hot water and lard

I don't make pie crust, or rather, I don't make pie crust well. I do, however, make beautiful lard. So when I found a long-forgotten, break-all-the-rules recipe for a pie crust that calls for boiling water AND lard as the only fat, it was definitely for me. One variant of this recipe assures me that if it looks like grayish glue on first stir, not to worry! that's normal! Phew. I was going to be just fine.

I made a fruit pie first without consideration for proper flavor pairings. If you have lard that you like to open just to inhale its roasted pig aroma, then my hard-earned advice is that you not use it to make crust for a tart lemon pie. Just don't.

I was definitely on to something though. The crust was delicate, brittle, and rich with pig fat. It broke cleanly beneath my fork and melted into a crumbly mess of porcine-scented pastry in my mouth. James Beard (American Cookery) says the texture is "crumbly" rather than the more typical "flaky". I buy it, but right now, I'm just happy with a crust that doesn't have the texture of a teething biscuit.

A reprise was in order - this time with a more savory filling like Shaker Chicken Fricassee. Chicken Fricassee is really intended to be served as a main course. The chicken pieces are seared first, braised in a rich broth, and then right before serving, that same broth is thickened with heavy cream to produce a sauce for the dish. All the components were right for a chicken pot pie with a few variations. I used a gravy preparation to further thicken the sauce so the crust wouldn't end soggy - first toasting some flour in equal parts lard, and then thickening the broth with this roux. A handful of fresh vegetables, nothing too fancy, and it was easily the best chicken pot pie I have ever eaten.

One thing I love about cooking is the little bits of knowledge you pick up from following a recipe. The instructions are always so pared down, a paint-by-numbers sort of communication, which leaves you to discover the bigger picture by yourself. I have always made chicken broth with the left over carcass of a roasted bird. The back bones, uneaten wings, and carved away breast bones partner with a quartered onion, carrot, and thyme. It makes really good chicken broth. But here, the broth is made with the whole bird - the gelatin-producing bones, all the rich dark meat, and pan seared skin - and it is something else entirely. I took a sip from a spoon to test how it was coming along, and it rocked my world in that close-your-eyes-so-your-tongue-isn't-distracted kind of way.

Just a word of warning. Despite the fact that this pie is extremely rich, it is also extremely delicious. I had planned to eat just one piece - expecting to be stuffed by the end of it. But, as you can see, even the best plans ...

Chicken Pot Pie

Adapted from The Best of Shaker Cooking, Miller and Fuller 

S. and I easily finished off one pie between the two of us, but for the less gluttonous, I'm guessing this makes about 4 servings.

1/2 roasting chicken (about 2 lbs)
flour, up to 1/4 cup
5 tablespoon lard (or substitute vegetable oil and butter)
3 cups water
1 bay leaf
1/4 teaspoon ground pepper
2 sprigs thyme
1/4 cup chopped parsley
1 small onion, chopped
1 teaspoon salt
5 tablespoons flour
1/2 cup heavy cream, warmed
pie crust (see recipe below) 
1 cup carrots, chopped and roasted
1 cup peas, fresh or frozen

       Cut chicken half into breast, wing, thigh, leg and backbone pieces. Sprinkle liberally with salt and pepper and then dust lightly with flour. Shake excess flour from chicken pieces. Melt 1 tablespoon lard (or vegetable oil) in a saute pan and heat over medium heat. Sear chicken pieces until golden brown on all sides.
       Add boiling water, bay leaf, pepper, thyme, parsley, onion and salt. Cover the pot and simmer gently until chicken is tender, 1 to 1 1/2 hours. Adjust seasonings to taste. Remove chicken pieces from broth. Strain chicken stock and reserve. Allow chicken pieces to cool slightly at room temperature. When cool enough to handle, remove meat from bones and coarsely shred.
       Meanwhile, in saute pan, melt 4 tablespoons lard (or butter) over low heat. Stir in flour and cook gently for 5 minutes to remove raw flour taste. Do not brown. Gradually whisk warm chicken stock into flour mixture. Whisk constantly until flour mixture and stock are fully incorporated.  Increase heat to medium and simmer sauce for 10 minutes until thick. Remove from heat. Whisk warmed heavy cream into sauce.
       Fill pie crust with shredded chicken, carrots and peas. Pour sauce over meat and vegetables and top pie with second round of pie crust. Seal edges and cut vents in the top of the crust.
      Place pie in preheated 375 degree oven and bake 45-55 minutes or until crust has browned and filling is bubbling through vents.

Sourcing: Local organic, free-range chicken, King Arthur all-purpose flour, home-rendered lard, Penzey's bay leaf and pepper, Whole Food organic thyme, parsley, white onion, carrots and peas, Hain sea salt, Natural-by-Nature heavy cream

Hot Water Pie Crust
from American Cookery, James Beard

If you fear lard, feel free to substitute a different crust recipe. For everyone else, try this once. It's really a cool recipe - unique, forgiving, delicious.

2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt
1/3 cup boiling water
2/3 cup lard, room temperature

Mix the flour and salt in bowl. Measure the boiling water into a measuring cup. Add lard and stir the mixture until lard has melted. Whisk until water and lard are well combined, then stir lightly with a fork into the flour and salt. The dough will be very soft and must be chilled at least 30 minutes before rolling out.

Sourcing: King Arthur all-purpose flour, Hain sea salt, and home-rendered lard


wine jelly

I did not have my first jello shot until I was at least 24. A developmental milestone that passed me by during the typical jello-shot period given my unusual college experience. I quite deliberately chose a private university that prohibited Greek organizations and had a reputation for nerdy academic devotion. Dare I admit the rumor that Playboy once awarded it top-honors for "ugliest co-eds" - at least that's what they said and sometimes it was easy to believe. What I meant to explain is that I haven't actually consumed many jello shots, but I am at once fascinated by them and awful at making them. I know the recipe - "jello + water + lots of cheap vodka", but when you are 31-years-old and interested in making jello shots that is just sad enough on its own and would be worse if I did things the normal way. So I try to make "sophisticated" jello shots, and then I torture my friends with them. Among the disasters ...

(1) Irish Car Bomb Jello Shots: Guinness jello with a little nipple of jello Bailey's. Sorry guys.
(2) Whiskey Sour Jello Shots: Straight Jack jello "balanced" with so, so sour fresh lemon juice jello that nearly put my unsuspecting shot takers into an alcohol coma while it drilled an ulcer.
3. Screwdriver Jello Shots made with fresh orange juice that just wasn't strong enough to cover up the taste of meaty flavored cartilage.

This, of course, has in no way dissuaded me from my quest for the perfect I'm-not-a-frat-boy jello shot, but I admit, it should have. See, I have this recipe I clipped ages ago of this beautiful little glimmering cube of Gin & Tonic jello balanced on a thin slice of lime. It is so grown-up; I quiver along with its little shake. Yet each year when I decide to make jello shots (always for the Superbowl for some inexplicable reason), I cannot find this recipe, which was actually good enough to be published in a national food magazine, and then each year, I decide that anything can be a jello shot if I add gelatin and hence begins the mayhem.

Anyway, you are not going to believe this, but the Shakers share my jello shot fascination. I am not making this up. I can hardly believe that I'm not making this up, but I definitely am not. It seems the society wasn't adverse to knocking a few back. A 1787 anti-Shaker essay accuses them of referring to rum as the "Spirit of God." Of course, tracts meant to convince us that the Shakers are evil are not generally the best source of accurate historical information on typical alcohol consumption, but Stephen Stein, the eminent scholar on Shaker history and theology puts it this way:

The documentary record contains repeated counsel against the use of "spirits." As early as 1800 specific injunctions limited liquor to medicinal use. Even wine and cider were to be drunk sparingly, and then only in specified circumstances. (The frequency of these exhortations suggests that excessive drinking may have been a persistent problem in the villages.)
The Shaker Experience in America

He's so diplomatic. I wish I had that skill, but I clearly do not so I'm just going to imagine the kitchen sisters getting a little rowdy after supper instead. I like them already so it's totally endearing in my head.

Of course, they didn't call them jello shots, and they also didn't shoot them out of little dixie cups, but I have tried their little concoction, and it is definitely not for sissies. 19th century cookery had a thing for aspics (meaty) and jellies (fruity), and this is from the later category. Mary Whitcher, author of Shaker Housekeeper (1882), called this one Wine Jelly. It's a potent mixture of orange, lemon and raspberry juice, brandy and dry sherry, and stipulates a whopping one cup portion size. I did the math and that's a little over one standard alcoholic drink.

I have to say I'm puzzled by this treat. I really can imagine it being so so sophisticated - everyone sitting awkwardly in the drawing room eating company dessert in the company cut glass dishes. But with a texture identical to the glowing green jello blocks ubiquitous to summer camps, school lunches and hospital trays, it's hard not to associate this treat with your late zeros. I will say once you clear your head of all that and just get down to business with your wine jelly, it does have a flair of worldliness. The dominant flavor is brandy with its warm, vanilla toasty-ness, with gentle back up from the citrus. It truly does taste sophisticated enough to be served as a centerpiece, but we've probably been ruined by a preschool over-abundance of gelatin. Even so, it's an awesome conversation piece. Try it just once. While you might age out of Knox Blox, you're never too old for jello shots.

Wine Jelly
Mary Whitcher, Shaker Housekeeper

2 1/2 tablespoons granulated gelatin
1/2 cup cold water
1 2/3 cup boiling water
1 cup sugar
1/3 cup orange juice
3 tablespoons lemon juice
1/2 cup dry sherry
1/2 cup brandy
1 cup raspberries

Whisk gelatin into cold water and allow to soak until gelatin has absorbed the water and solidified (at least 5 minutes). Break gelatin into pieces and add to boiling water. Stir to dissolve. Add sugar, orange and lemon juice, sherry, and brandy. Stir until sugar dissolves. Press raspberries through sieve or cheesecloth to extract juice. Discard seeds and pulp and stir raspberry juice into gelatin mixture to color. Chill at least 4 hours or overnight to set. "Serves 4."

Sourcing: I have to admit that I'm not a huge fan of Sherry and only just now discovered that I like brandy so I have no idea if these brands are reputable or not. Anyway, I used Paul Masson VSOP Grand Amber Brandy and Pedro Romero Aurora Manzzanilla (dry sherry). Also, Knox Gelatin (unflavored), Whole Foods 365 Brand Organic Cane Sugar, fresh-squeezed organic orange and lemon juice (regrettably out of season), and raspberries I picked at a u-pick place in Ohio.