Friday, September 24, 2010

Cooking from home: Cornish Pasties

It’s really the mythology surrounding the pasty that first caught my attention. Cornish tin miners who worked very long days would bring in these into the mine for lunch. Covered head to toe in dirt, arsenic and tin ore dust, they would hold the pasty(also called a teddy in the Cornish dialect) by the crust while they were eating it so they wouldn't eat the dirt off their hands. They would discard the dirty ends to appease the “knockers”, a sort of miner’s leprechaun who would knock on the walls right before a deadly collapse.

My version originated in the Cornwall region and is different from a traditional Cornish pasty in that the fold is along the side of the pasty instead of the top.
There is a joke that a well made pasty would survive a fall down a tin mine shaft without breaking open. My version isn’t quite so… tough.

I love the idea of making a traditional food miners would take down for lunch. It’s sort of a romantic homage to homemade treats for hard working men. The miner's wives would bake the pasties in the morning and write their husband’s initials in extra dough on the outside so the miners would know which one was theirs. Sometimes the pasty would have an extra compartment near the bottom towards the dough handle was which would be filled with jam or preserves as the dessert portion of the lunch.

I fell in love with these little gems years and years ago. It’s a very simple recipe,

Pastry crust
Pork or beef
Poultry Seasoning*
Salt and pepper(If you want to test the salt levels take a small spoonful of the mixture and cook it in a pan, don't eat the raw pork please)

You can make your own poultry seasoning like this
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons dried leaf sage, crumbled
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried leaf thyme, crumbled
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried marjoram, crumbled
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground pepper

If you want to take the easy way out you can buy pie crusts already in pans at any grocery store and cut up all the filling and stuff it raw into the crust and bake them for 30-40 minutes in a 350 degree oven.


You can do it the “hardcore Max is insane” way.

I buy a whole pork shoulder and cut it off the bone. I butcher the large hunks of meat, pulling apart the large muscle groups and cutting away all the excess fat from the outside and between the muscle groups. I set aside all the trimmings and fat. After wrapping up the meat and setting it in the refrigerator I slice the fat into small cubes and put it into a pan on medium low heat. Without allowing the fat to burn I render the fat (basically pull the liquid fat out of the dense fatty tissue.) after 20 minutes or so the fat tissue starts to brown and become very crispy. You can turn off the heat and pull out the crispy chunks. The liquid is pure unadulterated, not unnaturally hydrogenated, lard. Most lard in supermarkets is hydrogenated further then nature intended to keep it more shelf-stable, this also makes it about a million times worse for you.
I make the pastry dough according to this recipe

1 part Lard
1 part ice cold butter
8 parts flour
1 tsp salt
As little water as possible to get it to stick together 3-6 T.

I use a Cuisinart with blades to bring together the mixture. I don’t over cut the butter by mixing it too long and I usually mix the lard and flour in the Cuisinart before I add the very very cold butter. After the butter has become coated in the flour and are pea sized lumps I add a few tablespoons of water just until the dough starts to form larger then pea sized clumps. This is really something that needs to be experimented with to be perfected.

The idea is that the flour has a lot of gluten. Gluten is basically a large protein molecule that when mixed together in the presence of water start binding to one another to make big long chewy wads. These are great for things like bread and bagels but horrible for things like pastry crusts. We avoid this binding by adding as little water as possible and not overworking the dough. This makes a nice tender crust. By adding in the butter last and making sure it’s very cold and only mixing a little bit after we add the butter, we’ll make it more flaky and delicious.

Once we are done mixing our dough we have to let it rest wrapped tightly in plastic wrap in the refrigerator to allow the little bit of moisture we added to permeate through the dough evenly and we want the dough as cold as possible when we are rolling it out to keep our flaky texture in the dough.

Once the dough has sat in the refrigerator for an hour we are ready to roll.
But we can use this time to make up our fillings. I cut everything into ¼ inch(2/3cm) cubes and mix it all together in a giant bowl.

First we split our pastry into small fist size balls and roll it out in flour. Make sure to work fast and keep the dough cold. Once the dough is sufficiently thin, about 1/8th inch (1/3cm) add a large handful of filling off-center from the middle of the dough. Grab the side of the dough furthest from the filling and fold it over the filling carefully. Crimp the edge, folding the dough onto over your finger, removing the finger and pressing down all the way across the dough to make a half moon shape.

I brush the top of the dough with an egg and milk mixed together to give the finished product a darker color. I add steam escape slits so they don't blow up in the oven

Bake for 40 minutes in a 350 degree oven and blammo you have a tasty pasty!(does not rhyme)

The other option at this point, especially if you, like me, have a lot more filling then you do dough, you can make it into a tasty pasty pie!



1 comment:

  1. I must eat this. I've had a lot of pasties, but this one sounds like a party for my mouth. As far as I am concerned anything with homeade lard in it HAS to be good.