From the time that the first French settlers set up along the St. Lawrence River and established Acadia in the Maritimes, Tourtière has been an essential part of the festivities surrounding Christmas. After Mass on Christmas Eve, the festivity that followed was Réveillon, basically the “Awakening Feast” celebrated after Midnight Mass, a party that could go on until dawn!
These days, the party might start earlier on Christmas Eve, and on New Year’s Eve as well. Every French Canadian family has its own recipe for Tourtière, a traditional meat pie that was an essential dish at Christmas and New Year’s. There are plenty of variations, but generally, there is significant similarity.
In the early days, the meat pies were prepared in a large cast-iron pot or cauldron that was itself called the “Tourtière”, and the meat pies themselves eventually assumed the same name.
Some recipes use pork solely; others may combine beef and or veal, all ground meats. In Acadia, the meats may not be ground and can include chicken. We can imagine that the early settlers would use whatever meats were at hand, and that could well include game. There are apparently authentic recipes that will include potato or oatmeal in the pie, while others will swear that they can only include meat. Chacun à son gout – each to his own taste!
The same logic applies to the spices, which are generally similar, but can vary slightly; for example, some recipes include cloves, some don’t.
Many friends in our local French Canadian community have shared their recipes with us, and we have to believe that they would all be delicious.
We also searched online and found a number of well-known chefs offering their versions of tourtière.
One that caught our attention was that of Madame Jehane Benoit, a popular figure on the Canadian cooking scene 40 or 50 years ago. She passed away in 1987 but had come to personify French Canadian cooking.
She might have come across as your favourite aunt, or even grandmother, but she was really a cooking aristocrat. She had studied at the Sorbonne, the most famous of French universities, as well as at the Cordon Bleu, the great French cooking school.
In Montreal, she founded her own school based on traditional French Canadian cooking. Fumet de la Vieille France.
A big thank-you to Rejeanne Santoro and to Susanne Chiasson for sharing family recipes.
Here then is the Tourtière that we decided to prepare, and which would be a great choice for your New Year’s Celebration. With it, we suggest you serve a delicious traditional Finnish Beet Salad, Rosolli.
For the pastry, you might be more comfortable buying a ready-made pastry for your pies, or you could make your own. We suggest using a crust that incorporates lard as its fat.
The Meat Filling for a 9” Tourtière
(It is a good idea to make the filling the day before you are baking your pie.)
- 2 pounds of lean ground pork (extra lean is even better if you can find it.)
- 2 Tbsp. vegetable oil
- 3 cups chopped onion
- 1 Tbsp. garlic, diced
- 1 tsp. allspice
- 1 tsp. ground nutmeg
- 1/4 tsp. cayenne pepper (optional)
- 2 tsp. dried thyme
- 1 bay leaf
- 1Tbsp. dried savoury
- Salt and pepper, to taste
- 1 cup of beef broth
- 3 Tbsp. rolled oats
- 1/4 cup fresh parsley, chopped
(In addition to the filling, you will need an egg yolk and 1 Tbsp. of water to brush the top crust just before baking.)
In a large skillet or Dutch oven, heat the oil over medium heat, then wilt the onion until it softens and just begins to brown – probably about 8 minutes.
Add the ground pork, stirring to break up any lumps, and cook for 3 to 5 minutes until no longer pink. Add the garlic and spices – but not the parsley – stir together, and sauté for an additional minute
Now, add the broth and the oats, and then simmer for about 45 minutes, covered, until the pork is cooked through and the mixture has thickened. Be sure to stir from time to time. If you find that it isn’t sufficiently thickened, remove the lid and cook just until it is no longer runny.
At this point, remove the bay leaf and stir in the parsley. Now you can adjust the taste with salt and pepper, as needed. Allow the mixture to cool, and then refrigerate for the next day. If you intend to make the pie immediately, be sure the filling has cooled entirely first.
Assembling and Baking the Pie
Place your rack in the middle of the oven, and pre-heat the oven to 450°F.
Divide your pastry in two and roll out half to fit the bottom of a 9-inch pie plate. Pour in and spread your filling, and then roll out the second half of pastry and cover the pie, crimping the edges tightly to seal. Make a few slits in the top crust to allow the steam to escape while baking. You can decorate the top with some pastry shapes of your choice if you wish.
For the finish, beat together 1 egg yolk with 1 Tbsp. of water, and brush the top crust with this mixture.
Bake the pie for 10 minutes, and then reduce the heat to 375°F, and continue to bake for about 45 minutes. Check after 25 or 30 minutes, and if needed, tent with foil if it seems to be browning too quickly. When done, remove from the oven.
The pie can be served warm or cold along with the relish, chutney, or chilli sauce of your choice.
Our friend, Linda Ruhanen, shared her recipe for the traditional Finnish Beet Salad, Rosolli, with us. It is an essential part of the Finnish Christmas table – Joulupöytä. It would be a wonderful accompaniment to the Tourtière.
Linda Ruhanen’s Rosolli
- 4 cups diced pickled beets
- 4 peeled boiled diced potatoes
- 3 peeled boiled diced carrots
- 1 dill pickle diced
- 1 diced tart apple
- 1 diced purple onion
- Salt & white pepper
Toss & mix...Many also prefer to add herring fillet (in matjes sauce...available at Northern Ave Metro) Linda also adds 2 tbsp. balsamic vinegar
This salad should be refrigerated for 8 hrs before serving...& can be garnished with slices of boiled egg.
Dressing: 1 cup of plain yogurt OR whipped cream dyed with 1 tbsp vinegar (beet juice)
This dressing is served on the side...the picture displays the consistency of diced vegetables.
Angels Gate Gamay Noir, $14.95 – As I have said before, Phillip Dowell, the winemaker, always ‘honours the grape’ in creating wines that are true to character. This red will combine red fruits and forest notes that come together nicely with brightness on the finish.
Henry of Pelham Family Reserve Baco Noir, usually $24.95, is now $3 off at $21.95. This winery has made a specialty of this red hybrid, and the Reserve is near the top of the five or six different examples that are available. Ripe and deep, it has not only red fruit on the nose but even, according to winealign’s David Lawarson, “Beet”. On the palate, you get good acidity as well as some smoke and leather. Well worth exploring.
Le Clos Jordanne Le Grand Clos Pinot Noir 2018, $44.95, has been called the best red wine of the year in Ontario. This is the second vintage of this revived label, made once again by the original winemaker, Thomas Bachelder. When first released some time ago, the wine sold for over $70, and this wine can match those earlier examples.
My notes suggest that here, too, every effort is made to allow the grape to express its character – nothing over-the-top, but all in fine balance. Cherry-like fruit and sandalwood spice flow gently along the palate, continuing to express themselves well after you have swallowed and the feathery tannins come across like a soft blanket over your tongue. Classic, sophisticated, and pure.
Mimi en Provence Grande Réserve Rosé 2019, $21.95, from Provence is another great option. A delicate pink in colour, this dry wine still carries the taste of strawberry and cranberry and has refreshing acidity and minerality. It should pair well.
Thank you for reading. I wish you all a safe and Merry Christmas, and hope that for all of us the New Year brings us every Happiness and Good Health!