Pie From Quebec
Tradition says this dish should be served after midnight Mass on Christmas Eve, but it would be a shame to limit its goodness to just one day a year. It's yummy either hot or cold.
Credit Where Credit Is Due
Lo these many years ago—more than 50 actually—I toiled in the newsroom of the now-defunct Toronto Telegram newspaper. (My presence on the floor did not in any way contribute to the paper's demise.)
One of the reporters was a great, big bear of a man called John Bennett. He stood six feet six inches tall and so was called by everyone “Tiny.”
It is to Tiny Bennett that I owe this recipe with a few modifications of my own.
How to Make Tourtière
There are dozens of ways of making tourtière; some call for combining pork with meats such as rabbit, moose, caribou, or pheasant. But, those ingredients are hard to come by in urban supermarkets so here it's pork and beef.
The essence of the pie is the use of such spices as cloves and nutmeg. If you don't like those flavours too bad, you'll never know the joy of eating tourtière.
For the filling:
- 3/4 pound ground pork
- 3/4 pound medium-ground beef
- 4 slices bacon, diced (if possible, get this from a butcher rather than buying the horrible-stuff-wrapped-in-plastic-that-shrivels-into-nothing-in-the-supermarket-cooler)
- 1 onion, diced
- 1 clove garlic, diced
- 3/4 cup beef stock
- 2 tablespoons chopped parsley
- 2 tablespoons chopped fresh celery leaves
- 1 crushed bay leaf
- 1/4 teaspoon each of mace, ground cloves, cayenne, and nutmeg (Tiny's instructions were for a pinch of each of these but he was such a large fellow that I think a Tiny pinch equates to at least a quarter teaspoon, perhaps more).
- Salt to taste (I never add salt to anything; it's about the old heart)
For the crust:
- 5 cups all-purpose flour
- 1 pound lard
- 1 egg beaten
- 1 tablespoon vinegar
- Water to make up 1 cup
- In a large skillet, fry the bacon until crispy, then add the onion until translucent.
- Put in the meat and stir until mixed, broken up, and browned.
- Add the stock and herbs and spices.
- Cook for 30 minutes and set aside to cool.
- Add breadcrumbs if the meat mixture looks to have too much liquid.
- For the pastry, cut the lard and flour together then slowly add the egg/vinegar/water to make a clingy dough.
- Roll out enough dough to cover the bottom of a nine-inch pie plate.
- Add the meat mixture then the top crust and crimp the edges between finger and thumb.
- Brush the top with a mixture of beaten egg and milk.
- Bake at 350 for 35 to 45 minutes.
- Brush the top with the egg/milk mixture a few times to get a beautiful golden finish.
- The authentic tourtière is made with the meat cut into small cubes and is found in the Saguenay-Lac-Saint-Jean region of Quebec, northeast of Montreal. The version described here with ground meat is usually referred to as “pâté à la viande” (meat pie), perhaps with a slightly upward Gallic sniff of the air, indicating disdain.
- Despite what the people of the Saguenay say, there is no single right way to cook tourtière. Many other herbs and spices are suggested in recipes such as thyme, savoury, cinnamon, and allspice; play around with these until you get the flavour that you like best. Potatoes are often included, as well as carrots and celery, and even a dash or two of maple syrup.
- There is a popular myth that the name of the pie comes from the French words for the passenger pigeon, “tourte voyageuse.” Once, these birds existed in flocks of billions, but they were easy to catch and put in pies leading to their extinction at the end of the 19th century. The word tourtière actually comes the name of the dish in which it is traditionally baked.
- There is a small sub-section of the internet's population that suggests serving tourtière with a dollop of ketchup. This is a suggestion that would be greeted with screams of “Mon Dieu!” in the Saguenay. The English language response should be “No. Just no.”
- “Vintage Toronto Ads: Tiny Bennett Wants You to Unpollute.” Jamie Bradburn, torontoist.com, April 24, 2012.
- “Tourtière.” Sasha Chapman, Canadian Encyclopedia, March 4, 2015.
- “Tourtiere Good Hot or Cold.” Tiny Bennett, Toronto Sun, October 28, 1976.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
© 2022 Rupert Taylor