Boxing Day success. My offspring gave me the meat thermometer for St. Nicholas; next time I make a pork pie I’ll try it on that, too.
Added thoughts and observations, December 27.
Veal and venison filling:
meat from a smallish roebuck foreleg, or 10oz (300 g) stewing venison, cubed
goose fat, bacon fat, lard or butter
bit of leftover wine or cider (optional)
splash of wine vinegar
venison, duck or chicken stock
Sear the meat in hot fat and add spices, wine or cider, vinegar and stock so the meat is almost covered with liquid. Stew until the meat is so tender that you can break it with your fingers or a wooden spoon, at least 2-3 hours or longer depending on the age of the animal. Add more stock or wine as necessary. Set apart.
about 1 1/3 lb (600 g) veal, not too lean, in chunks
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp ground black pepper
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp ground ginger
1/2 tsp ground galangal
pinch ground mace
pinch ground cloves
1/2 tsp sugar
1 slice stale white bread
Put the veal through a meat grinder, mix in salt, spices and sugar and put it through the grinder again. Finish off by grinding the slice of bread into the mixture.
4-5 figs in marble-sized pieces
8-10 dates, ditto
Add veal and fruit to the venison and mix very well (if there’s a lot of liquid with the venison, fish out the pieces of meat and reduce it first). It should be juicy but not soggy– any remaining sogginess can be fixed with some breadcrumbs. Put it in the fridge until the crust is ready.
Jane Grigson’s hot-water crust:
1 lb flour (454 g)
1/2 tsp salt
1 heaped tsp icing sugar
Sift the flour with salt and sugar into a bowl and make a well in the centre.
7 oz water (196 ml)
6 oz lard (168 g)
Bring water with lard to a boil and pour it into the flour all at once. Stir with a wooden spoon, taking the flour into the liquid from the sides, until it hangs together. Gather it into a ball with your hands. DON’T KNEAD! Cover with a cloth and leave it in a warm place for a while to ripen. (If you can’t get lard, suet will do, or at a pinch vegetable shortening. Butter makes the dough too limp and margarine should be consigned to the Outer Darkness, where there is Wailing and Gnashing of Teeth.)
Preheat the oven to 175°C/350°F.
Grease a high 20cm/8in (or normal 22cm/9in) spring mould (with lard if possible, but goose fat or bacon fat or oil will do). Take 3/4 of the dough, plop it in the mould and pound it with your knuckles so it expands to cover the mould evenly. Work it up the sides. Cut off any that goes over the edge and add it to the reserved part.
Flour a board and roll out the remaining dough to a rough circle that will cover the spring mould.
Fill the dough case with the meat mixture. If you have a pie chimney or pie bird, put that in the centre. If not, make a tube a bit higher than the mould from a double thickness of aluminium foil wrapped round the handle of a wooden spoon, poke a hole in the centre of the meat with your finger and stick the tube in. Cut a hole in the middle of the dough circle with an apple corer or a knife and fit the hole over the chimney. Press the edge of the lid to the edge of the case and cut off the excess (you can use that to make decorations).
Decorate the pie if you like. Brush it with beaten egg. Ideally, place the spring-mould in a slightly larger ovenproof dish to catch any juice that runs out.
Bake in the middle of the oven for about 40-45 minutes. If you have a meat thermometer, stick it in the centre of the pie: the temperature should reach 70°C (160°F). If you’re very daring, remove the ring part of the mould for the last 10 minutes or so to brown the sides.
I had about a wineglass’ worth of what had once been dry apple wine, so bitter and acidic to start with that we used it as vinegar after the first taste, and stewed the venison in that. Venison, being on the sweet side itself, can bear a lot of bitterness. I seared the bones with the hard-to-dislodge meat on them and stewed them with the meat for extra flavour. It doesn’t matter very much what you stew the venison in (as long as there’s at least something acidic in it, hence the vinegar); what does matter is that it gets really tender, so stew it a couple of hours at least.
When I told the butcher what I wanted to do with the veal he showed me a whole loin of veal that he was going to cut entrecotes from, saying “this is the only veal I’ve got.” I thought it was perfect, especially as it had the layer of fat that defines entrecote. So I said “please reserve me a pound and a half of that!” but the piece I got was probably closer to two pounds. I ground all of it –I have a small meat grinder–, eyeballed what I thought I’d need (about 3/4) and froze the rest. I didn’t weigh either portion, or indeed the whole, but by the size I think I used just over a pound. One recipe I used for research said to mince veal very finely and I have only a medium-coarse grinding sieve, so I ground it again, seasoning it after the first pass. The second time the grinder got clogged with small fibers so I had to clean the sieve 4-5 times in between. The fine texture made for nicely solid pie filling when it was cold. If the veal had been leaner, I’d have added a bit of unsalted fatty pork belly for juiciness.
There are undoubtedly pie-crust recipes as good as the one Jane Grigson gives in Good Things, but this one Just Works. The only similar pie crust I’ve had that was anywhere near as good was in Ma Brown’s Restaurant in Haarlem (which sadly no longer exists), and my other half said on tasting it “oh, you can do that too”. Well, yes, it turns out. Perhaps Ma Brown used the same recipe, come to think of it.
Any good pork butcher should be able to sell you rendered lard. If they don’t, bug them; if they’re not amenable, find a better butcher. Rendering your own lard is possible, but the fatty pig parts to render from may be harder to come by than a tub of ready-made lard.
I should have put in the thermometer earlier than I did, and trusted my (and my other half’s) intuition that the temperature should be 70 degrees. As it was, I put in the thermometer about halfway through, and took the pie out of the oven when the temperature seemed to stop rising at about 60 degrees, and it was still a bit raw-looking in the centre. This shouldn’t be a problem with veal, but it is with pie (after all you’ll also want to eat it cold) so I put the test slice back in and gave it another 10 minutes, taking it to 70 degrees and perfect doneness.
Not much juice seeped out, but I was glad I’d put the spring-mould in the bottom of the larger similar spring-mould because there was slight leakage after I’d cut a slice out. I didn’t put back the ring of the spring-mould, but forgot to brush the sides with egg, too. This would probably have made it prettier still– I’d decorated the top with pastry holly leaves and berries.
The result was a very firm but still not dry pie. Cold it was if possible even better than hot, because all the flavours had merged better. Somehow I’d managed to intuitively get all the proportions of mince, chunks of meat, chunks of fruit and spices right, too. Unqualified success.