I can’t type!!! LOL
    Okay, so maybe it’s not so hard to believe.
    And so it goes!!

    : )

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