Tuesday, 23 March 2010

Media Overload

MamaDuck returned from The Land That May Contains Nuts last Friday. Bearing gifts, she was, including a bunch of DVDs. She brought two serieseses of The Mighty Boosh, the first series of Spaced (are there any more?), and a couple of Doctor Whos.

And the following day she bought me 'And Another Thing' - the sixth instalment in the HitchHiker's Guide To The Galaxy, by Eoin Colfer, and 'Unseen Academicals' by Pterry Pratchett.

So that's my reading and viewing sorted out for a while.

Monday, 15 March 2010

The Acid Test

This will be the last story about pork pies, I promise (for now, at least).

So, I'm here in a little village in the mountains of Guadalajara, enjoying a relaxing long weekend. The village is very small, and has one bar/restaurant. It's owned and operated by José-Luis, who loves Brit food and trained as a chef in England. Having eaten there a few times, I can tell you he is an excellent cook.

When I arrived on Saturday, my friends told José-Luis about my pork pies and home-made Branston-style pickle, and promised to let the regulars have a taste (but not on Saturday when the place is swamped by tourists).

Last night we took two pies down and cut them into wedges. The verdict? José-Luis says he wants to marry me. He also wants as much of the pickle I care to give him next time I visit. And he's been told about my steak and kidney pie, so I'll be making a big one on the next trip - likely to be at Easter.

Saturday, 13 March 2010

Perfect Pork Pie - Part Four

I gave one of the first batch of pies to a mate. He loved it, and told another dude about it. A few days later I was out with this other dude, who said he would pay a good bottle of wine for one of these pies. So I made another batch and gave him one (and first friend got another one). And they both got a little jar of pseudo-Branston pickle that I made. Got a text from other dude today, 'wow what a pie! D fucking licious!'.

I'm off to stay with some buddies in the sticks this weekend, so naturally, pies will be required. I've improved the production technique since the first batch. The jam jar is gone, replaced by a small, slightly tapered bistro glass.

Pack it with the meat mixture:

Then smear the outside with flour and raise the pastry round it:

Finally, use the upturned glass to cut the pastry lids:

This is just wonderful, because it means everything fits together nicely. The block of meat shrinks during cooking, leaving a goodly gap for the jelly to flow into. Oh, and I've started putting a few blobs of pastry on top of the meat before putting the lid on. These act as spacers, and make sure there's a gap between the top of the meat and the lid - again, for the purpose of good jelly flow.

Here's what this batch looks like:

Not a great photo, actually - they're much better-looking in the flesh. Off to pump them full of jelly now.

Friday, 5 March 2010

My Day

Pathetic, really, the things we wish for. Two days ago, I wished for a meat grinder, and if it had nozzles to stuff sausages with, that would be even better. A few days before that, I’d been in an industrial catering shop and asked about picadores de carne. They showed me what they had, and I got the impression that the manual ones were 23 Euros. I had no cash on me at the time, and resolved to go back later.

Two days ago, I went back. The two ugly cast aluminium ones were actually fifty three Euros. The sole electric one, which looked like it could do a thousand bangers a minute, was about two hundred. They showed me another one, apparently made out of tinfoil. Clearly that would not be up to the job.

But I was extremely pleased with my use of Spanish in explaining my decision not to buy any of them. I got this, that and those into one sentence, and made them laugh. (Este is too crappy, ese is too expensive, aquellos are too ugly).

On my return home, I logged onto EBay Spain, and came up with a result. An electric grinder and embutidora for 39 Euros. And in Madrid, too. I emailed the seller in my bad Spanish. I want this machine: ¿where and when can I get it?  The next day they emailed the address. The other side of town, but very close to a Metro station, so not a problem. I emailed back. ¿I will come at 1.30, is that okay? At three o’clock, they replied. Sure, they said. I emailed them to say I would be there tomorrow (Friday) at eleven, and please don’t sell it to anyone else.

There were a few more emails where we exchanged phone numbers.

Cue REM: It’s Been A Bad Day…

I had plans to be up bright and early this morning, but with my wife away and my aversion to alarm clocks, it was ten o’clock when I surfaced.

I got to the address at 11.30. It was a shop, closing down, and the stuff in it was the remnants of their stock. I could have gone at any time, without an appointment, but they hadn’t told me this: I thought I was dealing with a private vendor. Never mind. The man in the shop was busy with a customer, so I mooched around the place. Not a meat grinder to be seen. Eventually, the shopkeeper was free.

I saw a meat grinder on EBay. I emailed you. ¿Where is it?

Expecting him to pull it out from a secret place somewhere. Ah, no, he said, I sold it to a man in Zaragoza, over the phone.

I expressed my disgust, went to a horrible bar for a consolatory vermut de grifo. My phone rang. The man from the shop: don’t come to the shop, the machine is sold.

Yeah, right. Gracias, hijo de puta, joder. &c.

Emerging from the horrible bar, I could not but help notice the rain, freezing cold shards digging into my scalp. I’d come out without my hat. Joder. I mooched around this unfamiliar barrio (Prosperidad/Alfonso Trece). By this time, I had decided that if I couldn’t have a meat grinder, I could at least have a nice lunch. I examined the blackboards outside the restaurants. None had anything I fancied, so I took the Metro into town. I got off at Bilbao and walked up to Plaza de Olavide. On a decent day, you cannot move for people in this place. Today, in the now-pissing-down rain, it was deserted. Not one of the restaurants here was offering anything I wanted.

I headed down Calle de Hortaleza, examining every Menu Del Día I passed. Obviously, Friday is Crap Food Day. I finished up in Chueca, the gay barrio where I used to live. There are four or five places here where I used to eat, none of them brilliant, but all competent (although one of them does do the world’s best Cocido Madrileño, but only on Thursdays). They all seemed to be observing Crap Food Day too, so I finished up at the grey place whose name I do not know, on the corner of Calles Prim and Barquillo.

The pinch-faced, bespectacled, surly waiter takes my order. The chickpea soup with salt cod is okay, but I don’t eat all of it because you can only eat so many beans without changing your underpants. I don’t have the Spanish language skill to explain this as he glares down his nose at me in disapproval of me leaving food. Joder, I’m paying for it.

Another waiter brings my second plate. Allegedly roast lamb, but I can tell when something has been deep-fried. I eat as much as I can, and begin looking for a pot-plant or something like it where I can hide the rest of the inedible food. The dining area in this place is up a few steps at the back of the room. From here, if I wear my glasses, I can see everything that goes on.

And what I see is the pinch-faced, bespectacled, surly waiter running to the near end of the bar. He is obstructed by a crowd of people and turns round to face a thick-set man in a high-visiblity jacket, who throws a punch at him. It doesn’t quite connect, but does knock his glasses off. The waiter is infuriated, and determined to return the aggression, but his colleagues jump on him and restrain him. The thick-set man in the high-visibility jacket is escorted from the premises, and the waiter is allowed to continue work.

I am surprised that no police are called, and that the waiter, once his glasses have been found, seems to be completely unaffected by this incident. Had it been me, I would need a bucketful of brandy to aid my recovery. The words loco and tonto are heard. Nobody offers any comfort or solace to the waiter, and he doesn’t seem to need it. It’s as if this happens all the time.

So perhaps I’ve walked into the middle of a soap opera. Hi-vis-jacket-man is nasty waiter’s former lover, seeking retribution. Or something like that. Who knows?

I cannot eat anything after this, and nasty waiter takes my half-full plate away and brings me a café solo.
I pay the bill and get out of there as quickly as I can.

I go to Café Lucar, across the road. There are no free stools, so I stand for a bit and order a glass of wine. I roll me a cigarette, and look around the place. Sitting on the stool nearest the window is a thick-set man in a high-visibility jacket. He’s talking to a camarero, something along the lines of ‘you’ll never guess what just happened to me’. The words loco and tonto are heard.

A stool becomes available further down the bar, so I take it. The waiter who is looking after the diners recognises me and comes over. ¿Que tal? ¿Todo bien? He’s a nice guy, I think, but has unusually dark eyelashes, dark enough so you’d notice. And this is Chueca. I grunt and smile, and he goes away.

I focus on the guy behind the bar. He’s stopped talking to señor hi-vis jacket, and is doing something at the coffee machine. Something weird. He’s got a tumbler half-full of… what? Brandy? Whiskey? Whatever, he’s just set fire to it and now has coffee dribbling into it while it burns. He delivers it to the guy sitting next to me. I ask him what it is, but don’t catch the reply. It seems he’s from Barcelona, and this drink is common there.

I walk to Gran Via Metro and return to Tetuan, where nothing ever happens.

Wednesday, 3 March 2010

Perfect Pork Pie - Part Three

So, here it is:

I'm the first to admit there's room for improvement, but it was still better than edible. The pastry needs to be firmer to help it hold a better shape. The filling I think will be better once I've got me a grinder and can do it with proper meat. I actually put too much pepper in, and it could have done with a pinch of salt (I try to avoid using salt, but sometimes you've just got to). And the jelly, well, I should have left it alone.  Adding the soy sauce and reducing it more just made it unpleasantly strongly flavoured.

So, I may try this again next week. And given that the alternative in Spain is no pork pies at all, I'm quite happy.

Perfect Pork Pie - Part Two

The pork stock jelly finally looked like it was nearly ready - everything in it had disintegrated. At this point, you strain the liquid off, and then put it on a high heat until it reduces to about one-third. Then slap it in the fridge. Now make the pastry.

I don't do quantities, I do proportions, and I reckon you want about 2 parts flour to one part liquid*. Put your plain, ordinary flour into a bowl. Add as much or as little salt as you feel like and mix well. Melt your lard into some water (about the same volume of each). Make a well in the flour and gradually add the fatty liquid, stirring as constantly as you can. You'll eventually end up with a silky blob that doesn't stick to the sides of the bowl. Wrap the blob in clingfilm and stick it in the fridge.

Now you need to prep the meat. Most recipes I've seen have you grinding pork shoulder and pork fat, and maybe some pork belly and some even suggest adding some bacon. I don't have a meat grinder (yet!) so I'm using 'pork burger meat' from the supermarket (minced meat in Madrid supermarkets is always 'burger meat', which is probably a legal term indicating it will be 15% soy protein, 20% fat, 5% sweepings from the butchery floor, 10% breadcrumbs, and the remainder actual stuff from the carcass of a domesticated farm animal (including toenails, bristles, eyelashes and ground-up bones)). I've mixed some nutmeg into it and a LOT of ground black pepper.

The interesting thing about this not-really-a-recipe is the construction of the pie casing. In the video they use a thing called a pork-pie dolly as a former. Obviously I haven't got one of those, so I'm going to use a jam jar to form the base around. Wish me luck, off to try it now...

Okay, 4 pork pies in da oven!

Cover the bottom and sides of your jam jar with flour to stop the pastry from sticking. Divide your pastry into bits that look big enough to form the bottom and sides of the pie-case. Roll one of these pieces into a ball. Then place it on your worktop and flatten it with your hand. Enlarge the circle of pastry until it's about an inch and a half wider than your jam jar. The pastry should be about a quarter of an inch thick. Pop the jam jar in the centre of the pastry disc, pick up the edges of the pastry and press them against the side of the jar. It's a bit like turning clay - infuriating at first, but eventually you get the pastry to stick to itself and then you can remove the jar.

The pastry will likely collapse in a heap, but don't worry. Take a ball of your meat mixture and place it inside the pastry case. Brush the lip and inner edge of the pastry base with beaten egg (this is your glue). Flatten a disc of pastry for the lid. Place it on top of the base and crimp the edges - try to have the edge raised slightly above the top of the pie.

Assemble the rest of your pies and preheat your oven to 180C. Now make a biggish hole in the lid of each pie - this is to let steam escape during cooking, and also for you to get your jelly in later. Brush the lids with beaten egg and slap 'em in the oven for 45 minutes to an hour.

Sit down and have a stiff drink. Bloody hell, you've earned it!

At this point, I took my jellied stock out of the fridge - it had set in a perfectly wobbly way, but I tasted a bit and it was slightly weird. Bland, like. So I'm reducing it a bit more and I've added some soy sauce.


I think I might have to write a seriously honest cookbook. It'll be called something like 'What To Do When The Fecking Recipe Doesn't Work'. After 45 mins of medium temperature cooking, my pies were pale, uninteresting and probably lethally undercooked. I whacked the temperature up to 230C for fifteen minutes. At the end of which they had expanded horizontally and stuck together. So I've spread them apart and they're getting another fifteen minutes.

(There might well be a gap in the market for a cook-book that tells it like it is. It would have to be a big thick thing. If I was to write down this recipe, for example, it would be a helluva lot more concise than this blog post. Somebody once asked me how I got my spaghetti to taste so wonderful. I probably goggled at her like a goggle-eyed thing. It's astoundingly simple: bring a load of water to a rolling boil, chuck the spag in, stir it a bit, turn down the heat, wait eight point three five minutes, drain and serve. No, she said, how do you get it to taste so buttery? Oh, well obviously after you've drained it and before you serve it, you put it back in the pan with a knob of butter and give it a good ole whizz round and then serve it. Sheesh, do I have to tell you everything?)

And while I was writing that ^^^, the damn porkies were in the oven for another fifteen minutes: sides not done, see.

Any road up, as we like to say in Yorkshireland, here they are:

Nice colour on the tops, rubbish shape, but I expect they'll taste fab (presentation is nothing, do you see). It's gone midnight here. These babbies need to cool down before I try to jellify them, so they're going in the fridge and I'll attempt the jelly thing in the morning. I guess this is why pork pies are made in factories. Anyhoo, look out for Part Three, The Verdict.

And goodnight.

*In retrospect, I'd try 2.5 to 3 times more flour than liquid'n'fat. Stiffer, see.

Tuesday, 2 March 2010

Perfect Pork Pie - Part One

First of all, you might want to skip reading this if you're a vegetarian or in any way pork-averse.

Who's left? Probably only The Fat Expats.

I discovered yesterday (via bloody Twitter, of all things) that we are now into British Pie Week. Actually, BPW is a thing invented by Jus-Rol (makers of frozen pastry for lazy people) to increase sales. On Twitter, you can follow #britishpieweek.

Now, it's a well-known fact in some circles that I am a big fan of pies of all sorts (article here, about halfway down the page, and I also get a mention here), and also a bit of a purist as to what constitutes a pie.  Pie-filling placed in a ceramic dish and baked with an oval of Jus-Rol flaky pastry on top cannot be considered a pie (despite the fact that Jus-Rol's winning 'pie' for BPW was exactly that). A pizza is not a pie, and nor is a pastie, or a quiche, tart, flan or crumble. A pie is this: pastry top and bottom, tasty savoury or sweet stuff inside, sealed at the edges and baked.

By pure coincidence, I had a few chums round for lunch a few days ago, and for the main course I made a rather splendid steak and mushroom pie (it would have been steak and kidney, but one of the guests refuses to eat offal). And MamaDuck, who is currently in Bristol, reported they'd had lunch at a pie shop that goes by the wondrous name of The Pie Minister (there are some things you just wish you'd thought of). So, I've been thinking about pies. Unfortunately they're way too fiddly for me to make just for myself. But I thought I could make a bunch of little pies, and they'd be good for lunch. A couple of years ago I had a phase of making pork pies. They weren't the greatest things, but lots of people loved them. So, inspired by this video, I'm making pork pies right now.

You need three things to make a proper Melton Mowbray-style pork pie: hot water pastry, the pork filling, and the delicious jelly that fills the space between the meat and the pastry. Previously, I've used gelatine for this, but it doesn't really have any flavour, so this time I'm going to attempt my own. I've got onion, celery, carrot and leek which I'll boil up in water with bay leaves, maybe some garlic and certainly some black peppercorns, a sprig of thyme and a couple of cloves. And the magic ingredient, some pigs' trotters, which are high in gelatine and should make the stock set into a nice wobbly jelly.

And, bugger, I've just noticed I haven't actually got pigs' trotters, I've got sheeps' hands. Well, they'll have to do: if they don't work I can always slap some powdered gelatine in.

For the pastry, you need flour and lard. It came as a surprise to me that here in Spain, the pork capital of the universe, lard (manteca) is actually quite hard to get hold of and is surprisingly expensive. I've taken to making my own. Basically all you do is get some slabs of tocino (pork fat, usually attached to skin), cut it into chunks and throw it in a pan on low heat (3/10 on the electric hob). The fat will melt, eventually, and the remaining skin will go brown. (If you like pork scratchings, the skin is not a lot different).

I have made hot water pastry before, but I've never attempted the raising method shown in the video - in my previous attempts I've used a tin. Obviously, if your pie is not in a tin, the pastry will cook more evenly, although it could well turn out to be a funny shape.

I'm gonna post this now: I think the stock needs another hour or two. Meanwhile I'll prep the meat and the pastry. Another post later, with pictures...