Tourtiere is a French Canadian specialty, a delicious meat pie that's usually served around Christmas. In our house, we had it for our Christmas Eve dinner, and for brunch on Christmas Day.
Of course, I've moved away now and I live in the USA, but I've kept up the tradition. And no matter who I make it for, it's always a big hit.
There are lots of different ways of making tourtiere out there. You can use different meats, different cuts, even different spices. Quebec is a huge place, and each region has its own traditional recipe — which means there's more than one right way to make it.
If you take twenty different people who eat tourtiere every year for Christmas, and ask them what the correct, traditional way of making it is, you'll probably get twenty different answers.
And the truth is, they'll probably all be right. There are lots of different regions in Quebec, and each has its own traditions and its own way of making tourtiere.
And there are even places outside Quebec that have their own traditions — French speaking areas of Canada, and some of the north-eastern regions of the United States.
There's no way I could list all the different recipes and types of meat pie. But most pies do fall into one of two categories: a simple pork or beef round pie, the simple tourtière, or the more elaborate tourtière du Lac St-Jean, a huge pie that includes lots of different types of cubed meats.
This is the Christmas meat pie that I grew up with. Which I guess is lucky for me, because it's a whole lot easier to make!
So what are the features of a simple tourtiere?
It's a standard round pie. It can be deep-dish or not, depending on whether you prefer a meatier pie or not, but it's still got a good crust-to-pie ratio.
It's usually made up of ground meat or finely chopped meat.
It's usually made from pork. It can also be made with beef, or a combination of the two.
It can include potatoes, either mashed to thicken the filling, or cubed to add a little texture.
Generally, you make this pie by cooking the meat and potatoes in some water, wine or stock, and add a few special spices. You can either use the mixture right away to fill the pie, or let it sit in the refrigerator overnight.
A tourtiere du Lac St-Jean (which gets its name from the Lac St-Jean region in Quebec) is a more elaborate dish. I got to enjoy it every few Christmases when we got together with my Aunt on my mom's side.
How is different from the simple tourtiere?
It's made with cubes of meat instead of ground meat. The cubes can be big or small, but they should be big enough to give some texture, and small enough that you can fit a few in one mouthful.
Often, it'll have lots of different types of meat. Pork is usually an ingredient, but you'll likely find several other types of meat. It could be beef or chicken, or game meats like rabbits or venison.
You can make this meat pie with potatoes, too, but they're almost always cubed - not mashed.
Because you have so many ingredients, this is often a much bigger pie. You might line a whole roasting pan with pastry dough, then fill it with layers of meat and potatoes, and then top with another pastry crust.
It takes a lot longer to cook this meat pie! A simple tourtiere might only need 45 minutes in the oven, but this one will take more like 6 hours. Of course, that means six hours of awesome smells in the house!
The meat can be cooked beforehand, or it can cook while the pie is baking. Both methods work well. But it's a good idea to let the meat and spices sit together overnight, so that the flavors really have time to blend.
Lac St-Jean actually means St-John's Lake, if you're curious for a translation.
In case you're wondering, tourtière is pronounced "TOURT-YAIR"
"Tourt" is like "tour" in "tour bus" but with a "t" at the end.
"Yair" is like the air we breathe, but starting with a "y".
The most common way to eat a tourtiere is with ketchup. Some people like a homemade salsa-like sweet-and-sour ketchup, but others like the commercial kind. My dad and I like it with gravy. We always teased that it was because we're both English-speaking heathens, whereas my mom and brother are more French-speaking - and they like it the traditional way.
The last ingredient that you'll need for your meat pie is the pastry crust. It's just an ordinary pie crust.
For some people, it's absolutely essential that the crust be homemade, with lard instead of shortening. And you'll probably get tastier results that way. But if you don't have time, or you just don't like making pie crusts, you can always buy a premade crust.
For a simple tourtiere, a recipe for a double-crust deep dish pie is all you need.
A tourtiere du Lac St-Jean needs a whole lot more pie crust. You'll need anywhere from 2 to 4 double crust pie recipes, depending on how big your roasting pan is.
You may need to roll the crust a bit thicker so that it's not as fragile.
And that's what you need to make this delicious meat pie. Now let's find out how to make it!
This meat pie is a little more work- and time-intensive than the simple pie. But it really does give outstanding results, and the whole house will smell good for hours. And once this becomes a family tradition, that smell will mean Christmas to you.
Here's how you do it.
Gather all your ingredients.
Cut all the meat into little cubes.
The cubes can be bigger or smaller, but somewhere between half an inch and an inch is a good size.
Add the spices to the meat and mix well.
For extra flavor, try refrigerating the mixture for at least 4 hours, overnight if possible. It'll give the flavors time to blend.
Cut up the potatoes into little cubes, about the same size as the meat.
When you cook the meat pie, the potatoes will absorb some of the liquid. You can minimize how much by soaking the potatoes in water for a few hours or overnight.
Chop the aromatics, and mix them in the meat.
Line a roasting pan with pastry dough.
Add the meat and potatoes.
You can blend them all together, or you can make several layers of meats and potatoes. It's entirely up to you.
Add the liquids, and cover the whole thing with more pastry dough. Cut slits in the top crust to vent steam.
Cover the roasting pan, and bake the pie in a oven preheated to 250F for about 6 hours.
This long, slow, covered cooking braises the meat. It turns tougher cuts into lovely, tender pieces.
If you're starting with cooked meat already, you can reduce the cooking time by a lot. You really only need to cook the potatoes, so an hour or two should do it.
If the crust isn't browned by the last half hour, remove the cover and increase the heat to 400F and cook until the crust is a beautiful golden brown.
At this point, the meat is cooked, so you'll know to take it out when the crust is done.
Let the pie set for at least 10 to 20 minutes before cutting and serving.
As you can see, this meat pie takes a lot longer to cook. And cutting 4 to 8 pounds of meat into cubes means a lot of work, too, unless you can find a butcher to do it for you. But it's all a part of the Christmas tradition, and the smell in the house will make up for it all.
A simple tourtiere is super easy to make. You can even make it ahead of time. Before cooking it, wrap it well and store it in the freezer. Then just take it out a few hours before you need it and let it defrost. Cook as indicated in the instructions.
A tourtiere du Lac St-Jean is a lot more work. If it's your first time making it, be sure to plan ahead very carefully, so that you don't end up stressed out on the holidays!
This is an old, traditional dish — and traditionally it wasn't made with lean meats at all. If you have lean meats but you want to make it the way it used to be, you can add a bit of lard to the mix to fatten it up. No, it's not really meant as a healthy dish!
And that's how you make a delicious tourtiere! I hope you like this Christmas tradition as much as I do.