An English Gala Pie Recipe fit for Saint George’s Day

21 April 2013 § 7 Comments

I’m really excited about this special guest post from King Marv.
(AKA my husband, Neal.)

He has talked about making this gala pie for well over a year so it was a major event when he finally got around to doing it. Sourcing the ingredients was an adventure in itself: after all, it’s not every day that a girl buy pigs trotters and lard. And don’t start me on the epic saga of actually making the pie. Suffice to say that it was a journey that started with a mere three hours of simmering pigs fat and trotters…  I now understand why one rarely encounters home-made pork pies, let alone the gala variety that comes embedded with hard-boiled eggs.


So, over to Neal. He affects a more cultured demeanor than me, so please humour him while he starts with a little Shakespeare…

Once more unto the breach, dear friends, once more…
Follow your spirit, and upon this charge,
Cry ‘God for Harry, England, and Saint George!’

— From Henry V  by William Shakespeare

April 23rd is St. George’s Day and St. George is the Patron Saint of England.

Whereas Shakespeare invoked him in Henry’s stirring rallying cry before fighting the French at the Siege of Harfleur, Old George is by far the lesser known of the saints emerging from the archipelago of British and Irish Isles.

Certainly, everyone is familiar with the celebration of St. Patrick (the Patron Saint of Ireland) and a few may have heard of  St.David  (the Patron Saint of Wales) or St. Andrew (the Patron Saint of Scotland, although the Scots tend to party harder on Burns Night). But even in England, other than the wearing of a red rose in the lapel, St. George’s Day is a decidedly low-key affair. How terribly English.

To celebrate St. George’s Day this year, This Little Piggy set me to work in the kitchen to pull together a Gala Pie: this most English of dishes. She could have done it herself but she had two reasons to push me to the fore: Firstly, I’m actually English whereas she’s more of the St. David persuasion and secondly, she wanted to relieve me of the obsession I’ve had with this dish ever since I read Tim Hayward’s recipe in The Guardian last year.

As Jamie Oliver once pointed out, British food has a terrible reputation—largely because of proximity and comparison to the snobbish cuisine of France and also because of the austerity and rationing post-World War Two—but has emerged as real force in recent years. Any traveller to Britain in the last decade must have noticed that improvement. Even Montclair’s own Pig & Prince adapted the London-term Gastro Pub as a descriptor. The rise of the Gastro Pub back home has been largely down to something else that Oliver championed: a return to the things that made British food great in the first place, things with a distinctly savoury flavour (note spelling) : meats, game and pies.

The Gala pie is perhaps the pinnacle of that tradition: “The King Of The Picnic Blanket”, as Mr. Hayward calls it.


Ask any ex-pat Brit, Aussie or Irishman about the difference between American food and the food they ate back home and they’ll tell you that, with the exception of chicken pot-pie, American pies are almost uniquely a sweet affair, whereas in the rest of the English-speaking world, meat and savory pies are part and parcel of the national cuisine.

So, here’s my take on Gala Pie. It was an involved but thoroughly rewarding process. When you first cut into the majestic crust revealing the egg within, the crowning symbol of this “impossibly sophisticated refinement on the quotidian pub pork-pie”, you will feel as regal as Henry in Shakespeare’s play.

The crust is as hearty and as meaty as its contents. The interior—a protein lover’s dream— is flavorful, solid, and yet somehow delicate, like an encrusted, coarse French pâté. And like most of the good things in life, it is delightful served cold with chutney and a glass of English Ale.

In this case, This Little Piggy made the chutney herself (the recipe will appear shortly, but those of you who can’t wait could buy some Branston Pickle), and the beer we selected was Samuel Smith’s Organic Ale. This very drinkable English beer has a clean taste, a smooth finish and hints of citrus flavors that went beautifully with the cured meats in the pie. As a die-hard Northern Englishman, I will admit to going all dewy-eyed at its impeccable Yorkshire provenance and its simple, beautiful, lo-fi label.

The pie’s list of meaty ingredients is simple and short, just a pairing of two different pork cuts, but as Hayward notes in the Guardian:

“… some consider a gala pie should also contain chicken. You can, if you wish, introduce a layer of poached or leftover roast chicken above or below the eggs but we could no longer be friends. I personally consider this to be a ridiculous affectation – possibly even French.”  

And on St. George’s Day, who could possibly disagree with that?  Once more unto the breach, dear friends, once more…


 For the filling:

trimming2lbs boned pork shoulder, skin on
7oz un-smoked bacon
0.1oz each of sage, mace, nutmeg, allspice, black pepper
½ oz salt
4 eggs

For the pastry:

16oz plain flour

¼ oz salt

6oz lard

half a cup of water

For the jelly:
1 split pig trotter
1 carrot
1 stick celery
2 bay leaves
0.1oz sage


For The Filling:

1. Chop 2lbs of boned pork shoulder and 7oz of bacon into rough half-inch cubes.

jellystock2. Trim out the skin, fat and gristly bits and put them into a pot with the pig’s trotter, (ask your butcher to split it) the celery and the carrot, and add some bay leaves and fresh sage for flavor. Cover everything with cold water, turn on the hob and (barely) simmer the pot for two to three hours. Strain the liquid (you can use muslin or cheese cloth – I used a succession of coffee filter papers) and then place in the fridge where it will set to a wibbly-wobbly jelly.

3. Season the pork and bacon with sage, mace, nutmeg, allspice, pepper and ½ oz of salt and then mix everything together thoroughly by hand.

4. Take half of the mix and blend in a food processor before recombining with the other half. This way, you get chunks of pork in the pies along side the more minced filling.

5. Have a bowl of iced water handy. Place 4 eggs into a pan of cold water (NOTE: this is in addition to the bowl of iced water) bring the pan to the boil and then simmer for exactly 4 minutes. After four minutes, plunge the eggs into the bowl of iced water and then begin peeling them.

For The Crust:

1. Mix 16oz of plain flour in a bowl with ¼ oz salt and then melt 6oz of lard in half a cup of boiling water. When the lard has melted, pour the hot liquid over the flour and salt and use a palette knife to mix it all together.

pastrypucks2. Let the dough cool a little (I mean, don’t burn yourself!) and start working it together with your fingers. Split the dough into two pieces: one smaller (about a quarter of the dough) and one larger (the remaining three-quarters). Work both pieces into flat round hockey-puck shapes and leave them to cool for a few more minutes.

3. Roll out the two pieces of dough: To get the best consistency in the pastry, This Little Piggy told me to keep folding and turning the dough before rerolling and rerolling again. The larger piece should be rolled until it is big enough to line your pie dish and then carefully put it in. We used an 8” spring-form tin and as you can see from the pictures, this amount of pastry was plenty. The smaller puck should be rolled out as the pie lid.

Filling the Pie:

eggsshot1. Put a thin layer of meat into the pastry at the bottom of the pie case and then place the peeled eggs in a cross shape on top of it. Tim Hayward gives a cool tip at this point: making a pen mark on the side of the dish along the center-line of one of the eggs. This will allow you to know where to cut the pie so you can show off the beautiful eggs inside!

2. Use the rest of the meat to fill the pie, packing it down to avoid air gaps but make sure you don’t crush the eggs.

Baking The Pie:

1. Set your oven to 350F.

2. Make some egg wash (I beat together an egg and a teaspoon of water) to use as glue for the pastry lid. Brush it around the edges of the pie.

piemarking3. Put the lid on the top of the pie dish and then trim and crimp the edges together. Use a sharp knife to cut a hole in the center of the pie lid and then, using the back of the knife, mark a cross-shaped egg-cutting guide along the center line of each egg (thanking Tim for the pen mark on the dish as you do so)

4. Finally, thoroughly brush the lid with egg wash and then bake in the over at 350F for 90 minutes.

Adding The Jelly To Complete The Pie:

1. After an hour-and-a-half, remove the pie from the oven and—as I did—marvel at its majestic magnificence. The egg-washed, lard-based pastry should be golden and rich. Your senses should be compelling you to dive right in, but wait! There is still more to do: You have to add the jelly and that means you will have to wait for the pie to cool…

jellyfilling2. Once the pie HAS thoroughly cooled, warm some of the jelly in a pan and slowly pour it into the hole in the pie lid trough a funnel. Put everything back in the fridge so the jelly can set in the gap between the pie and the crust.


When the pie is cold and the jelly has set, slice neatly through the guide-lines in the crust to reveal the eggs and serve cold with Branston pickle, HP Sauce or piccalilli.

Wash it down with a good English pale-ale: St. George and King Henry would approve.



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