The Devil's Fish

I don't like anchovies. I don't like how they taste or look. I don't like their inclusion on an otherwise delicious pizza. I don't like the way that their salty sharpness dominates a recipe. They are, as far as I'm concerned, The Devil's Fish. And yet... I have cooked a recipe that uses them quite subtly; one that I don't think I'll be leaving anchovies out of in future. I have found these anchovies to be... useful.

The recipe is for classic pork pies, yet another dish that I thought came straight out of a deli or fridge section of whichever chain food store you wish to mention. Amazingly, you can make them at home: this recipe is one lovingly collected from Stylist magazine's "gourmet on the go" section. I imagine that the editor must think that the cook "on the go" is a three-toed sloth, because making these pork pies took me hours. (Incidentally, I think Stylist has gone downhill a bit in recent months; I used to rely on it for my free weekly girly-fix, but I just don't find it that essential anymore. But I digress.)

In addition to a substantial amount of time, you need:

for the pastry
450g of plain flour
one egg
175g lard
one teaspoon of salt
one teaspoon of sugar;

for the filling
300g pork belly (skin removed)
300g pork shoulder
two anchovies in oil (drained)
200g smoked bacon
half a nutmeg seed (grated)
salt and pepper to season;

for the jelly
three gelatine leaves
200ml good chicken stock
100ml sweet sherry
one plastic syringe;

butter for greasing
flour for dusting and rolling
one egg, beaten with a pinch of salt for glazing.

I started on the pastry first, mixing the flour with the egg and stirring while I melted the lard in a pan of 175ml of water, adding the salt and sugar as I went. Bringing the mixture to the boil then taking if off the heat after 30 seconds, I added this to the flour / egg mixture, stirring all the time.

Once the dough was sticky, I covered it with a tea towel, letting it rest for one hour, before turning it out onto a floured work surface to flatten. I then folded the flattened dough into thirds by taking one side into the middle and pressing down, then repeating with the other side.

I flattened this into an oblong shape and placed it on a baking tray covered with greaseproof paper and put it into the fridge for 30 minutes.

Next came the meat. After dicing the pork belly and shoulder, I mixed them with the anchovies (holding them at arm's length) before whizzing the lot of them in a food processor until they were mincemeat. I then diced the bacon and stirred this in before adding the nutmeg and seasoning.

After turning the oven on to 180ÂșC / gas mark 4, I took out the pastry and rolled it out on a floured surface. I folded it into three then rolled it out again until it was about three millimetres thick. From this, I cut out eight 12 cm-wide circles and eight 8cm-wide circles.

I greased eight metal pie moulds, dusted them with flour and lined with the 12cm pastry circle, leaving a little over-lapping. To each, I added one eighth of my pork filling, before placing the 8cm pastry circle on top, crimping the edges as I went.

After brushing them with egg wash and skewering a hole in the top, I placed them in the hot oven and baked for 40 minutes. Once out, I placed them on a rack to cool for two hours.

Now for the jelly. I soaked the gelatine in water for two minutes then squeezed out the excess water. This gelatine was added to the heated chicken stock and sherry and I stirred until it was dissolved, before cooling until it was thick enough to pour... fun and games were approaching.

I've never added jelly to a recipe like this before. The instructions stated using a syringe and, considering that I didn't know where the nearest needle exchange was situated, found myself in Sainsbury's buying a syringe for adding icing. (This, for reasons about to be made plain, may not be the best instrument for such a task. If you can think of a better one for next time, please let me know.)

I filled the syringe's body with the jelly and squeezed it into the hole I'd made in the top of the pastry. While a fair amount made it into the pie, a good deal of the jelly made it all over the work surface. Most annoying. I placed the whole lot in the fridge overnight, although eight hours would have been enough: I think I'd had enough of the process by this time.

However, when I took the pies out of the fridge the following morning, I was most pleased with the results: a lovely, crumbly pastry with a firm, meaty filling and a pleasant jellied surround awaited me as I sliced into the first pork pie. I added some mustard to the second slice; a little brown sauce to the third. They were lovely, providing me with a pleasant lunch for the next few days, when consumed with a large salad.

As to the Devil's Fish, I thought it blended in quite nicely. Will I try it again?


  1. Jonathan, you never cease to amaze me. I would have taken one look at that recipe and headed for the hills. Anchovies are hairy and salty and utterly unappealing (although I think I may have a single recipe in which they are indispensable), and you wade right in and do the whole thing with pastry and jelly and heaven knows what-all... It is not a recipe for the faint of heart, a group in which I have long-standing membership. Bravo.

  2. I'm not a fan of anchovies either, although to be fair, I've never tried cooking with them and haven't eaten them in a good number of years. In this recipe however, I think I could stand them. It looks quite complicated, but how satisfying to make your own pies from scratch! Thank you for sharing this.